Memorize an 'Entire' Book: Choose the good parts

You could memorize any book if you really wanted to. Word for word. But unless you’re learning a text, like the Bible or poetry, you don’t need every word. You just need all the important parts. That’s much easier. Like, months of your life easier. The tough part isn’t even the memorizing. It’s choosing which parts to learn. I’ll say that again. The hard part of memorizing an “entire” book isn’t the memorizing. It’s choosing which parts are worth memorizing.

If you’re studying for a test, your teacher’s probably made those choices. But let’s talk about life after school. About keeping what you read.

How many shelves of books have you read? How many hours did it take to accomplish that feat? I bet the both answers are impressive, but … how much of all that reading do you remember?

You don’t really want to memorize every word

Before you get too depressed, let’s qualify this disaster. It’s ridiculous to expect to remember everything. Yes, the idea has a certain appeal. But it is certainly crazy. That’s why we made books in the first place, so we wouldn’t have to remember everything.

Trying to compete with books and hard drives in the archive department is like John Henry battling that steam-powered hammer. I could never get into that folktale. You might as well have had a contest between John Henry’s teeth and a Stone Age knife. The point of a tool is to do something better than the unaided body.

You don’t need your body or your memory to be better than all your tools. It’s enough to make them strong.

That’s why I say you can remember anything, not everything. Way too many memory books talk about memorizing everything. Not going to happen.

Maybe you already knew that, but it’s important to get this out in the open, especially if you’re new to memory training. You’ve been forgetting what you read, but you can’t rebound and set yourself the goal of remembering everything you read. Instead, you’ll develop the skill of choosing the good stuff.

Why is it hard to choose the good parts?

Choice is scary. Basically, you have to second-guess the author. The author (hopefully) knows way more about the subject than you. Also, the author (hopefully) decided that everything in the book was worth telling you about.

Up to now, you’ve been validating these choices by the simple act of reading. Especially if you’re the sort who feels conscience-bound to read every word. If you’re a skimmer, maybe you’re already comfortable choosing what to keep. For the rest of us, “finishing” a book means reading every word, possibly including every footnote. At least the ones with comments. We don’t want to miss a word.

But now, for perhaps the first time, you’ve finally paused in your journey. You’ve glanced behind. And there it is – the trail of all these precious words that have fallen out the back of your head.

So you need to redefine what it means to “finish” a book. From now on, finishing a book means choosing the good parts and then entering them into your memory system.

It’s tough to have to choose what to keep. But the right techniques can make it easier.