16.9.04

Touchstones

Bookslut pointed me to the Guardian article about touchstones: What kind of book marks a watershed in a woman's life? That was the question I was asked to address when the Orange prize for fiction, in association with Radio 4's Woman's Hour, commissioned a piece of research to establish a list of books read by women at formative moments in their lives - books they return to again and again.

Then So Many Books jumped on the bandwagon, listing Books: For All of Life's Moments Big or Small:
Charlotte's Web by E.B. White
A Swiftly Tilting Planet by Madeleine L'Engle
Jonathan Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
Hamlet by William Shakespeare
Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
Dune by Frank Herbert
Job: A Comedy of Justice Robert Heinlein
A Wild Patience Has Taken Me This Far (poetry) by Adrienne Rich
Woman on the Edge of Time by Marge Piercy
A Room of One's Own (nonfiction) by Virginia Woolf
Mind of My Mind by Octavia E Butler
The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison
The House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende
Dawn by Octavia E. Butler
Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

Some time ago on The Readers Place we started a post about touchstones from our youth. This was based on a lecture I'd been to on Wonder Tales, where we came up with a list that included:
Wrinkle in Time
Lord of the Rings
Wizard of Oz (both book and movie)
Peter Cottontail
Puss'n'Boots
Wind in the Willows
Peter Pan
Alice in Wonderland
Mary Poppins
Secret Garden
the works of Thornton Burgess

As I've compared the TRP and the Guardian-inspired lists, I've been thinking about what a touchstone really is. Is it something that is so embedded in your being that you can't imagine yourself as yourself without it? In which case, I'd have to add Goodnight, Moon to the list. Is it something that becomes an integral part of you, as many of the above have become? Is it like a security blanket, something you can put aside for long periods of time but that you pick up when you need to calm down/feel better about life/re-find your center? Or is it something to which you return again and again, finding both your old and new selves in the pages, learning new meanings as you age and experience more?

In A History of Reading, Alberto Manguel talks about reading for Borges. He'd start a book and Borges would finish it for him, from memory. Then they'd move to another, seemingly prompted at random from within Borges' brain. Manguel posits that our brains are the original hypertext: that each time we read (or listen to) something we make new connections with old and new favorites. The Guardian list, and the other lists mentioned above, seem to be making the same point as Manguel did. Which still doesn't answer the question of what comprises a touchstone. Perhaps there is no one answer, it's too personal.

Speaking of personal, what about aural touchstones? What songs and/or albums make up your interior aural landscape? Food for thought and fodder for another post.

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