I’m about a third of the way into reading Cloud Cuckoo Land by Anthony Doer, and there’s a passage that keeps reverberating in my mind.

It’s pretty early on, in a section where we are with Anna, a young girl living with her sister among nuns. Anna seems to be a source of frustration and disappointment to the nuns as she is unable to recall simple stitches after being taught them, while her sister Maria seems to be somewhat of a prodigy, able to follow and learn quite quickly and thereby earning both their keep.

Eight year old Anna is running an errand when she overhears a man with a deep and resonant voice reading aloud a passage from a story about Ulysses. Anna has never seen a book aside from a bible, and she is transfixed by the voice and the story and the man.

She begs him to tutor her, and though he rejects her offer because she is a girl, she is able to barter some sips of wine from the jug she carries in exchange for a lesson in letters, and thus begins to learn to read.

With only a few lines and words, the world opens to her, and she finds herself drawn to the man often, trading what she can for his lessons.

Not long after her tutelage begins, she comes to Licinius – the old man – for what turns out to be the last time. He tells her they will work on the concept of “mythos,” which he explains is a “tale or a story, a legend from the old time of the gods,” and he goes on to say that it can represent both truths and falsehoods simultaneously. After some time he continues, saying,


And suddenly, for me, I am transfixed.

It is the moment the book becomes un-put-downable. I had read the opening forty pages once during winter break, and struggled to keep track of how time was being manipulated, how many seemingly distinct character stories I was reading, and though I wondered how they would come together, I was already missing the only character I grew attached to – Zeno.

I do enjoy stories I have to work for, and so when a week had gone by since I picked it up, I started it over again. (And since my students are reading it as one option in a climate fiction book club adventure, I was definitely going back to it.) And then…just seven pages after I had initially set it down and sulked, I was hooked.

I am hooked.

I cannot think of any definition of “book” or text” that I have not liked, and as I invite my students to read texts of all types as many of us do – including things like a football game, an architectural design, a conversation in an ongoing relationship, an invitation – I am compelled by this one.

To think of a book – a text – as a “resting place” evokes many ideas for me. It is, of course, comforting. We “repose” at the concept. The book is at rest. The ideas in it are at rest. It feels like an invitation itself for us, too, to rest, shedding new light on the idea of “snuggling up with a good book.”

Reposing with a book is itself a text.

As I write this blog post I know I am creating a text for myself and I am cataloging – resting – my impressions and thoughts and the connections I will make into something that I will be able to look back on. Perhaps I will feel differently about it at a later date. Most likely I will not even – when enough time passes – recall with much clarity or detail what this post was about or when in my life I wrote it.

But for now – in this moment – I am both creating and remembering and revisiting the sentiments I have both about writing and reading texts. When we read something, even things that last a long time in the social and literary landscape, we are nonetheless reading something that was created in a relatively brief period of time. We sometimes ascribe “timelessness” to an author’s or creator’s conception while they invented something in a moment. What a great responsibility and great burden for a creator to bear.

How do we know if what an author wrote yesterday should be true today? How do we know if Shakespeare intended for his words to last as long as they have? To mean different things in different times and still be deemed “appropriate” or “valid” interpretations? We know he hoped his sentiments and life would live on in his written words, as other early Renaissance poets hoped and wrote, but…could he take the memories of previous events (as many of his plays are based on stories already written by Ovid and others) and make new ones and then anticipate hundreds of years later we might do it again with his?

It doesn’t seem impossible. Morrison too surely intended for her words to be both memory and teacher. True in their fictional falsehood. Rebutting with falsehood versions of truth and memory catalogued in public story.

From another angle, there’s been plenty of critique of what some folks ascribe to the intentions of our “founding fathers” that tears as the fabric of nostalgia, falsifying a truth from the time, the texts themselves a manifestation of memory and fantasy both in the time of creation and in the aftermath. Was what they wrote what we mean when we interpret it today? Perhaps it is for the best we not know the answer to that one.

Do writers have the right to influence our memories? I suppose as readers we make many choices when we engage, this being one of them. And we are alive one day with our memories and the next day we read a text, we then re-member / re-attach ideas one to another as we choose. What you say today can change how I feel about my yesterday.

As readers we continually re-member, re-assign, re-vision, re-see and thus re-cite what once was, thinking we either own it now or might take it from one context – this text – and apply it to another. Whether the author / creator agrees is – dependent upon your school of literary theory of choice in the moment – either deemed as valid or invalid, fair or unfair according to another reader.

We each read the memory – the text – differently, even though we read it in the language of the creator. And even the creator, as we know from writers everywhere and throughout time, would likely alter their phrasing given another stab at revision or re-reading if prompted by their editor. Or simply because time has passed and the memories are now different.

Does this make it more or less important that we read with a varied mindset and lens? With a gentle ascription of what any text means?

Turning to writing, we teachers believe it important that we invite writers to tell their stories of the moment, their memories as they are right now, and have them enter the world of texts for others to enjoy and be evoked by. But what if I tell a story today in all its glorious truth, believing in my soul it to be a perfect mirror and then later, after living and talking and re-membering / re-attaching parts of myself through the inevitable revision and re-visioning we do, and then tomorrow tell that story anew? What if it’s unrecognizable? What if I disavow it completely?

Perhaps Doer’s closing to these lines gives us the way to assimilate these questions as Licinius finishes his explanation of what a book is:

“A way for the memory to stay fixed after the soul has traveled on.”

Clearly – maybe? – he believes we are varied, evolving, complex. Perhaps he too feels as many of us do and as Whitman so ingeniously claimed in Song 51 of Song of Myself: “I am large, I contain multitudes.”

If texts are our memories, they too then contain multitudes.

I am eager to continue reading Doer’s novel. It clearly contains multitudes, and I feel again – as I often do with a rich and complex text – that I, too, contain multitudes, and am invited to both read and write my complex song.

Here is my repository for you. I cannot deny that parts of me are at greater rest for having read, thought, reflected and revised my sense of self – my song – at Doer’s invitation. Perhaps that is the truest form of the concept; an author – a creator – by resting themselves invites us, too, to rest.