Reading More Without Living Less

Ways to Help Remember What You Read: Part 1

October 9, 2012

What good is reading a lot if you can’t remember what you read? As Mortimer Adler once said , “In the case of good books, the point is not to see how many of them you can get through, but rather how many can get through to you.” (His book, How to Read a Book, is a helpful resource in improving reading.)

Here are a few ideas for improving reading retention:

1. Use Goodreads or a similar database method to keep track of what you read. 

Using this method, you can easily scan the list as a whole and look and see what you’ve read. Goodreads also lets you see brief summaries of each book, as well as read reviews that others have written. Reading these reviews and reflections can help jog your memory.

If you’re a visual learner, you may particularly benefit from Goodreads’s aggregation of book covers representing your recent reading. If you create a reading challenge on Goodreads, you can go to “view books,” and see the books you’ve read so far for each year. (I promise, Goodreads isn’t paying me to say this–it’s just a genuinely helpful tool!)

Below is a screen capture of what this looks like, or you can view it here.

To me, this becomes a photo album of sorts. 🙂 I look at certain books from the beginning of the year and think, “oh, that was soo long ago,” or look at others and am overcome with sentiment from the memories recalled from what I was doing and what was going on in our lives while I was reading that book. Sometimes I’m amazed at how a particular book has changes me.

2. Write a brief summary or book review upon finishing your book. 

This doesn’t have to be a 1,000 word essay. It can even be summed up in a few sentences or brief paragraphs if that makes you more likely to practice this exercise.

Remember, “don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.” If pressuring yourself to write a several page report would keep you from writing down anything at all, just stick with the paragraph review and move on to the lengthier review later only if you have time. Applying this in an alternate way, if you fall behind in writing reviews, don’t feel you have to catch up on all the other reviews before writing one for the book you just finished (something I’m learning! :)).

When I know ahead of time that I’m going to write a review, it helps me collect my thoughts about the book as I go, and in a more orderly fashion. As a result, I feel like I have better reading retention when I read this way.

3. Blog about what you read.

This is really a subpoint of the one above, but I’ll separate the two in order to share a little bit more about this.

This year, one of my goals has been to post my reading reviews on my blog. I did this occasionally last year, but this year, I decided to do it book by book, and then try to do a recap of my reading, sometimes monthly and other times bi-monthly (and sometimes never, like when having a baby ;)). Other blog authors give a monthly reading report, and some do quarterly or other calendar divisions.

  • Catherine at “A Spirited Mind” writes regular book reviews as she reads, and then also does quarterly reading reports. (For example, she has her recent “3rd Quarter in Books” here.
  • Johanna at “My Home Tableau” usually posts a monthly report of her reading. (Her recent “On My Nightstand: September Reading is here.)
  • Chelo has been posting book reviews as she reads books, and has recently posted a review of Simplicity Parenting here.
  • Sheila at “The Deliberate Reader” has actually been posting a book recommendation/review every day for the month of October (“31 Days of Great Nonfiction Reads“), so I’m looking forward to adding lots of her books to my to-read list on Goodreads!

There are, of course, countless others who do this in varying ways, but these were 4 good examples of different way to do this, taken from blogs which I enjoy reading (and whose authors comment here on my blog).

Do you have trouble recalling what you’ve read weeks and months (and years) later? What tips can you share that have helped you better remember what you’ve read?

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  • Sheila @ The Deliberate Reader October 9, 2012 at 9:07 am

    Thanks for mentioning my new blog & October series!

    I used to keep a Word document with all of my books listed as I finished them. It worked well enough, but it had no easy sorting capabilities (so if, for example, I wanted to find my favorite nonfiction books I’d have to scroll through the entire document. Not so fun.)

    This year I made a big push to get all the entries from my document into my Goodreads account, and I *love* it. (Actually, I wrote a post about it yesterday that has to wait for November when the series is over to be published). It makes it so easy to remember books thanks to the cover images. It makes it so easy to shelve books in different ways so that I can sort easily.

    No, I don’t get anything from plugging Goodreads either. I’m just a very very happy user of it.

    • Keren October 12, 2012 at 10:35 pm

      I’ll look forward to your upcoming post! 🙂

  • Sheila @ The Deliberate Reader October 9, 2012 at 9:08 am

    And I forgot to mention – one way I’ve found that helps me remember books is to discuss them with friends, either formally in a bookclub-type setting, or just casually. Chatting with a friend about our latest reads, brief remarks via email or twitter, it all helps.

    • Keren October 12, 2012 at 10:34 pm

      I haven’t done Twitter, but do have a lot of book conversations online and offline. I haven’t ever done an in-person book club (well, other than something like a women’s Bible study book study), though.

  • Chelo October 9, 2012 at 1:50 pm

    Thanks for the mention, Keren. Though most of the time I feel ill qualified as a book reviewer, I find that writing my thoughts about what I’ve just read helps me “learn” more of both comprehension and writing composition. Also it benefits me a lot to write about my impressions on the book for my future reference.

    I love Goodreads as well! There is simply too many books to read 🙂

    Also, thank you for the tip on using Daily Lit. I am now on Day 1 of 169 of re-reading The Tale of Two Cities 🙂

    • Keren October 12, 2012 at 10:33 pm

      Oh, that is great! I just read that book a few months back. 🙂