How Not to Forget Books You Read

For years I’ve been suffering from rubbish memory: I forget the details of the books I’ve read, the places I visited, the faces of people I met, what we had for dinner yesterday (I remember it was tasty), what the boy my daughter fancies is called. (This last is particularly galling as it took months to worm it out of her.) At some point I got worried that I’m suffering from dementia already, a gloomy thought. But against this was set the fact that I remember all the deadlines at work (there’re galore), don’t need reminders to pay for the children’s school trips in time and just managed to learn a foreign language. Minus the foreign language though this means I’m forgetting everything I actually would like to remember – very annoying. In fact, to top it all, I even forget foreign languages I spent years acquiring as soon as I stop using them.

Anyway, I concluded that I don’t suffer from dementia (just yet) and carried on with my life lamenting the fact that I can’t remember anything worthwhile, while my children carried on being cross for having to tell me everything three times. (My husband just shrugs and refuses to repeat himself.) And so it would have gone on, if I didn’t start book blogging. You realise very quickly that you need to do something about this lamentable lack of memory when – for example – you think to write a post about Herodotus and the circumnavigation of Africa by the Phoenicians in the service of the Egyptian Pharaoh, and it becomes obvious that in this half sentence you have just summed up about all the facts that you can remember and if you’re actually going to write anything more than this you’d better find the relevant passage and read it again.

Well, Google is your friend. In olden times, we used to go to the library to do research but not any more. I decided it was time that I found out if I was the only one in the universe cursed with this perversely selectively memory, and more importantly, if there was a remedy for it. The obvious and natural remedy is of course to read the book you’ve forgotten all about again but like I said at least once before, life is short and my bookshelves are long – how will I ever read anything new if I constantly re-read the books I’ve already read?

At least I’m not alone with my affliction: up came trumps an article in the New Yorker, titled The Curse of Reading and Forgetting which was clearly written about me. Reassuringly, not only the author of the article is incapable of remembering anything he (she?) read but apparently Siegfried Sassoon already said a century ago that “it is humanly certain that most of us remember very little of what we have read”.  Like the author of the article, I’m completely reassured: Siegfried Sassoon’s word is good enough for me, especially when he says something I want to hear in the first place. (Very easy to agree with people when they tell you what you want to hear.)

This, however, still leaves us with the problem of how not to forget. Further googling will reveal the general advice that making use of what you read is the only way not to forget it. Well, this is solid good sense and I’m all for trying it. And the best way of using what you read? I think the answer is obvious: start blogging about it. 🙂

Now to start on my huge backlog of books then…

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