Friday, December 9, 2011

Eaters of the Dead

In a previous post, I mentioned that our memories can be affected by several things. The associations a memory has have a large impact on how we remember something. In other words, the filing system your brain used when filing away a memory will determine how you view that memory.

I recently re-read Eaters of the Dead. My original memory of this book was that I didn't like it. Ibn Fadlan's name was too long (when he is introduced, his name includes ancestors back to his great-great grandpa), and in my memory, the names were written out that way quite often in the book. I found it slow, boring, and was not impressed with it.

Our minds can play tricks with our memories, and mine did in regards to this book. In fact, Ibn Fadlan's name is only written out in that ridiculously long way one time. My memory said it was much more often, but it was wrong. I'm not sure exactly why I remembered it the way I did. I vaguely remember having conversations with a friend about the name & the fact that some cultures put too much stock in your father was, the idea of a whole family being respected or shunned based on the actions of one person, etc. So, maybe it was these conversations, the extra focus on the name, that caused me to remember it as more prominent.

I think one reason I had such a negative reaction to memories of this book was the association with  school. I did not like school. I loved learning. I loved reading. I hated school. School was a giant popularity contest with some busywork thrown in. I was the brainy girl who preferred my dinosaur models & chemistry set to my Barbies. I was the girl who always had a book in her in hands. I was the student reading a Stephen King novel in class, who the teacher would then call on to answer a question because he was convinced I wasn't paying attention, and I'd get it right. I was the perfectionist who would be pissed about a less than perfect grade on something I cared about, but who would skip a class that I didn't care about. I was the student who would argue about an answer marked wrong, explain the logic behind my answer & why my answer was correct. I was the student being accused of cheating in Math because I could get the answer in my head & my teacher couldn't. I was not miss popularity. I was bored with the work, disliked most of the people, was disliked by many students & several teachers, and saw most of the experience of 13 years in ps as a monumental waste of time. In other words, school doesn't bring up a lot of happy memories. Most of my memories of school are negative.

So, it's not surprising that my memory of this book was colored by my negative feelings about school. When I read this in school it would have been 10th or 11th grade. In 10th grade, I was in high school #2, spent much of my time in the office or ISS, and was being harassed by an assistant principal who wanted to expel me. In 11th grade, I transferred to high school #3. It was one more school at which I would do work I'd done years before, one more school at which I had to start over (high school #3 was school #7, 7 schools from K-12). These aren't exactly positive memories. Combine that with the fact that the teacher didn't tell us anything about the book before we read it and that I was quite disappointed in what it was (I had thought it would be quite different, based on the title), and it's no wonder that my memories of this book weren't exactly warm & fuzzy.

Though, not all of my memories of it were altered by the general negativity surrounding my first reading of it. I remembered there being several mentions of public sexual acts, and there were several mentions of it. I remember it as boring, and honestly I still kind of feel that way. It's not so much that's it's boring & slow (though it is), it's the fact that it could have, should have, been more. It's not a boring topic, being a retelling of Beowulf. The descriptions just aren't that good. They're kind of vague. They don't allow you to truly see it in your mind's eye. I kind of saw it, but not really. I've seen The 13th Warrior several times (it's based on Eaters of the Dead) and just kind of saw that playing in my mind, and even that was only sometimes. I guess, I'm still kind of disappointed, but this time it's for a different reason. This time I'm disappointed because I don't feel that it is as good, as detailed, as well-done as I've come to expect from Crichton.

I'm still glad I re-read it, though. It's not my favorite work by the author, but it is better than I originally remembered it being. There was no negativity surrounding my reading it this time. I went into with an open mind, willingly, and knowing the premise of the book. My opinion has improved, but I still don't think of it as a great book. I do still intend to have Dea read it. She'll read it soon, probably the week after next. I'll be able to discuss it, analyze it, with her with it fresh in my mind. She might even enjoy the book.