In the summer when I was sixteen, I read great gobs of Anna Karenina with my feet over my head. I had been somberly informed that you retain information better if there is more blood in your brain. This seemed reasonable, so I lay in bed with my feet up against the wall. If the novel hadn’t been so fine, I might have been derailed by the fatigue of holding a big book up in the air for hours, but I actually don’t remember being troubled by this fact of reading gravity.
I can attest that in this singular case, the feet-in-the-air tactic worked. Despite the multiple names of myriad actors, the plot unfolded thrillingly and I remember, even now, how my bedroom room became Russian salons, private rooms in Moscow restaurants, birthing rooms, dachas, coaches, and the terrible final moment. With my brain full of blood, the scenes fixed themselves in memory cells.
Being 16, I was fervently convinced that the “point” of the novel was romantic love, that Anna was to be pitied, of course, but maybe, if Karenin had been more reasonable, not controlled by spiritualists, Anna and Vronsky would have been so happy, heroic in their sacrifice of respectability for passion. What a thrilling life they could have lived, not like the staid domestic peace of Levin and Kitty. And thus began my time of complex, exhausting, not-ending-happily relationships.
Some years later, I re-read Anna Karenina, sitting the regular way, and oh, the penny dropped. Or maybe it was just that I was older. Ah, Anna and Vronsky weren’t the point at all. My bad. It’s Levin and Kitty and the purposeful life (granted, an absurd reduction of magnificent novel). I’m happy to say this literary revelation joined changes in my own life and the love-as-pain model fell away.
But back to the feet-in-the-air reading tactic. It does work for retention. Now, with the coming of tablets, the weight of a book is no impediment. It could be, though, that all that blood created a more hot-headed reading. Or maybe it was just the fact of being sixteen.