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?
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.
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?