An interesting article in the New York Times, on whether or not people can recall having read a book.
I have just realized something terrible about myself: I don’t remember the books I read. I chose “Perjury” as an example at random, and its neighbors on my bookshelf, Michael Chabon’s “Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay” (on the right) and Anka Muhlstein’s “Taste for Freedom: The Life of Astolphe de Custine” (on the left), could have served just as well. These are books I loved, but as with “Perjury,” all I associate with them is an atmosphere and a stray image or two, like memories of trips I took as a child.
Nor do I think I am the only one with this problem. Certainly, there are those who can read a book once and retain everything that was in it, but anecdotal evidence suggests that is not the case with most people. Anecdotal evidence suggests that most people cannot recall the title or author or even the existence of a book they read a month ago, much less its contents.
So we in the forgetful majority must, I think, confront the following question: Why read books if we can’t remember what’s in them?
It’s an interesting notion; I know on occasion I suffer from this, depending how long ago I read the book in question, of course. And on the other hand, it’s cool returning to a novel and reading the same prose with different reading experiences under your belt, or even discovering new sensations within the text.
For those bloggers and reviewers who plough through dozens of titles: can you actually recall every book you read, or does the effort of having to cover a lot of work mean you forget most of them? I know some people have the gift of speed-reading, so this perhaps doesn’t apply here. I often wonder just how much the desire to tick-off a list of must-read titles influences the ability to absorb the contents of a novel – perhaps even the enjoyment of that novel – let alone the affecting the ability to recall the work. Though maybe the act of writing reviews (perhaps even those poor reviews that barely go beyond a plot summary) helps firm the events of a book in your mind.