Are Reading Memories Sense Memories?

Rebecca Joines Schinsky

Chief of Staff

Rebecca Joines Schinsky is the executive director of product and ecommerce at Riot New Media Group. She co-hosts All the Books! and the Book Riot Podcast. Follow her on Twitter: @rebeccaschinsky.

It’s widely accepted that olfactory memories–those tied to scents–are the most powerful of memories. You get in an elevator with a man wearing the same cologne your high school boyfriend wore, and you’re overcome with the urge to make out (just me?). The smell of freshly baked cookies wafts out of a café, and you feel happier, calmer, younger (and hungrier). You know how it goes. (See also: Proust and the Madeleines, which would, by the way, be a great name for a band.)

I have the same sense memory thing going on with music, and the existence of Trisha Yearwood’s “The Song Remembers When” leads me to believe I’m not alone. Also, I’ve rarely been retweeted so much as when I revealed that–embarrassing though it is–Dave Matthews’ “Crash” makes me want to kiss someone, anyone. (I swear, I do have memories that are not make-out-related.)

Our brains are pretty freaking cool, and I love the fact that how our memories are tied to smell and sound is part of the larger conversation about culture and psychology. It makes intuitive sense that things we use to help us interpret the world become tied to our memories. So I wonder: is there a similar kind of sense memory for book people, for this tribe that views and understands the world through the lens of literature?

I remember what I was reading when I moved into my first college dorm (The Hobbit, for the umpteenth time), when my husband proposed (literally–he had to interrupt me, and I was sorta irritated until I realized what he was doing), and when I sat up all night with my newborn nephew. Give me a significant life event, and I can tell you the book that saw me through it.

Do you guys have this too? Why isn’t there a term for it? What shall we call it?