Memory: How to Develop, Train and Use It

Chapter XIX

How to Remember Books, Plays, Tales, Etc

In the preceding chapters we have given you suggestions for the development of the principal forms of memory. But there are still other phases or forms of memory, which while coming under the general classification may be still considered as worthy of special consideration. For instance there may be suggestions given regarding the memorization of the contents of the books you read, the stories you hear, etc. And so we have thought it advisable to devote one chapter to a consideration of these various phases of memory that have been “left out” of the other chapters.

Many of us fail to remember the important things in the books we read, and are often mortified by our ignorance regarding the contents of the works of leading authors, or of popular novels, which although we have read, we have failed to impress upon the records of our memory. Of course we must begin by reminding you of the ever present necessity of interest and attention–we cannot escape from these principles of the memory. The trouble with the majority of people is that they read books “to kill time,” as a sort of mental narcotic or anæsthetic, instead of for the purpose of obtaining something of interest from them. By this course we not only lose all that may be of importance or value in the book, but also acquire the habit of careless reading and inattention. The prevalence of the habit of reading many newspapers and trashy novels is responsible for the apparent inability of many persons to intelligently absorb and remember the contents of a book “worth while” when they do happen to take up such a one. But, still, even the most careless reader may improve himself and cure the habit of inattention and careless reading.

Noah Porter says: “We have not _read_ an author till we have seen his object, whatever it may be, as he _saw_ it.” Also: “Read with attention. This is the rule that takes precedence of all others. It stands instead of a score of minor directions. Indeed it comprehends them all, and is the golden rule…. The page should be read as if it were never to be seen a second time; the mental eye should be fixed as if there were no other object to think of; the memory should grasp the facts like a vise; the impressions should be distinctly and sharply received.” It is not necessary, nor is it advisable to attempt to _memorize_ the text of a book, excepting, perhaps, a few passages that may seem worthy to be treasured up word for word. The principal thing to be remembered about a book is its _meaning_–what it is about. Then may follow the general outline, and the details of the story, essay, treatise or whatever it may be. The question that should be asked oneself, after the book is completed, or after the completion of some particular part of the book, is: “What was the writer’s idea–what did he wish to say?” Get the _idea_ of the writer. By taking this mental attitude you practically place yourself in the place of the writer, and thus _take part_ in the idea of the book. You thus view it from the inside, rather than from the outside. You place yourself at the centre of the thing, instead of upon its circumference.

If the book be a history, biography, autobiography, narrative, or story of fact or fiction, you will find it of value to visualize its occurrences as the story unfolds. That is, endeavor to form at least a faint mental picture of the events related, so that you see them “in your mind’s eye,” or imagination. Use your imagination in connection with the mechanical reading. In this way you build up a series of mental pictures, which will be impressed upon your mind, and which will be remembered just as are the scenes of a play that you have witnessed, or an actual event that you have seen, only less distinct of course. Particularly should you endeavor to form a clear mental picture of each character, until each one is endowed with at least a semblance of reality to you. By doing this you will impart a naturalness to the events of the story and you will obtain a new pleasure from your reading. Of course, this plan will make you read more slowly, and many trashy tales will cease to interest you, for they do not contain the real elements of interest–but this is no loss, but is a decided gain for you. At the end of each reading, take the time to mentally review the progress of the story–let the characters and scenes pass before your mental vision as in a moving picture. And when the book is finally completed, review it as a whole. By following this course, you will not only acquire the habit of easily remembering the tales and books that you have read, but will also obtain much pleasure by re-reading favorite stories in your imagination, years after. You will find that your favorite characters will take on a new reality for you, and will become as old friends in whose company you may enjoy yourself at any time, and whom you may dismiss when they tire you, without offense.

In the case of scientific treatises, essays, etc., you may follow a similar plan by dividing the work into small sections and mentally reviewing the _thought_–(not the words) of each section until you make it your own; and then by adding new sections to your review, you may gradually absorb and master the entire work. All this requires time, work and patience, but you will be repaid for your expenditure. You will find that this plan will soon render you impatient at books of little consequence, and will drive you to the best books on any given subject. You will begin to begrudge your time and attention, and hesitate about bestowing them upon any but the very best books. But in this you gain.

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