The capricious nature of memory fascinates Malcolm Jones. What we remember of our past is a vital question to a memoirist bent on exploring life when he was growing up in North Carolina in the 1950s and '60s.
``I can remember one day I was writing about living with my aunt and uncle,'' says the long-time Newsweek writer, who appears Monday at Books & Books in Coral Gables, ``watching the kids coming out of the school across the street. I wrote that and stopped and stared at it. I had not had that memory until I wrote it! The memory was obviously in my brain somewhere, and for 50 years I hadn't thought of it at all. And all of a sudden there it was, clear as day. That happened two or three times. . . . The mysteries of memory just grow and grow for me.''
Jones turned out to be exceptionally adept at excavating memories of being an only child of parents who lived apart for big chunks of his childhood, officially divorcing (rare in those days) when he was 12. He writes of an early love for marionettes (``dolls,'' according to more disdainful relations) and of later falling in love with music after hearing one of his uncle's old blues records. He never laments growing up an only child: ``It gave me a rich interior life. I learned very early to entertain myself.''
Jones' father drank too much and disappeared for months; his mother -- who is really the focus of Jones' bittersweet story -- suffered and not quietly. Little Boy Blues (Pantheon, $24.95) explores their tempestuous marriage, their extended families and an old-fashioned Southern lifestyle, in which ``[m]y earliest views on life were formed by people who, even when they weren't born in the nineteenth century, saw the world much as it was seen during Reconstruction.'' Jesus was more or less considered one of the family.
Click here to read the rest of my interview with Jones, and see him at 8 p.m. Monday at Books & Books in the Gables