How Much Do You Really Remember About The Books You’ve Read?


I’ll admit that when it comes to my reading, occasionally I focus on quantity rather than quality. In 2012 I read 93 books, which was, in hindsight, far too many. What was the name of the protagonist in The Lighthouse by Alison Moore? I haven’t a clue.

It was by reading Moonwalking with Einstein by Joshua Foer, a superb book on memory, that I started properly thinking about this. How many books do I know really well?

I think a lot of us readers can relate to Foer when he writes:

One Hundred Years of Solitude: I remember magical realism and that I enjoyed it. But that’s about it. I don’t even reacall when I read it. About Wuthering Heights I remember exactly two things: that I read it in a high school English class and that there was a character named Heathcliff. I couldn’t say whether I liked the book or not.

Joshua Foer on reading and forgetting

To counter the mindless binging of books, I think we need to not “read and read and read”, but simply read. It’s something I’ve become a lot better at remembering, but I know my manic reading tendencies will return (and probably soon).

Last year I ticked off a modest 59 books, and this year I’ve so far managed a meagre 34. I’m happy with that. I’d like to say that I’ve really mulled over The Secret History by Donna Tartt in all its intellectual, vicious glory, and enjoyed every mindful minute of Robert Galbraith’s The Silkworm. And I definitely remember that the protagonist of The Goldfinch was called Theo, and that there were two other wonderful characters called Hobie and Pippa.

By not pushing ourselves to read great lists of Booker Prize winners in a single summer, we can perhaps read more into our books.

For me, I know that writing about my favourite books is a great help. It’s also the perfect excuse (or incentive) to research a great book in more detail, and I think Michel de Montaigne would agree with me. As he writes in Of Books, one of his great essays,

To compensate a little for the treachery and weakness of my memory, so extreme that it has happened to me more than once to pick up again, as recent and unknown to me, books which I had read carefully a few years before and scribbled over with my notes, I have adopted the habit for some time now of adding at the end of each book (I mean of those that I intend to use only once) the time I finished reading it and the judgement I have derived of it as a whole, so that this may represent to me at least the sense and general idea I had conceived of the author in reading it.

How do you try to remember the books you read? Do you annotate them and use lots of post-its (as I do), or do you keep a reading journal? Do you read archeologically around an author or topic? Or do you set aside time to reread your favourite novels?


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Lucy
It's good to meet you! I started Tolstoy Therapy back in 2012 to share my healing journey through anxiety and PTSD with books. I also climb mountains, go on solo adventures, and write over at livewildly.co.