The books we have read

Do you remember all the books you’ve ever read? Probably not. Consider yourself lucky and exceptional if you at least remember their titles. Again, very unlikely, unless you’ve kept a close record of everything you’ve ever read.

When I was younger, this idea used to terrify me. What’s the point of reading if most of what we read won’t even pass the title test? I remember there was a silly side to it when I was trying to convince my mother that reading is useless and all those books she had me read each year were a waste of time.

So why read many books, why carry on reading after the school years, why is reading such a big deal? Don’t expect an answer to these questions here. You probably have an answer already, and it’s probably right. I just want to make a few points.

I’m sure all of us would love to remember everything we read, all the characters, plot twists, ideas and arguments. But not every character, plot twist, idea and argument is worthy of recollection. If you can’t remember them, that might not be due to the general entropic bent of human memory, but simply because they weren’t very good to begin with. Our memory is selective, so we cut, bin and forget.

We might not remember every book, or not even a tenth of the books we ever read. But they remember us. In a way, we are the books we read, and if you’ve read your five a day since your teeth of literacy came down, you probably are the sum total of the books you read. And wearing them under your skin is probably better than recalling every single detail.

So I think not remembering all the books we’ve read is not so bad after all. Besides, not remembering doesn’t mean forgetting. Remember that.

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