A Reader’s Response to Life
I recently read the memoir titled Uneducated by Tara Westover. Diving into the book, I could barely put it down. It reminded me of my childhood memories and how events can be twisted.
This memoir also blasted me back to my college days. I remember studying something called the reader’s response theory. The premise of the theory is that the reader creates their own unique meaning of a text. Essentially, we all imagine differently what we are reading. If you were to read the sentence :
In the field there was a barn.
Your barn, in your mind, looks different from mine. My barn is a combination of traditional barn like structures that look eerily similar to the dilapidated barn we drove by every Saturday. Your barn may be freshly painted red with white trim, (or not).
As I was reading Uneducated, the idea of reader’s response kept popping into my mind. Tara describes in great detail the memories of her childhood. Several times throughout her text, she inserts an asterisk noting that her memories may not match seamlessly with those around her at the time. Even further, when she looks back on her life in retrospect, she can see her memories shift and twist in different lights with different knowledge.
That resonated with me. I had a blessed childhood. Yet there were a few unpleasant childhood memories that pop up now and then and sometimes facts twist and shift. An exaggerated telling or huge chunk of memory missing all together.
A simple example of a twisted memory comes from my elementary schooldays.
I blamed a class trouble maker for pricking me with a push pen (there was no push pen). Taking advantage of his reputation, my parents and the teacher believed me.
He got in trouble and I faced a mountain of guilt. Unsure as to why I even lied in the first place. I was convinced that I would go to hell if I didn’t tell the truth.
After days of mental agony, I remember going into my parents room in the early morning hours and pouring my soul out to their groggy faces.
They don’t recall that conversation.
My motivations for lying change every time I think back to this memory. Sometimes It was an elaborate revenge plot on the bully for making fun of my father. Other times, I truly think I was just motivated by pure meanness and an appetite for drama in my monotonous schooldays.
Sometimes there was a pushpin and a drop of blood, other times there was no pushpin altogether.
This is just a simple example. There are many other childhood memories that are twisted and unclear or some pleasant events that feel like they happened just yesterday. I wish I had recorded or kept a journal as a kid to get true memories down on paper.
What strikes me about Tara’s memoir is her desire for the exact truth, to self-assess and self- analyze the facts as they were in context and cross-referenced with the memories of others.
Her memoir is a reader’s response to life events and memories with her family. Her journey of self-analysis and reflection is a valuable model for me to begin to understand myself as I write.
Now that I journal more in my adult life, it is easier to look back with clarity. I want the same for my future child. A way to process emotions and memories through facts and clear context. No twisting, no unnecessary guilt, shame or unclarity. Clear childhood memories to hold on to.
A documented reader/writer’s response to life.