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How to Remember What You Read: Useful Tips

It’s one thing to read a lot and quite another—to remember everything you’ve read.

Our memory is tricky, indeed, and most of the time, we just tend to rely on it blindly and take it for granted.

However, it takes more than just passive reading to remember what you read.

So if your goal is not the number of books but the quality of your reading, you’re, well, reading the right article.

Tune in to understand how you can remember more when you read.

You can improve your reading skills similarly to how you boost your learning. So before you pick up any book, you should ask yourself these two questions:

  • What am I reading?
  • Why am I reading it?

These are simple questions, but they will set you on the right track immediately.

Most people never ask why they read what they read unless it’s professional literature or learning materials.

However, if you don’t set a clear goal, you’ll forget all about the book’s content (let alone its message) right after you turn the last page.

Be Selective with What You Read

Surely enough, if reading is your hobby, we don’t suggest you give up on The Selection series or books like The Silent Patient and focus on old classics entirely.

However, to make sure more information stays in your memory, you can also focus on a combination of books.

Mix modern classics with must-read classics.

Read book reviews and recommendations.

Choose the books that somehow resonate with your current situation.

The key thing is that we tend to remember books that relate to us;

However, if we carefully mix them with books that tell us about other lives, cultures, arts, social problems, contexts, and settings, we have better chances of recalling the information.

Be Selective with What You Read

Surely enough, if reading is your hobby, we don’t suggest you give up on modern thrillers or fantasy and focus on old classics entirely.

However, to make sure more information stays in your memory, you can also focus on a combination of books.

  • Mix modern classics with must-read classics.
  • Read book reviews and recommendations.
  • Choose the books that somehow resonate with your current situation.

The key thing is that we tend to remember books that relate to us; however, if we carefully mix them with books that tell us about other lives, cultures, arts, social problems, contexts, and settings, we have better chances of recalling the information.

Always Be Curious about the Context

To make your mind better at remembering what you read, you need to experience the reading. Doing quick research and asking questions helps a lot. Start with the simple ones:

  • Who is the author?
  • What is the main theme?
  • When was the book written?
  • Where is it set?
  • How popular is it?

If you have time on your hands, you can get even more specific:

  • Why did the author write this?
  • Does the author have any other books?
  • Has the book been translated or reprinted?
  • Was there anything that specifically marked the period when the book was written (e.g., a war/natural disaster/etc.)?

For instance, if the title “It Ends with Us” keeps jumping at you in every bookshop, why don’t you check what kind of book it is before you actually buy it?

Just a few quick questions to Google—and you know that It Ends with Us was written by Colleen Hoover, now the #1 New York Times bestselling author of twenty-something novels in the categories of young adult fiction and romance.

She is also a master of psychological thriller, and this book, which was first published in 2016 and still causes a lot of stir, focuses on domestic violence.

Based on real events from the life of the author’s mother, the book raises the topic so huge that you can’t just ignore it.

So to sum it up, if right now you want to get carried away by the drama and try to understand victims of abuse better (or perhaps read a story that resonates with you), get the book right away.

Needless to say that even such short research will help you remember the book better.

Use the Intelligent Skimming

Now, let’s move on to another method that may help you remember what you read better. This method is recommended for non-fiction and various study materials.

Before starting a new book, skim through the index, contents page, and preface, and even take a look inside the jacket.

It may seem unnecessary; however, you’ll be able to understand what you’ll face later (in the book and your study course, for instance). When you are finished, you can make use of the bibliography as well and pick new titles from it.

Read Books that Resonate with You

It’s true that we tend to remember the books that somehow resonate with our own experiences.

So here is another recommendation: to remember the book better, pick the one that resembles your own situation.

We can even suggest you a brilliant reference book for all types of life situations: The Novel Cure.

You can get all types of recommendations—from sadness to joy and procrastination—in the book, as each problem or challenge comes with a short description and a recommendation of the best book to read.

If you can’t get out of bed, try reading Bed by David Whitehouse, and see how the habit may affect your life in the long term.

The authors also recommend One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia for those who are struck by the fear of death.

The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen and Family Matters by Rohinton Mistry will teach you how to look at your aging parents in a different light.

If you are depressed, suffer from unrequited love, or any other ailment of body or soul, take the books prescribed by the authors. Well, you’ve got the idea.

Apart from remembering these books better, you’ll get comforted: whatever your problem is, someone has definitely faced it before you (and probably dealt with it quite successfully).

Alternatively, you can get a second opinion or take a look at your own situation from a different perspective.

If you travel, after reading a relevant book, you’ll be able to understand a new and foreign place better and connect with it on a deeper level.

You will no longer be a stranger there.

For instance, while reading Istanbul, you’ll be trying to figure out whether the melancholy of the great city—hüzün—is still there (as the author suggests) or not.

Even when you get back home, you’ll remember that Şehir Hatları is the oldest ferryboat company in Istanbul and that the ferries crossing the Bosphorus in the 50s were called vapurs.

You will also remember a lot about “westernization” and other facts from the history of the city.

Remembering What You Read

What else you can do to remember more of what you read:

Take notes.
Stay focused.
Mark up the book.
Build a vivid mental picture.
Stop when bored.

Those are probably the things you know and even practice. However, there are a couple of other interesting recommendations you’ve probably never tried before: interleaving and the Feynman technique.

Interleaving

Interleaving is a process where your mix, or interleave, multiple subjects or topics while you study to learn better (and remember more).

Interleaving helps you remember more by making connections. It also helps you distinguish between similar concepts.

Here is how you can use it in your reading:

  • Session One: Book A, B, and C
  • Session Two: Book B, C, and A
  • Session Three: Book C, A, and B

Check Understanding How We Learn: A Visual Guide to understand how it works.

Understanding How We Learn
Illustration from Understanding How We Learn

The Feynman Technique

This technique was named after the Nobel Prize-winning physicist Richard Feynman.

Based on the idea that teaching others is one of the most effective techniques of memorization, it consists of four simple steps:

  • You choose a concept.
  • You teach it to a toddler (or basically anyone willing to listen, or even yourself).
  • You identify what you’ve missed.
  • You review the material and simplify your explanation.

In the process, you will have to make sure that the other person understands all the complex ideas, terminology, context, author logic, etc.

It may sound easy; after all, you just need to retell what you’ve just read, right?

However, it’s not easy at all, especially if the material is complicated or the plot is twisted.

Try doing this with the authors like Tana French, huh?

Apply What You’ve Learned

Now we’ve approached the last recommendation.

When you’ve read a book, an article, or even a blog post, think about how you can use what you’ve just learned.

To remember the material better, you need to contextualize the knowledge.

So here are the questions you may try to answer after every read:

  • When does it work?
  • When doesn’t it work?
  • Where can I apply it?
  • What are the key variables?

You can go on like this with other questions as well.

After all, the benefits of reading are numerous; however, if you can’t remember half of the information you’ve read, you are just wasting your time.

Final Thoughts

At Booklyst, we don’t think that reading has to be slow and hard work with you remembering just bits and pieces afterward.

We hope that the tips shared in the article will help you become a more critical and active reader and that you’ll be able to remember the books you’ve read better.

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This debut novel by Alex Michaelides spent over a year on the NYT bestseller list and sold in 49 countries. A well-conceived atmospheric story, with edginess, darkness, and richness of characters, The Silent Patient has a screen adaptation in the works, with Brad Pitt listed as a producer.

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