I've started this post several times and can never quite seem to finish it, perhaps because it's a bit of a sore subject and my thoughts are all over the place on the subject. I've decided that with a small dose of biology (which will be fairly basic and may possibly contain errors... so don't quote me), some common sense, and over-dramatics I might have a little more luck.
Here it goes.
I don't remember the specific details of what I read for very long. It's shameful and frustrating. I'd say within a few weeks of reading a book I start forgetting things like names and other minor details. Within a month or two smaller plot elements are gone. A few months later all that remains is the big ideas, plus a few other aspects I'll mention later. Sometimes aspects vanish faster, sometimes slower.
Luckily, this affliction is fairly common- Ian Crouch wrote about it last year in the New Yorker, as have many others. Nonetheless, as someone who prides themselves in being well-read it's a bit of an issue of intellectual vanity, especially when boasting to someone that you've read a book, loved it, and then having to admit that you can't even remember the main character's first name.
But again, it's okay. It's natural. It happens to the best of us.
And here's why:
1. When I (or you) read, the memory is stored in our frontal lobe; in order for it to become more permanent it needs to move to other areas of the brain, depending on the type of memory (there are different parts that hold memories relating to the procedural act of reading, the linguistic component, and the emotional side).
2. In order for things to transfer from short-term to long-term storage you have to work with, or rehearse, the actual memory- you can't just read page after page, finish a book and move on to the next one.
3. This idea of rehearsal means you're just accessing, manipulating, or applying the content, multiple times, over an extended period of time. One of my favorite books, and one I truly do remember a great deal of, is Crime and Punishment, from high school. I thank the monster interactive notebook I created for this- activity after activity went into this thing, forcing me to analyze deeply over the course of probably six to eight weeks (I just found it and the teacher wrote "this is either a labor of love or a love of labor"). I'm also much more likely to remember books I teach, discuss at book club, blog more extensively about, take notes on, or watch as movies (which often leads to dialogue or writing). It's just common sense that the more we're exposed to something the longer we retain the information.
|[lather. rinse. repeat.]|
4. I read a lot. I talk a lot. I think a lot. I do a lot. If things aren't put into the long-term bank they get pushed aside for new information. Think in terms of a computer- if you have a million windows open on your browser things start slowing down.The logical solution is to exit out of a few sites, prioritizing the important windows. Brains work the same way; when we have a lot going on it selects what to keep active and what to let slip a way. As much as I may love a book, after a week or two of reading it new things are going to take precedence (including whatever book I pick up next). For the record, the implications this has in terms of teaching students are enormous.
But there are things that I do remember.
I always, without a doubt, remember if I like a book or not, and what sort of emotional response I had to it. This is not surprising, as emotion and personal connections can actually help strengthen memory.
For some reason I can generally comment on the writing style, probably because my brain starts automatically making connections between other authors I have read or books I've already read by the same author.
I can recall the bigger aspects, like what the book is about and where it's set.
And now I feel better. And you can too.
Are you a forgetter? Or just me?