How I remember what I read
In short, I often don’t, which is why I made it a goal last summer to find ways to make things stick. It seems like a lost opportunity to spend so much time reading without actually retaining what I read!
I listened to a bunch of podcasts and read a couple of books last summer about how to improve long-term memory. Here’s what I learned (much of which I’ve shared with my students):
Take the time to jot down notes while your memory is fresh.
I know it sounds tedious to take notes on a book you’re reading for fun, but it really helps. Writing things down commits things to your memory not just because of the physical act of writing, but because it takes brain power to recall what’s important and figure out how you want to phrase it.
This doesn’t have to be complicated. I have my students write chapter titles and summaries when we do novel studies. This document functions as a handy index/cheat-sheet when it comes to reviewing materials at the end of the unit. But when I am reading for pleasure, I will often just write a few bullet points on my Notes app. I write down character names, major plot points, symbols/motifs, and themes when I read novels, and simple lists of ideas when I read non-fiction.
While typing is better than nothing, hand-written notes are the best
Talk with someone about the book.
This is helpful even if the other person hasn’t read the book. Get in the habit of talking about what you’re reading with fellow book-loving friends. The simple verbalizing of what the book is about/why you like the book will help solidify ideas in your memory.
If you CAN find a friend who has read the book, discuss away! As an AP English Lit teacher, it’s so, so clear to me that understanding often comes after the reading. It takes time to really process ideas and understand what is going on under the surface.
Read reviews after you’ve finished the book
Much like I IMDB every movie I watch, I Google pretty much everything I read. I love reading other people’s takes on books I both love and dislike.
Keep a list of books read and review the list once in a while
I have MUCH better recall of what I’ve read in the years I’ve kept track of books. The other years are like black holes.