I have now coasted past my 70th birthday and have acquired the rights of geezerhood, one of which is a variable memory. I forget things. Not everything nor am I making claims to senility (yet). But sometimes some things drop out and that isn’t necessarily bad.
I suspect I acquired both this trait and outlook from my mother. Every year she would re-read Death Comes For the Archbishop by Willa Cather and at the time I didn’t understand that. Why re-read a book when there are so many out there she had not yet opened? She told me that, due to lapsing memory, she didn’t always remember the plot and so had the pleasure of discovering the story anew. I have since discovered that pleasure for myself. It’s not simply re-reading books that I like but forgetting some the plot details. Mysteries work well with this; for example, I have read every Nero Wolfe mystery that Rex Stout ever wrote (and a few that he didn’t) and I am currently re-reading them. With some (not all), I have forgotten who-dun-it and that’s okay. The real pleasure is not in the unravelling of the mystery but in time spent with the characters, especially Nero Wolfe and his assistant, Archie Goodwin. I’ve really come back for the interplay between them. The resolution to the mystery – indeed, of most mysteries – is very secondary for me compared to that interplay. I would argue that’s true for most mysteries; when Arthur Conan Doyle introduced us to Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson in A Study In Scarlet, we’re not deeply interested in who the killer is but in how Holmes catches him. I would argue that Doyle’s deepest interest also is not in the killer although he spends a great deal of time in the killer’s backstory. The identity of the murderer and the workings of the plot are there to drive the story and to give us an excuse to visit with our friends, the main characters. Continue reading “Working Title #020: The Usefulness of Memory Lapses”