books · discussions · Shar

Is it still worth reading if you don’t remember it?

Hi Virtually Readers! The other day I was writing a review that I’d started two weeks after finishing the book, then left half finished. By the time I’d finished it, it had been more than a month and I had forgotten one of the main character’s names, as well as a lot of the minor plot points. To be honest I forget the details of most books I read—a year after I’ve finished it, only a few slightly random snippets of information will remain. So this got me wondering: is it still worth reading a book if you’re not going to remember it?

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One book I read recently was Moonwalking with Einstein, which is about the art of memory. It mostly focused on the history of memory techniques, how they work and how they’re used in memory competitions. But the point it made is that back in the day before printing was cheap and books were widespread and novels were the most popular form of the written word * books were meant to be remembered for their content. You (meaning, in this particular case at least, rich white and often religious men of Northern Europe) would read a book slowly and meditate on it’s contents. Great value was placed on committing this precious knowledge—precious enough to be transcribed by hand and bound—to memory.

I know I don’t do this. I’m reading more nonfiction, it’s true, but I mostly read novels, and read them fast. I also quickly forget their content. So, what’s the point of reading? Is the value of the books I read only in the pleasure and edification I get at the time, and the small nuggets of information (often random and unimportant) that I retain?

*no idea if this is actually true, but it sounded good

I think the answer to whether a book is worth reading only if you remember it depends on the book. When it comes to my textbooks, which often supplement content I will actually be tested on, influence my grades and affect whether or not I get a degree, I don’t see the point of reading it if the information doesn’t stick in my brain; if I don’t use it to make connections and learn and enhance what I’ve already learnt. That’s why I take notes on my textbook readings, by the way.

However, when it comes to novels, I don’t think this is valid. Novels are stories. They don’t really impact whether or not I get a degree. Their value is more profound than that. And I’d argue it’s not as important to remember the individual details. I’m not going to remember the names of the characters in the long run, or what exactly happened.

But in the long run, that’s not where the value of the novels I read now. Their values lie in the ways they broaden my mind to get inside the heads of people very different from me. Scientific studies have shown, in fact, that reading fiction increases empathy. Their value lies in allowing me to learn about places and situations far from myself, and also (hopefully—occasionally) allow for self-reflection as I understand more about myself through the actions of characters. The value in novels lies in the skills of criticism and analysis I get through reviewing them (or just telling someone else about them). The value in novels lies in the way thematic elements can remain relevant to my life, make me feel understood, not alone in the strangeness of teenagehood. The value in novels lies in the way reading as a hobby comforts me when I’m upset or tired. The value in novels is the new words I learn from them, and the way I can apply what I learn from them to the rest of my life. Novels are valuable in all these ways without needing to be remembered.

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Lastly, the value in novels, especially young adult fiction which is so often hated on by the rest of the world, lies in the community you get when you talk about the books you love. I know I sound cheesy, but I’m glad I have such a great community to talk about books with. I know I don’t comment as much as I used to but I’m incredibly grateful to be in this community. Blogging is of value to me. That’s why I do it, that’s why I read, even though I’m busy. Reading is bigger than the details and the characters.

Okay, so that got a bit deep! But I really really enjoyed writing that post so yay! Do you remember the books you read? What is their value for you? 

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11 thoughts on “Is it still worth reading if you don’t remember it?

  1. See, my degree is in Lit so remembering stories DID impact whether or not I passed. :’) I have a good memory for fiction though, so… * shrugs * I want to read more non-fiction – specifically history.

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  2. I tend to remember the books that I read unless it was a serious pain to get through and I had to make myself speed read. I think it’s still worth reading if you don’t remember it. There are only so many things that you can keep remembering. Also, not remembering would benefit readers who wish they could read a story all over again.

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    1. Hmmm yes you must have a good memory! Some people are like that, my sister for instance. I’m just terrible to be honest XD

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  3. This is an interesting post! I never actually considered whether it’s worth reading when I probably will forget a lot about a book over the years. I don’t remember all of the books I read or everything about them but it’s mostly about the experience for me. I have memories of reading books about fairies when I was a kid and these memories just make me really happy because I remember what it felt like to believe anything is possible. That has stayed with me over the years and it still gives me comfort.

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  4. I strongly agree with the potential for reading to expand your mind even when you don’t specifically remember what you have read.

    However, consistent failure to remember what you have read may indicate a failure to have read deeply, and thus failure to intake a lot of the benefits.

    When a book matters to me, I tend to read it over and over again, over the course of years and sometimes even decades, and I’ve gotten the most out of such reread, contemplated, and well-remembered books.

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  5. This is SUCH an interesting and unique discussion point. I think you’re right, whether it’s memorability is important completely depends on what you’re looking for, or even what mood you happen to be in that day when you read! Everyone reads differently, I bet there are some people who read YA and remember literally everything (lol not me). At the end of the day, you can never judge what someone else finds valuable to be more or less morally important. I get really annoyed when people judge others’ reading habits so that’s my take anyway 😁 Love this post! 💜

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  6. You raise such an interesting question with this post, I love it! I have to say that my memory is a bit weak when it comes to books – unless it’s a book that deeply touched me, sometimes I tend to forget details, characters names or even what happened in a book at a time. I still think that makes books worth reading though, because if they entertain us, give us an escape well needed at the time being, if they make us step into someone else’s shoes for a little while and allow us to live their experiences, too, it’s totally worth it 🙂 ❤

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  7. Memory is a fickle thing sometimes. I actually remember more of what I see on a page or screen than I do my own life. I don’t really know why; perhaps I just engage with fictional worlds more and find them more appealing. ?? I live by and through stories. They sustain me. So I agree with you that they are important for the reasons you mentioned, whether or not you remember all the details 🙂

    And the community is wonderful and makes reading just that more fun. Being able to share stories, and stories that are important, happy-making, and fulfilling, even if just in the moment of reading, that’s brilliant. Thanks for this post!

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  8. I completely agree! If I decided that books I don’t remember weren’t worth reading, then I guess I wouldn’t read at all. Even though I forget much of what I read, what I do remember is the feeling a particular book gives me (along the lines of what you mentioned in your second-to-last paragraph).

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