How Reading More Books Has Changed the Way I Remember Them

When I first started book blogging, I remember I would see people say things like “I can’t remember the characters’ names” and I would hardcore roll my eyes. I would think things like, geez, are these people even paying attention to what they read? How can I trust their review of a book if they can’t even remember something as basic as character names!

These days I find myself forgetting character names all the time. Sometimes immediately after finishing a book I can’t even remember the MAIN FREAKING CHARACTER’S name. So I’ve got a lot more sympathy for bloggers who forget. (And for the record, no I can’t always just go check because I get a lot of books from the library!)

So what changed?

It’s not hard to pinpoint. Prior to starting a book blog I averaged around 20 books each year. Last year I read more than 60 books.

There’s a couple obvious reasons that reading more books would cause you to not remember them as well. If I’m reading more books, it obviously means I’m reading them a lot faster. So theoretically if I’m reading faster I might not be reading as deeply as I used to. (I truly don’t think this is the case for me personally, but might totally be a thing for other people.)

The other option, the one I think is probably true for me, is that I’m not spending as much physical time with a book. Instead of spending two weeks reading a story I’m spending 5-7 days. That’s about half the time! That means half as many nights I’ve had to convert that information into long-term memory. Half as many days to tell the people around me what I’m reading about. (Which means there’s a good chance I haven’t gotten to talk to anyone about it.) Half as many days to think that person’s name on my way to work.

Side-bar, when I was reading fewer books I also think I took the time to slow down and sound-out character names I was less familiar with, whereas now I frequently catch myself calling a character A——n while I’m reading. That can’t help!

The other big difference in my reading habits since I’ve started blogging is that I’ve basically stopped re-reading books.

I used to obsessively re-read, especially favorites. Most of the books I bothered to keep on my bookshelf are books that I either have re-read or wanted to re-read. What’s the point in keeping a book if you aren’t going to read it again? I figured. Favorite books I had likely re-read multiple times. So it’s no wonder I knew the character’s names so well!

I’ve gotten really stuck on this idea of character names as the basis for remembering a book well, and I absolutely don’t want it to come across that if you forget a character name you can’t remember the rest of the book! I’m using this as an easy example of how I personally remember books.

Because, the thing is, I have noticed that I remember A LOT LESS about what I read than I used to. Character names (and place names!) are a simple thing to identify, but I used to be able to more or less re-tell a book when I was done reading it. Summarize, if you will. Even years later! These days, I find I often can’t remember the middle of a book, or the surprise ending. I’ll have forgotten side-characters or side-quests altogether.

And y’all, I don’t like it.

I miss re-reading my books. I miss knowing the books on my bookshelf better than the back of my own hand. I know there are SO MANY books out there that I want to read and haven’t, but at what expense? NOT reading the books I already know I love and have halfway forgotten?

I think it’s time for a real heart-to-heart with myself. I can’t go on like this. (But I also can’t go on with 95 books on my tbr, so what’s a girl to do????)

Do you find that you have a hard time remembering books? How detailed is your memory for books later on?

46 thoughts on “How Reading More Books Has Changed the Way I Remember Them

  1. I rarely remember the characters names, but I’m bad with names. I’m good at retaining info for about two weeks, and then I’m done. I have book club next Tuesday, and I finished the book about two weeks ago, so I’m actually a little worried that I won’t remember talking points and such

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      1. Honestly, I think the majority don’t remember. I know when my daughter is reading for school, her book is filled with a bunch of post it’s with ideas and such to remind her of certain things

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  2. I actually started the blog as a way to remember more details. I have a shoddy memory and everything falls out of me noggin. And aye, I have to write me reviews immediately after reading (if possible) because the details go fuzzy after more than a couple days. Of course when I read lots of things in a row, it makes it hard to remember details. But aye, I used to reread everything and remember lots of details. If I didn’t, it be wonderful to rediscover them. I miss rereading. I need to do it more. Arrrr!
    x The Captain

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  3. My reading pace has also improved since I started blogging seriously. I have a good memory, but I often forget character names and minor details about the plot later on. This has never worried me, though, because I can always go back and look at a synopsis of the story on Goodreads to get at least the main characters’ names. I still remember the basic plotlines and what I liked and disliked about the books, even if I’ve forgotten character names.

