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Saturday, March 09, 2013

Pieces of Light review, or how I became interested in the amazing science of memory

I have been brought here by imagination,
and now I am stuck with the memories.

Like many books I write about on here that I've come to love, I picked-up "Pieces of Light" because I loved the cover illustration and design by Pete Dyer. (thanks for the tip Dan!)

Over time, I've become increasingly drawn to non-fiction over fiction. I have a feeling it's because I miss being in an academic setting, which is where I would have loved to read "Pieces of Light: How the New Science of Memory Illuminates the Stories We Tell About Our Pasts" because I'd love to discuss and debate what I've read.

Charles Fernyhough uses a great balance of personal anecdote with scientific findings so I rarely found a chapter too dense. "Pieces of Light" worked as a great commute read but I also knocked out 100 pages during a flight without feeling overwhelmed by stats and facts.

Reading "Pieces of Light" on an airplane actually made me realize that every time I fly, which is about once a month, I find myself recalling memories of past flights. Almost every departure, I think of how one of my childhood friends played with a mini-skateboard when our flight took off for a mission trip to Mexico because he was afraid of take-offs. During daytime flights, when I stare out the window at the clouds, I remember one flight I had down to New Orleans when the clouds reminded me of the Grand Canyon. And whenever food is served I seem to find myself reminiscing about numerous flights when I used to travel with my mom for business and they served McDonalds' kids meals. I loved analyzing my own memories, and considering which were recalled versus which were summoned involuntarily by a trigger.

Memory is an artist as much as it is a scientist.

Something else I really loved about "Pieces of Light" was the way it makes us think about autobiographical memory, and therefore, written autobiographies. Fernyhough writes:
When I read a memoir, I am always being told: This is how it was. Here is the vivid picture. Feel the weight of that vividness, its guarantee the authenticity. How could I be creating this wonderfully colorful picture if I was making it all up? But the memoirist is of course making it up. he or she is a storyteller, as we are all storytellers. I know that memory doesn't allow for that kind of faithful representation of past events.
... These fictions also have power because they matter. Stories and memoirs have political dimensions, and so do memories.
... We are natural-born storytellers; we engage in acts of fiction-making every time we recount an event from our pasts. We are constantly editing and remaking our memory stories as our knowledge and emotions change. they might be fictions, but they are our fictions, and we should treasure them. Stories are special. Sometimes they can even be true.  
I really like this point because it bothers me when people feel betrayed by an author who may not have gotten all of the facts right. The pieces of their memory, 100% factual or not, are important because they are a reflection of how that situation felt to that person and what it meant. Which is also why I really love reading memoirs, especially the one I am reading now about Miss Sylvia Plath.

You can read more about "Pieces of Light" on Fernyhough's blog, or pre-order a copy on Amazon (release date March 19).

And if you do order it, read it and want to talk about it, let me know.

Edit: Huffington Post interviewed the Dyer about the cover art and design. Read it here. Thanks to Harper for the link!

Plus, more book reviews
one of my favorite memoirs


Dan Mogford said...

The designer is the publisher's art director – Peter Dyer

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