The Sunday Salon: Reading to Remember

Reading Like a Writer

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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.

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4 Responses to “The Sunday Salon: Reading to Remember”

  1. Can you see my head shaking, urgently shaking, YES, YES, YES?

    I wish I could read more slowly. Every time I show down in my reading, I find lovely text. I seem to be always looking ahead to the next book awaiting me on the shelf.

    I’ve only read children’s books this week, but what wonderful children’s books they were! I’d love to have you stop in at my blog:

    (And don’t panic….the post IS in English, despite all outward appearances!)

  2. I’ve dipped in and out of this Prose book a couple of times, and I’ve really enjoyed it. I should try to keep her advice foremost in my mind when I’m reading these days.

  3. 3 NUI

    Your blog has inspired my reading life, and I always enjoy your reviews and attached links. It has been like having a reliable compass for treasure hunting! I laughed out loud when I read your review on ” The girl with dragon tattoo” since it made me realize that I safely avoided stepping onto a land mine with your intuitive detector :)

  4. Wow, thanks, what a great comment. It made my day.

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