Poor retention rate

March 1, 2012 § Leave a comment

This piece in Publishers Weekly made me chuckle. As a reader who retains virtually nothing of the books I read, I have often envied people who might plough through a tome more slowly but can then remember intricate plot particulars and discuss the minutiae of the novel at length. I suppose this is one of the reasons I am afraid of book clubs – the terror of being put on the spot, unable to recall a single fact about the book under discussion, and then the worry that perhaps I was simply too dense to notice or understand in the first place. The one thing I am good at is excavating characters’ names from the depths of my memory, which comes in very handy for that popular pub-quiz category, “Minor characters from literary fiction.”

 The worst example of my shockingly bad book recall must be Slaughterhouse-Five. It wasn’t until approximately three-quarters of the way through the novel that I noticed that first one sentence and then a second seemed vaguely familiar. I checked back through my notebooks to find that I had read it not once but twice in the previous five years. (I couldn’t face looking any further back.) Sorry about that, Kurt. But authors shouldn’t take this amnesia personally: I can barely remember anything about my own writing, which never fails to baffle the rare person who attempts to discuss my work with me.



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