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Old 02-06-2014   #11
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Re: Reading and Memory

It is true for me too, that writing reviews helps me to retain a better memory of the books I have read. I love the image of reviews as literary dream-catchers! However, I find writing detailed reviews to be very time consuming, and mostly I just choose to spend that time doing more reading. I like the idea of having a commonplace book where I can write down passages that resonate with me, or thoughts and revelations that might occur to me as I read. I've been meaning to start one for quite some time. I suppose I have just been too lazy. Highlighting/underling is a possible option, but I don't really like marking my books, especially the rarer editions! I have been delving more into ebooks lately, though, so maybe I'll try the highlighting function on my iPad or Kindle, and see if that improves my memory. Thanks to everybody who has responded to this thread thus far. You've give me much to ponder, and made me realize that maybe I'm just not putting in enough effort in to remembering what I read. If only there wasn't so much out there to tantalize me, maybe I would be able to spend more time on each book or story I read! I confess, it really is only a problem when I'm talking to people about books I have read, and is one of the main reasons why I don't contribute more to literary discussions here (apart from being much more of emotional as opposed to cerebral thinker).
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Old 02-06-2014   #12
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Re: Reading and Memory

The German writer Patrick Süskind, author of modern classics Perfume and The Pigeon, has written a funny and insightful essay on this very subject, entitled "Amnesia in Litteris." I have often felt that the act of reading is much like sinking into a dream which changes us in some vital manner while we are asleep, but upon waking the transformational process eludes recollection. Süskind reaches a similar conclusion and suggests that books change us imperceptibly as we are reading, without our noticing. The essay can be found in his collection, Three Stories and a Reflection, but to save you the trouble of chasing it up, here are some of the highlights (the author is in his library, pondering the spines of all those books he has read but forgotten):

The old sickness has me in its grip again: amnesia in litteris, the total loss of literary memory. I am overcome by a wave of vanity of all striving for knowledge, all striving of any kind. Why read at all? Why read this book a second time, since I know that very soon not even a shadow of recollection will remain of it? Why do anything at all, when all things fall apart? Why live, when one must die? And I clap the lovely book shut, stand up, and slink back, vanquished, demolished, to place it again among the mass of anonymous and forgotten volumes lined up on the shelf.
[...]
But what about the books over there, next to the desk, the literary ones. What has remained in my memory of the fifteeen-volume collection of Alfred Andersch? Nothing. What about the

Bölls, the Walsers? Nothing. The ten volumes of Handke? Less than nothing. What do I still know about Tristram Shandy, about Rosseeau's Confessions? Nothing, nothing, nothing.

But look! Shakespeare's comedies! I read the lot of them only a year ago. Something must have stuck, some indistinct notion, a title, a single title of a single comedy by Shakespeare! Nothing. But for God's sake, Goethe, at least, way up there in the top row, forty-five volumes of Goethe, this one here, for example, this little white volume, Kindred by Choice, I must have read it at least three times... not a glimmer is left. Vanished, gone. Jesus, is there not a single book in the world that I can remember?

Those two red volumes, the thick ones with red ribbons, I'm sure I know them, they're as familiar as old furniture, I've read them, I lived in those volumes for weeks, and not very long ago; what are they, what is the title? The Possessed. I see. Interesting. And the author? F. M. Dostoevsky. Hm. Yes. I seem to have a vague recollection: the whole thing takes place in the nineteenth century, I believe, and in the second volume someone shoots himself with a pistol. More than that I couldn't say.

I sink back into the chair at my desk. This is a disgrace. It's a scandal. I've been able to read for thirty years now, and I've read quite a bit, if not much, and all that's left is the very vague recollection that in the second volume of a thousand-page novel someone or other kills himself with a pistol. Thirty years of reading in vain! Thousands of hours of my childhood and my youth and my manhood spent reading, and nothing is retained but a great forgetting.

It isn't as if this malady were abating; on the contrary it's getting worse. Today, when I read a book, I forget the beginning before I've reached the end. Sometimes my powers of retention don't even extend from the top of the page to the bottom. And so I swing myself, hand over hand, from paragraph to paragraph and sentence to sentence; and I can foresee the day when I can grasp only a few words at a time as they come floating in from the darkness of an always unknown text, briefly sparkling off like shooting stars at the moment I read them, only to sink back into the Lethean river of total forgetfulness.
[...]
Maybe reading is an act by which consciousness is changed in some imperceptible manner that the reader is not even aware of. The reader suffering from amnesia in litteris is most definitely changed by his reading, but without noticing it, because as he reads, those critical faculties of his brain that could tell him that change is occurring are changing as well. And for the one who is himself a writer, the sickness may conceivably be a blessing, indeed a necessary precondition, since it protects him against the crippling awe which every great work of literature creates, and because it allows him to sustain a wholly uncomplicated relationship to plagiarism, without which nothing original can be created.

"Reality is the shadow of the word." -- Bruno Schulz

Last edited by BleakИ 02-07-2014 at 04:11 AM..
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Old 02-09-2014   #13
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Re: Reading and Memory

Thank you so much for your post Bleak&Icy! Süskind's words are so insightful and similar to my own experiences, although expressed ever more so eloquently than I ever could! They are comforting to read. I must track down that essay, read it, and then forget it. Hopefully the pertinent bits will stay within my subconscious.

I love the way you phrased this:

Quote Originally Posted by Bleak&Icy View Post
I have often felt that the act of reading is much like sinking into a dream which changes us in some vital manner while we are asleep, but upon waking the transformational process eludes recollection.
What a sublime way to view the act of reading. It reminds me of this quote from Rikki Ducornet:

“What are books but tangible dreams? What is reading if it is not dreaming? The best books cause us to dream; the rest are not worth reading.”
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Old 03-13-2017   #14
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Re: Reading and Memory

I believe I've selective literary amnesia for books I hate and some nonfiction, but I generally do better if they make an impression on me.

I remember when I was 7 or 8 I read an small excerpt on Charlie Chaplin's childhood--translated from English--and it goes into great detail about Chaplin mother's mental breakdown after she lost her voice, how she sends Chaplin and his brother into an orphanage, how he has to shave his head because of fungus disease...One day his mother makes up some excuse to get them out for a picnic. They drink lemonade with ice cream float on top and then wrap some papers into a ball to play in the park. Somehow this makes a great impression on me, the milk lemon ice cream float and how they have to use paper balls. I read it once and 10+ years later I suddenly want to read it again in English. It's just as I remember but the lemon ice cream float becomes a sorbet.

Celine's Journey to the End of the Night is more like a dream seeping into me. I read it twice, but I cannot remember anything except the circus they visit near the end and how Bardamu hates the bathroom in New York. The book changes the way I use punctuation, reading tempo...I can't believe I don't remember a thing from it.

WORD MADE FLESH.— The relationship between thought and language is the relationship between a wound and its scar.

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Old 03-13-2017   #15
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Re: Reading and Memory

The more I think about this, the more that I have come realize that I remember the content of non-fiction better, but I remember more how fiction made me feel that its plot. The are plenty of exceptions in both cases, but in general. For example, I can't remember what happened in "Interview With The Vampire" but I do remember the almost drugging effect it had on my young mind while reading the novel.

"The world is indeed comic, but the joke is on mankind." - H. P. Lovecraft
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