Why Read If We Can’t Remember?

James Collins ponders why we read if we can’t remember what we read in “The Plot Escapes Me” at the New York Times:

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?

I’m sure I’m not the only one relieved that he musters decent evidence for continuing to read even as what we read falls away. Isn’t that what life is, really?

(I think this link came from The Morning News.)

3 Responses to “Why Read If We Can’t Remember?”

  1. thalia Says:

    I think it’s perhaps more shades of grey than your quote (having not read the whole article) indicates. Some books I retain almost all of the detail, even beign able to remember where on a page a particular piece of the story was (the 1000 autumns of Jacob de Zoet is a recent one) and others I forget the detail of, although I remember the plot overall (much of the chick lit airplane reading I do). I rarely forget things completely, although the extent to which I remember the detail is definitely decreasing with age. But I will most certainly read on even if the decrease continues, the pleasure of entering another world for a while, or being challenged to think differently about a real world situation (Gillian Tett and Michael Lewis’s recent stuff on the financial crisis), is worth it.

  2. Amy Says:

    I thought it was only me.

    One thing I do remember is a line from a letter of Flannery O’Connor’s, in which she says: “I have been blessed with the gift of nonretention.” That’s me in a nutshell. I can look at a book a couple of weeks later, tell you if I liked it or not and probably why or why not, but name the main character? Nope. Major plot points? Nope.

  3. girldetective Says:

    T, the article is short, and it is on the simplistic side, even with quoting a neurologist. But I agree with you. I usually remember something, even if it’s just an impression, and certain details get recorded precisely. I have a theory (as I often do…) that the more present I am in a reading/watching situation, the more I’ll retain it (as opposed to thinking about what to do next, what groceries we need, etc.). Then again, I bet the emotional connection to something also anchors it more or less.