Sunday, December 13, 2009

Reading retention

I reorganized my bookshelves last week after Kristin moved the furniture in our living room. She took all the books out to move the shelves, and when she put them back they were all out of order. Being a somewhat anal-retentive dork, this drove me nuts.

My favorite authors row was mixed up with my Irish history books, which had been separated from my Irish fiction. My Native American section was interspersed with my music biographies. Stephen King was standing next to the Best American Sports Writing collection.*

It was chaos. And I'm pretty sure Kristin did it on purpose.

But it turned out to be a good thing. Going through all my books again was a little like taking a trip to a used bookstore. There were books I haven't read yet, plus ones I had forgotten about. I looked through some of the latter kind, trying to jog my memory about their plots.

That's when it hit me -- my reading retention is abysmal. I struggle to remember specific details about many of the books I've read. Take "Miles from Nowhere" by Nami Mun. I loved the book, which has received much acclaim.

But when Kristin picked it up to read a few weeks ago, I couldn't remember anything about it, other than it was gritty and involved heavy drug use. I didn't remember anything about the narrator or what happened to her or how it ended.

Now I'm trying to figure out how that can be. I'm not an idiot (really, I'm not!), but how can my reading retention be so bad?

My theory is that I spend a lot of time paying attention to style more than plot. I'll make notes when I like a sentence or a particular turn of phrase. Maybe doing that is too distracting for my brain.

Maybe my perspective is just skewed because Kristin has a photographic memory when it comes to this kind of thing. She can't remember names of her students, but she can tell you in great detail about a scene from "Miles from Nowhere" where the narrator covers her mother with dirt while her mother was praying in the garden. I barely remembered the narrator had flashback scenes with her mother.

So what about it? Do any of you struggle like I do with retention? Do any of you have any tips to help my retention? I know there are a lot of readers out there, so please chime in.

While I wait, I'm going to bed to read the short story collection, "Bluebirds Used to Croon in the Choir" by Joe Meno. Just don't ask me to give you any details.

*-NOTE: This paragraph isn't 100 percent true. Big surprise, but I don't really remember where Kristin had reshelved everything. I just know it was a mess. The details I give are only for attempted humor and to give you an idea of how particular I am about organizing my books. But this is my blog, so if I want to interject a slight bit of fiction into it I will. :-D


  1. As an adendum to your "note" I did NOT put them back incorrectly on purpose. I tried to get them back in order, but they didn't fit and had been moved around when I took them off of the shelves. But, it was hilarious watching you come home and wring your hands as you looked at where all the books were.

  2. I have the same problem. There are books I absolutely love, but I could only give you a vague description of what they're about. That's why I'm re-reading "Haunted". You asked me a question about it, and I had no memory of what you were talking about. After a couple of years, it's like I only read a little of it. I can remember what people tell me or what I hear...ask me to read something and tell you what I read and I'm doomed.