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    1. See, I’m forgetting ALL KINDS OF THINGS. And I never used to… Character names don’t bother me that much, because like you said, I can go look it up. But it does bother me if I forget about a character altogether.

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        1. That’s a good point! I don’t, mostly because I have so much going on. I rarely sit down and read a book, it’s more catching five minutes here and ten minutes there. I don’t know how I would find the time to journal.

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  4. I am right there with you on this entire post. I look back on some books I know I’ve read and are sitting right on my bookshelf in my living room and I can’t help but wonder: “What was this about again?” I definitely think it’s a product of spending so much less time with a book than I used to.

    I know obscure character name and subplots from Harry Potter, which I read when I was a child – but that’s because I re-read those books obsessively as a kid and basically spent my entire summer vacation with them. Now, I spend anywhere between 1-3 days on a book before moving on to the next one, and I rarely (if ever) get a chance to re-read books.

    I’ve been sort of toying with the idea of revisiting some books I know I enjoyed, but I’m not sure how I’d incorporate that into my blog.

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    1. Yeah, not knowing how to work it in to my blog is a big part of why I stopped re-reading. For the people who read 200 books a year maybe it’s not as big of a deal, but since I read one a week or so, if I don’t read something new to review then I don’t have content.

      But I’ve said all along that blogging is something I do for FUN, not for views. So if I want to re-read books I probably should, post or not. Hardly anyone reads my reviews anyway, lol.

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      1. Could you do a bit deeper analysis? Usually if I reread something, I notice things I didn’t the first time – whether it’s foreshadowing, or a character whose motivation was obscure initially, or just a phrase that didn’t have time to strike me as I read through. If you have the benefit of knowing where it’ll go, you can better pinpoint how it gets there.

        On the other hand, maybe rereads could be deeper if, say, you’ve grown more familiar with the author’s other work, or how the author fits among their contemporaries. You could kind of zoom out and go “Hmm, their later stuff goes lighter on description” or “Wow, this really made me understand what it’s like to experience X even though these other 3 books didn’t” or “Here’s how Agatha Christie changed the mystery genre.”

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        1. Haha, those are great ideas that sound like a LOT of work! *feeling lazy* I also find that in general people have engaged with my posts when I’ve done things like that. Which, like, is fine, I don’t care all that much about stats, but it also isn’t fun to spend hours and hours on a post and then for nobody to read it.

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      2. I’m in the same situation as you. I work full time, so I’m lucky if I can read 2 books a week – usually I only manage one. I feel like if I could read a bit faster I might be able to work in some re-reads, but alas I don’t think that would help the whole “can’t remember this book I read 1 year ago” thing.

        I often think the same thing! Sometimes I’m tempted to post old reviews again just for the heck of it and see if anyone notices haha.

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    2. Absolutely this! If you’re waiting and waiting and WAITING for Order of the Phoenix, of *course* you’ll know every single character who shakes Harry’s hand in The Leaky Cauldron or every spell Harry learns in Charms class or every book Hermione has in her bag. I don’t think I’ve ever reread anything like I reread and reread HP, though Sayers tempts me to it.

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  5. I’ve been struggling with the same thing myself. (Though sometimes I blank on my own name so…)
    I’ve told myself at times well the ones that stand out are the really good ones right? The ones worth remembering. But then on the other hand am I missing out on a great read because of an obsessive desire to read everything? I may try to slow it down this summer and see how my reading goes. Good luck!

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  6. I am absolutely in the same boat. It is something I have been really fighting with this year. I used to re read Harry Potter every year. I used to spend an entire month or two on a book (I still do that…no shame) but reading so much, in quick succession has really altered my memory and really the way I enjoy books. Back in the day, I would just read a book and be done with it, sit with it for a little while. Now I have this pressure to label exactly how I felt about the book I JUST read with a star rating, so that I can immediately write a review of it and get it posted before I move on and forget all the details. Its sick really.
    I came on here so I would have someone to talk to about my books, so I could write down what I thought and now it is like an obsession. Its like I am reading just so I can rate and review them. I am definitely going to be doing some soul searching in the coming months to figure out where I stand with all this. Glad I am not the only one who is feeling this way though

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  7. Great post! I’m like you – In most cases I forget characters’ names (even the main characters) let alone most of the plots… needless to say the ending. I do retain memory while I’m reading a book but once I finish it and move on to my next read, all the memory about the book I was reading previously tends to slip away, gets painted over with the new one if you will.
    I think exactly the same about re-reading. I miss re-reading my favorite books but with so many books on my TBR and on my bookshelf, it sometimes feels like wasting time to read the books I’ve already read, and I’m torn… and yes, we can’t go on like this lol

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  8. OMG I dream of 90 books on my TBR. I’m over 900.

    I find that the books I really like, I remember. A lot of books are throwaways – good for a single read, but not a favorite, so I won’t retain a lot of that information. Character names are harder for me now that I read a LOT more and re-read a lot less, but when I love a book I can basically give you a play-by-play. Other books I see in my archive and wonder when I read that. Haha, oops.

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    1. 900, I would die. I would be so overwhelmed that I wouldn’t even know what to read next. 90 is too many as it is!

      I weed. A LOT. Like, at least once a month I go through my tbr and weed out anything that I’ve lost interest in, or that I think I’m just adding because of hype, or that I literally can’t remember anything about.

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  9. Wow, I feel this. I am notoriously bad at remembering details like characters’ names and even important plot points, and I think it’s definitely gotten worse now that I read more books than I used to! I think your point about taking less time to read books, so having less time to internalize those details, is so interesting and makes a lot of sense.

    I totally get your frustration about not being able to remember these things, though! I still reread a lot (mostly because it’s like reading it for the first time, since I’m so forgetful haha) – my method is to reread using audiobooks, since it doesn’t feel like it’s taking away from my regular reading!

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    1. Rereading with audio books is a good idea, and one that I think I’ve heard before. I can’t bring myself to do audiobooks though. I’ve been learning more about how other people read, and I think I’m starting to pinpoint why audio books don’t gel with me. I’m glad it works for you though! I’m jealous.

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  10. This post speaks to me on an emotional level. I can NEVER remember character names and always have to read recaps when the second book in a series comes out (because my memory is just SO atrocious, I can’t even remember some of the major plotlines of book one. Derp. Mostly I just remember, “Hey, I liked that book” or “Hey, that book had dragons,” or so on).

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    1. See, I USED to have amazing book memory! Like, even after one read. It’s only lately where I’m like, “what was that book about again???” Take Stalking Jack the Ripper, for example. Loved it, was a top 10 of the year, but what happened? I have NO IDEA, except that I loved it. *sigh*

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  11. Totally understand what you mean. That happens to me too but mostly with books I forced myself to rush through or ones I didn’t like and thus didn’t pay much attention to. Reading more and faster certainly affects how much we retain, but I think I’m able to hold onto more details because I write a review of every book I read and the review is often detailed, so when writing it, I’m forced to think about the entire story and revisit notes and highlighted portions. Still, I sometimes don’t remember everything. Rereading helps, though. I love rereading so I often do it.

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    1. I write reviews of nearly every book I read as well, but I find that my reviews rarely contain the sort of details I’m forgetting. Also, I often write them immediately after finishing the book, or very quickly after, so a lot of times I can’t remember what I wrote in my review either. lol

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  12. Guilty as charged- I often forget character names- especially if they’re more run of the mill. I definitely agree that it’s because of the time spent with the book. But I think the thing I’ve missed the most is not rereading as much- which I’ve noticed and tried to rectify more recently.

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  13. One of the best way to remember character or a part, if you haven’t time to reread,is to discuss it with your friends or family after reading a portion of the book. Thought from a new one in the world of blogging and reading books other than college books.

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