Friday, May 19, 2006

Retrograde amnesia

Who uses it: Neurologists and psychiatrists
What it means: The loss of memories acquired before some kind of trauma to the brain; distinguished from anterograde amnesia, which is the loss of ability to create new memories.
How you can use it: When you're blocking something out.

The main character in Richard Ford's novel The Sportswriter, Frank Bascombe, aspires to live his life as if he had no past. He looks at the athletes he covers, who are able to shrug off defeat and focus on each new game, and thinks that's how we all ought to live. It's not possible, of course, which is the point of the book; the real secret is to acknowledge the losses, learn from them, and keep playing.

Frank Bascombe is a transplanted Southerner, which is no accident. Southerners live the past differently from New Englanders or Midwesterners. We carry it around with us like a turtle shell, retreating into it when threatened or scared.

I'm rambling, but yesterday's CSBS Annual Meeting, at the Marriott Waterside, was a strange convergence of my personal histories, and felt like a visit to another country. It was wonderful to see everyone, and I'm grateful for being able to preserve those connections to an organization I spent 13 years with. It felt strange indeed to sit in yesterday's meeting and think that I'd once been responsible for running it; it's so different from what I do now.

Off to Washington this morning, for another set of convergences, as my book life meets my D.C. existence at BookExpo America. Just to make sure that all aspects of my life are represented, Dad's riding up with me, Anna's already in town, and I'm hoping that Chris can come in from Annapolis at some point over the weekend.

It's possible that I'll achieve total consciousness and disappear in a flash of light. You'll know if that happens, because I won't be posting any more.

What I Read This Week

John Tayman, The Colony: The Harrowing True Story of the Exiles of Molokai. The subtitle of this book is a little misleading, because it's less a personal history of the exiles of Molokai than a history of the bureaucracy that exiled, mistreated and ultimately saved them. The hundred-odd pages of footnotes are almost more interesting than the narrative, providing anecdotes I wish Tayman had included in the book itself.

Phil Rickman, The Smile of a Ghost. I love this series, about a female Anglican priest near the Welsh border who serves as the Diocesan Exorcist (now called "Deliverance Consultant"). In the ancient city of Ludlow, the death of a teenaged boy may have been suicide or murder, and Reverend Merrily Watkins investigates the unquiet dead. The book makes the point that ghosts have power, whether or not they actually exist.

Stuart MacBride, Dying Light. This is the sequel to Cold Granite, and comes out in August. It's just as good as the first novel, although even more graphically violent (one character loses pieces of his fingers in a scene that will stay with me a long time). Aberdeen DS Logan MacRae gets exiled to the "Screw-Up Squad" after a raid goes bad, but finds himself on the trail of a serial killer of prostitutes. One subplot, about the disappearance of a suburban husband, feels a little disconnected to the rest of the book, but its solution is so ingenious it's worth the detour.

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