There is an essay in today’s New York Times Book Review: The Plot Escapes Me, in which writer James Collins laments that he cannot retain the contents of the books he reads, even a month after closing their covers. Might I suggest that Mr. Collins keep a book journal (and a book blog or LibraryThing account certainly qualifies)?
I have been journaling my reading — first in notebooks, then in this blog — for the past 10 years. I have learned as I’ve gone along, and my initial brief entries have transformed into multi-page essays. I have learned to read more closely and thoughtfully as a result. And I find that now, when I look back over the books I have read, I remember more of the themes, characters, events and images than I did before I started keeping the journal. Of course, this isn’t true for all books, but then, all books aren’t memorable.
Speaking of close reading, I just finished Francine Prose’s Reading Like a Writer, which advocates reading very carefully, word for word. This is another way to augment retention. I am putting that advice into practice for my current read, David Mitchell’s The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, and finding that a close read of such wonderful prose benefits the reader immeasurably.