How Quickly We Forget


Or, I should say, how quickly I forget. I was reminded this week of how often I do NOT remember the details of a book, and how sometimes they fade quickly. How was I reminded? Well, a co-worker to whom I had recommended a book by a “classic” author stopped by my desk to report she had finished it and, more importantly, to take me to task about an unhappy ending. (Apparently, someone died in someone’s arms in the final pages.) You’d think that’d be something one would remember, wouldn’t you? I guess not, at least in my case. Thankfully, she was just giving me a hard time and had actually really liked the book – as I suspected she would -and we now also have a third co-worker tentatively making her way into the book.

I’ve often been accused of having a great memory. I wish that were the case, although perhaps – relatively speaking – maybe I do. I have a fondness for trivia and seem to remember a lot of little facts about things. All well and good, and it has helped me pass through the Jeopardy! auditions twice now (they still haven’t called me, dammit! 🙂 , but I would actually like to remember things more worthy of remembering – like more of the plot of a Thomas Hardy novel. There, thats the final clue as to which book I’m talking about; I don’t want to type “Spoiler Alert” in this post!) that I read just a year and a half ago.

But how does one go about that? Are we chained to whatever aptitude for memory we are born with, or can it be enhanced? Long ago – I was probably still in college -I discovered a book by Harry Lorayne and Jerry Lucas (yes, the famous basketball player) about memory, and techniques used to “memorize” lists and things. I did learn some things from that book, but it did not deal with the type of memory I seek. I desire more to recall rather than “just” memorize. How is that done? Anyone know?

Personally, I think readers fall into one, or a combination, of the following groups of what they remember about books they read:

1: Some remember certain scenes very well if not the whole book

2. Some remember characters very well, as if they were people they actually know

3. Some remember dialogue or quotations that they can seem to recall at will much later

4. Some remember the emotions that a particular book elicited in them.

5. Some remember the entire plot. These are “the lovers of stories” I think.

6. Some – and these are the ones I “hate” 🙂  – remember “all of the above.

Which categories do you fall into? Which categories would you add to this list?

I suppose in truth we are all a mixture. For my part, I’m fairly strong on #1, respectable on #3, passable on #2, and a disaster on #s 4 & 5.

I should say that another short story I just read yesterday also helped prompt me to write this post. It was the second story in the Vonnegut collection, Bagombo Snuff Box, titled “Mnemonics.” In this sweet, very short story, our protagonist, Alfred Moorehead, works in an office which has him attend a memory skills seminar, where we learn that “The images used to help memory vary widely from person to person.” It turns out that the images that help Alfred remember are those of beautiful women, such as Lana Turner and Jane Russell, a technique that leads to amusing consequences regarding his pretty secretary, Ellen, who he has secretly pined for since he met her. There, no spoilers there either. 🙂

That’s all for now. Have a good Wednesday!


  1. Dee said,

    June 6, 2012 at 1:51 pm

    I’ll pass on an observation I have made being close to a 80+ gentleman:
    whereas most people start denigrating themselves as they more and more begin to lose words, facts etc “I’m losing my memory!” “I can’t remember anything anymore!” etc ….. Peter kind of drops out of a conversation for a bit and in a few moments he comes up with the word he was searching for ……. I perceive this as a very positive way to address one’s own brain …..


    • Jay said,

      June 7, 2012 at 7:23 am

      Thanks for sharing that, Dee. I, too, believe that how we choose to deal with adversity and challenges has a tangible impact.

      In a way, this reminds me of a favorite saying of my Grandma,”A person’s about as happy as he makes up his mind to be.” (I don’t think she came up with that herself, but was quoting someone. Either way, good words.)



  2. Dale said,

    June 6, 2012 at 7:16 pm

    One of the things that I discovered I liked about blogging was the ability to document things that I might otherwise forget. And categorizing and tagging are very convenient for me!


    • Jay said,

      June 7, 2012 at 7:25 am

      Hi Dale,
      You are 100% correct there. If I’ve written something about a book instead of just reading,my odds of remembering it down the road double at least.


  3. Nan said,

    June 7, 2012 at 11:46 am

    What I remember most about all the books I’ve read is the locale. Either the outdoors, or the details of a house, a room, a bookcase.


    • Jay said,

      June 7, 2012 at 12:10 pm

      Hi Nan,
      Interesting. I guess I’ve had some books that I remember along those lines. E.g. What I remember about The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is the “omnipresence” of the Mississippi River – it was almost like a character to me.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: