Why We Forget Most of the Books We Read – The Atlantic


I’ve always joked that I have the memory capacity of a flea. One of the reasons I try to write a review for every book I read is because I never remember the key details afterward. So I was relieved to read Julie Beck’s 2018 article in The Atlantic that this is a common, unremarkable phenomenon, and it’s due in large part to the kind of memory we need in this online world.

Research has shown that the internet functions as a sort of externalized memory. “When people expect to have future access to information, they have lower rates of recall of the information itself,” as one study puts it.

And there’s this hopeful nugget, too, from Jared Horvath, a research fellow at the University of Melbourne:

“Writing absolutely killed memory. But think of all the incredible things we got because of writing. I wouldn’t trade writing for a better recall memory, ever.”

Of course, some books make such an impression — either good or bad — that we retain their details for longer than usual. But I feel better about my general inability to recall specific plot points from books past. On the plus side, it makes re-reading mysteries more enjoyable when you can’t remember whodunit.

What about you? Do you remember books long after you’ve finished them?

Image: “Discarded Treasures” (John Frederick Peto / Getty)

Published by Julia

I learned to read before I started kindergarten, and I haven't stopped yet.

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