If you know me in real life, you’ll know that a had some health trouble a while back. This post isn’t about that, but it gives some context, so I’ll fill start there.
One of the symptoms of that trouble was an even-less-reliable-than-usual short term memory. Short term memory isn’t “the past few days”. It’s not even hours or minutes – it’s seconds. Short term memory isn’t your ability to remember what you did ten minutes ago – it’s your sense of now.
It was a scary time in general, but I found it particularly unpleasant as it caused me to lose something valuable to me – my ability to read books.
I could read the words and they made sense, but more often than not, they’d be gone a few seconds later. I’d have to go back and reread a sentence over and over to give it a chance of sticking. Or, because I had no sense of now, I’d keep reading, with no reason to realise I’d forgotten anything. It was only when I stopped briefly that I’d realise I had no recollection of anything I’d just read. It stayed long enough for me to parse it and be conscious that I had read it… and then went out of my mind entirely, as if it had never been there at all.
So I stopped reading.
After a few false starts, nearly a year later, I decided I was better. Except for the whole reading thing. That wasn’t coming back. I managed to read a book here and there, if it was one I’d really been waiting for. In some cases, I need to go back and read them again, because I’m fairly sure I’ve got massive gaps in my recollection of them.
But, when I’d started to be able to read books again (albeit slowly and painfully) I decided to invite an old friend back into my life. One I’d not seen for a fair while, because we’d become a bit too close and decided we needed to see other people for a while. Not a flesh and blood kind of friend, you understand, but one of the paper kind.
I decided to re-read the “Memory, Sorrow and Thorn” trilogy by bestselling author and crazy person Tad Williams. We used to hang out a lot, those books and I. In my youth, we’d get together at least once a year for over a decade, and we’d hang around in the same circles a lot. In particular there was the Lyst, which I had been around for a great many years, often in the background as a moderator, but from time to time as an active participant as well.
Over time we’d drifted apart. Many new books had come into my life since we parted ways. There was A Song of Ice and Fire. There were The Dresden Files. There were the Fencer, Scavenger and Engineer trilogies. There were the collected works of Alastair Reynolds and the works of Charles Stross and Cory Doctorow. That’s just a small sampling, too. My eyeballs got around a bit, if I’m honest.
Then, as explained above, something horrible ate my brain. In a strictly metaphorical sense, of course.
But when we met up, the old familiarity was still there. Not enough for me to regret reaching out, but enough for me to re-adjust to this whole “reading books” thing. I spent a couple of weeks with The Dragonbone Chair, and the bond between us was still there. It took time, but over the course of a couple of weeks we became re-acquainted.
I don’t think it’s fair to take all the credit for that. I was struggling a bit at first. There were moments where my brain panicked and decided I needed to stop reading in case it all went horribly wrong. It sounds daft, but anybody who’s had clinical anxiety will know what I’m talking about. Sometimes you just have a fight, flight or freeze reaction to the most mundane of things.
(As you might have guessed, clinical anxiety was another aspect of my health problems. My doctor and I are both pretty sure it was a secondary condition rather than the root cause, but as with all such things, you never really get to know what came first because something horrible was eating your brain at the time.)
But anyway, The Dragonbone Chair helped me through all that. The fact that we could fall into an old and well remembered pattern made it all so much easier. I got to know Simon Mooncalf again, and his first interactions with Malachias and the scattercat. I refreshed my acquaintance with Dr Morgenes Ercestres and his works. I felt once again the unlooked for conflict between two royal brothers, rekindled by the death of their father.
I saw the Uduntree and the blood of Igjarjuk.
Given that our time together in the past had, on occasion, taken place in the space of a single sitting, our re-acquaintance was slow, but it was pleasant, and the pace quickened over time.
So much in fact, that I had something of a wild fling with The Stone of Farewell. In some ways, I feel that I hurried all the players to get together at Sesuad’ra faster than was wise. But I was hungry for things to move along. Hungry to see Jao e-Tinukai’i again, and hungry to visit the house of Shent.
Shent is a game that, even now, appeals to me because it’s a game where playing competitively is missing the point, whilst exploring possibilities and experiencing different flows of the game is paramount. My kind of game, and my kind of gameplay.
I slowed down a little for To Green Angel Tower, not out of any shame or second thoughts… but because my hardback copy was too titanic to read on the train. Seriously. If I were to hit you with that hardback, you would die. Your neighbours would die too, from the ensuing shockwave. So I had to read my paperbacks, one of which is not in fantastic condition so required some care to avoid breaking the binding.
So I learned again the story of the Storm King, and I learned his reasons. I re-learned the deepest secrets of Osten Ard’s greatest knight, and I re-learned of the sorrowful events that had happened long in the past to bring it all to pass.
Since then, I’ve been reading books consistently and comfortably. I’ve been ploughing through them at a fair rate, if I’m honest. Sometimes two at a time – I know, I’m shameless.
So, thank you, Memory, Sorrow and Thorn, for helping me get back something I’d lost. Thank you, Tad Williams, for writing those books, all those years ago… and for being around to talk to a bunch of internet geeks about them (and other things) when many other authors still hadn’t worked out that computers were more than fancy typewriters and that the internet might actually be a “thing”. I still wonder if I should be taking pineapples with me to SF cons, just to see who understands.