On memory and blogging

I’m on a bit of a re-reading kick at the moment. I’m reading new books but we’ve recently acquired a couple of new bookcases and the resultant sort-out unearthed some books I was excited about revisiting. But it got me thinking about unconscious re-reading and some of the reasons I got into blogging.

Have you ever read a book for the second time thinking that it was the first?

Because I have.

As shocking as I found it, I’ve managed to get through at least two books while remaining completely unaware that I’d read them before. On one occasion – accidentally re-reading Sebastian Barry’s The Secret Scripture – I got a creeping sense of familiarity but not enough to remember anything that was actually going to happen. I just assumed I’d read something similar.

My (nerdy but oh so satisfying) excel spreadsheet was the only thing that revealed my blunder; as you type in the title it autofills if the same text has been used above. Cue palm slapping on forehead.

I don’t mind conscious rereading of a favourite book but I’m genuinely chilled when it’s accidental.

When I started noting down the books I read – back in July 2002 – I didn’t intend it to be an aide memoire; it was really just a way of keeping track, of appreciating progress and revealing trends. What happened over time was surprising and quite rewarding. First it became a kind of literary diary – I find I can look back at titles and remember snippets of where I was while reading and the things that were going on in my life at the time. On the other hand, it started to reveal some less pleasant things – namely, that I really don’t remember much of what I read. There are books on there that I cannot recall a single thing about; there are also books that I notice are duplicated on my ‘to be read’ list (like The God of Small Things, which it turns out I read in June 2012, oh the shame).

One could argue that it doesn’t matter too much, that it’s about enjoyment in the moment. That we can’t possibly remember everything we’ve ever read or we’d start losing important thoughts like our address or how to make toast. But it turns out it matters terribly to me. I just can’t stand that the hours (sometimes even days, or weeks) that I spent reading a particular book are effectively lost to me, irreparably.

I started making the odd note next to each title that I entered in the log, with snippets of plot, theme and my reactions. Eventually, as with so many other readers I’d imagine, I found my way to blogging. I wanted to create a more tangible representation of my reading life than a list; a critique perhaps, a dialogue, an analysis. I’m hoping this means that there’ll be no more books slipping through the cracks.

Have you ever accidentally re-read something?

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4 thoughts on “On memory and blogging

  1. Hello Faye! I came nosing around after you left a comment on my blog… You’re a terrific writer, I’ve really enjoyed what I’ve read! And you’ve introduced me to Lucy Wood, who sounds brilliant.

    I’m afraid that the truth for me is that I don’t think I can categorically answer that question – it’s very likely that I have reread a book and never at any point realised I’ve read it before. 😦 I’m thinking in particular of those classic crime novels by Ngaio Marsh, Michael Innes, Edmund Crispin et al. I made the perhaps foolhardy decision not to have a separate TBR pile which makes this harder. But I certainly am familiar with the creeping feeling of recognising a book I thought was new to me…

    Forgetting almost everything about a book drives me nuts too, if only because someone might say, ‘Have you read X?’ and I say yes yes, and then they ask what I thought of it and I can’t even remember the names of the characters, I mean what is the point?

    I haven’t found that blogging helps much with this, because I don’t write about every book I read (I find writing very difficult) and I never reread my blog posts because they make me cringe!

    Sorry this comment is so long!

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    • Thanks so much, Helen – that’s so kind. And if Lucy Wood gets another reader as a result of my blog I’ll be really chuffed. Your point about remembering you’ve read something but remembering nothing about it rang so true. I often end up wondering what the point is if I couldn’t even “discuss” a book with someone (and ‘YES! ME TOO!’ to almost immediately forgetting character’s names!!). I suppose part of blogging isn’t necessarily going to be to document everything I read, but to at least feel that I do a bit more “discussing” before it falls through the mind-cracks… Here’s hoping!
      p.s. There’s no such thing as a comment that’s too long; not for those whose passion is words anyway! 🙂

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      • Ha, thanks! 🙂 And you’re quite right, blogging has proved for me something of an antidote to the mindless consumption of books and quick forgetting them to which I was prone. Here’s to better-quality literary discussions!

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  2. Buff-Beauty.com says:

    Faye, I can totally relate! I’m also nerding it up with a notebook of everything I’ve read. I’d need to check, but I have a feeling the start date coincides with the birth of your spreadsheet.

    I started mine as a way of making sure I was reading a good mix of material, and also for the very fact I know I forget key points about books (from the characters’ names to the entire plot)! So, like you, I also make a few notes as to the general gist of what happened/what I liked about the book.

    It’s become a really pleasurable ritual and I love looking back over the years and remembering what came before.

    Really love your blog!

    PS, to make us feel better I remember hearing something about the psychology of pleasure and its effect on memory. They say when you’re having a wonderful conversation you actually remember fewer facts re what’s been said. Let’s hope this is the case for our reading and we’re just getting so absorbed in the stories. 🙂

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