A few weeks back, I discovered that I was in possession of an early novella by Jaimy Gordon, winner of last year's National Book Award.
I knew I'd been assigned CIRCUMSPECTIONS FROM AN EQUESTRIAN STATUE in a college creative writing class, and despite having no memory of the story, I had to conclude that I'd read it, because I had underlined huge portions of the text.
(I found it sort of interesting that I had no doubt I was the one who'd done the underlining. I expect to recognize my own handwriting, but I hadn't realized I'd also recognize the stroke of my underlines.)
As promised, I read the book to see if I could figure out why I went so wild with the underlining. The novella is a funny and engaging story set in 1866 in Providence and featuring Ambrose Burnside, the Union Army general who later became governor of Rhode Island. (That part is actual history.) The story also involves a ghost, a "magic lantern" machine that displays moving slides, and a doctor pioneering the field of gynecology. It's a comic work.
I wish I could claim that while reading, I had some insight into why I marked all the sentences and passages that I did. I started off reasonably enough, underlining the occasional phrase that might be important to reference in class or that looked like part of a theme or motif. Then as I went on, it seems like my bar for what was significant dropped lower and lower, until I was underlining words because they must be important because they appeared in the story. Maybe? I really don't know.
In case you were wondering, I didn't use any mind-altering substances in college.
I wish I had a more thrilling conclusion to this story. I even just flipped through the notebooks from my college creative writing classes (yes, I still have them) to see if there was any mention of this book, but all I found was a note to read it before the next class meeting. Plus a whole lot of in-class writing exercises that I don't remember writing. So that's another journey down lack-of-memory lane to take someday.
Good Stuff Out There:
→ Benedicte Page at the Guardian Books Blog investigates extreme book cover design.