At the moment I’m reading Davidoff and Hall’s book Family Fortunes: Men and Women of the English Middle Class 1780-1850. You may wonder what the connection is with Port Phillip of the 1840s, but I’m interested in the values and mental baggage that this largely immigrant population brought with them from England. The attitudes, fashions and values of British society ‘back home’ was reinforced with the arrival of each ship, spilling forth people who had recently departed England, Ireland or Scotland and the letters from family members they carried with them. Events and feature articles would be lifted direct from the newspapers from Britain, America and other British colonies and republished in the local press, constituting almost a quarter of the newspaper.
Hence, this book. I started reading it in January, down by the beach, sheltering under the trees to escape the oppressive heat. It was high summer, but before the bushfires. I put it aside for some months, but have picked it up again over the last few weeks. And here I am still reading it in May, the frost burnt off my now-green lawn by the weak autumn sun, with the heater purring away in the background. But mentally, I will always be reading this book by the beach.
Which started me thinking about the way that particular books are linked in my memory with where I read them. For example, Lord of the Rings will always be associated with lying on the grass in my parents’ very small backyard in summer in the 1970s after finishing VCE. Crime and Punishment evokes a wintry afternoon, listening to Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” and thinking about the funeral of a 16 year old classmate that morning- he had been killed by his younger brother in a fit of rage with a billiard cue in their rumpus room. Sue Miller’s The Good Mother will always be entwined with memories of an autumn by the Murray River, lying on a rug with a glass of wine as the sun slipped behind the trees.
I notice that most of these books were important to me, and heaven knows that there are hundreds (indeed thousands? I wonder?) that I’ve read with no clear memory of ever having read them. Do you have particular associations of a book with a specific place and time?