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The Readers Guide To Overcoming A Bad Memory (In 5 Easy Steps!)

A Tuesday morning. 6:30 a.m.

Me: “My jacket! It’s 25 degrees outside. Honey, I have you seen my jacket?”

A Wednesday afternoon. 2:20 p.m.

Wife: “You forgot to go by the Publix at lunch to get more diapers, didn’t you?”

A Thursday morning. 8:00 a.m.

Brother: “When do you plan on sending me a check for the fantasy football league?”

A Monday evening. 8:45 p.m.

Me: “I have no idea what the chapter I read last night was about. Crap. What did I read last night?”

All of the above has happened, though the names, times and places might have changed to protect the innocent.

You see, my memory sucks. Maybe your memory sucks too.

That’s why I’ve created this mildly useful guide to help those of us who might have early-onset dementia.

Hopefully, this will allow us to navigate our way through the difficulties inherent in following plot, remembering characters, and reading through hundreds of pages and tens of thousands of words, while keeping track of simple things, like: “What’s the name of that mountain Frodo is traveling to?” or “Why is Atticus in the courtroom again?” or “Why is this pig leading a barnyard revolt?”

As a reader, you can improve your memory with these 5 easy steps!

1) Re-read the last two pages: It’s always annoyed me when certain TV shows come back from commercial break and do a 30-second recap of everything that just happened. I’m looking at you, Hell’s Kitchen.  I just watched Gordon Ramsey drop 8 censored F-bombs in 20 seconds. Do I really have to see it again?

But then I realized I do the book equivalent of the “post-commercial recap.” Every night, when I sit down to read, I always re-read one or two pages prior to my last stopping point.  Maybe I should produce reality cooking shows.

2) Rename characters: I’m sure Tolkien spent a lot of time crafting all his character’s names. But let’s be honest: You’ve got Aragorn and Arwen and Frodo and Bilbo and Saruman and Sauron and Gandalf and Gimli (son of Gloin, of course) and…Sam? Could these names possibly be more difficult to remember, much less pronounce?

In these cases, take a little creative liberty and rename them—put your friends and family members in the story.  I think it’s time Uncle Joe met his fiery death in Mordor, don’t you?

3) Put yourself in the scene: Similar to the previous suggestion, but make it even more personal. I’m no psychologist or memory expert, but aren’t you more likely to remember something if you experience it first-hand instead of just reading about it?

Unless you’re reading Deliverance, and you don’t want to be on either end of that. Pun intended.

4) Read out loud. I’ve heard this helps with bad memories. I’ve tried it before. Didn’t work for me, but maybe that’s because it’s a little awkward reading Lolita out loud in a Starbucks. Just kidding. I actually read it out loud alone in my living room.

But I guess that was a bit awkward too. Stop judging me.

5) Make a rhyme. After each reading session, right when you close your book (or, plug your “book” in, if you’re the e-reader type), craft a quick 15 second rhyme or haiku that will help you remember key plot points.

For instance, here’s a little number I came up with to remember Gone With The Wind: “Scarlett loves Ashley, but Ashley loves Mel. Ashley tells Scarlett it’s too late to bail. She runs to Rhett with her hat in her hand, and Rhett? He tells her he don’t give a damn.”

I don’t know if the above tips will really help your memory. They’re actually more likely to bring odd stares.

But if you’re like me, and sometimes the first page and the last page seem as disconnected as a Twilight book on shelf of literary classics, then maybe one of the above will make your reading experience a little more satisfying.

Just give Uncle Joe fair warning, okay?

9 Comments Post a comment
  1. Matt #

    Number one is really good advice. I think I will try that!


    March 9, 2012
  2. Tyler #

    TMI on Deliverance. Haha!


    March 9, 2012
  3. I’ve read quite a few books in my life and even though I enjoyed most of them, I often forget about them entirely. When someone asks me what kind of books I like to read, I am unable to say anything other than “well, almost anything” because I really can’t remember even a couple (I think I remember more the names of the books I don’t read) and the same thing seems to happen once I remember the book but I can’t remember the characters or what the hell is about. Anyway, my point is that I thank you for this article. Maybe I’ll use these steps to finally read Ulysses?


    March 9, 2012
    • I’m the same way. Horrible memory. The steps are mostly tongue-in-cheek, but maybe they’ll work! Might try them on something a little easier than, Ulysses though.


      March 11, 2012
  4. Reading aloud has always been my go-to study tactic. Really helpful for auditory learners 🙂


    March 10, 2012
    • Agreed. I’m not necessarily an auditory learner, but sometimes I read portions of more difficult books out loud.


      March 11, 2012

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. How Do You Read Two Books At Once? | 101 Books
  2. What’s In A Name? | 101 Books
  3. Henry Green: “I forget everything I read.” | 101 Books

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