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How Long to Forget?

Discussion in 'General Book Discussion' started by J-Sun, Sep 17, 2011.



    Oct 23, 2008
    I was wondering what people thought about how long it took them to forget a good book. Or, to put it another way, when is it time to re-read a (genre or non-genre) classic? I know it varies - some books fade fast and some stick forever for whatever strange reason, but generally speaking.

    I was wondering because of Connavar's thread on Herman Hesse. In order, I've read Steppenwolf, Demian, Siddartha, and Narcissus and Goldmund and I liked them in that order but I couldn't think of a thing to say about them except that I liked the first one or two and still respected the last couple-three. I still have Stories of Five Decades and Magister Ludi (aka The Glass Bead Game) waiting to be read after years and years. It's just odd to have six books of an author on the shelves, to have read four of them, and to have nothing to contribute to a thread about him. :eek:
    j d worthington

    j d worthington Moderator Staff Member

    May 9, 2006
    My own view (and I realize this is not shared by most) is that, if I have to "forget" before revisiting a book, most often it is a rather shallow book, relying on a "surprise" ending or elements which may not hold up that well, or contribute little new to it, upon rereading. There is, of course, nothing wrong with having such elements if they emerge naturally from the work itself (rather than being contrived in nature) and if they are, in hindsight, prepared for -- that is to say, the writer "plays fair" with the reader by laying the groundwork as things go along, even if it is done in such a way that the reader is highly unlikely to see where it is leading, until the final pieces are in place. If this is not the case, then I'm afraid i see such elements as meretricious rather than meritorious in any way; cheap gimmicks, in other words.

    Obviously, this is not the case with someone like Hesse, who was a careful craftsman; so with his books, to follow up on the example, I wouldn't have to wait until I forgot anything because, even knowing all the details of the story, the next reading is likely to be a different experience, with different resonances and leaving a different impression. It is like a piece of poetry which is cyclical in nature, where the final stanza is a perfect (or near-perfect) repetition of the opening stanza, but because of what has lain between, it takes on a very different meaning to the reader, one which now casts its own light back upon the entirety of the poem. This, in turn, colors future readings of the poem, but does not necessarily contain them, for it may highlight other elements on other readings, which themselves alter the experience, sometimes quite considerably... and so on with numerous readings.

    This is one of the reasons that I can go back to certain writers again and again over the years, often re-reading their works almost upon the heels of the previous reading, yet enjoying the work not as if it is new, or simply as one does an old friend (in the literary sense), but because the experience, the significance, is changed with each reading; one sees a different facet each time, and that facet is joined to all those one has been aware of before, adding to a greater whole. On the other hand, a lot of writers I may have enjoyed before don't hold up as well on this front and, while I would not hesitate to recommend them to someone looking for light entertainment or a way to pass the time pleasantly, I would hesitate to suggest them to someone looking for anything "meatier" in their diet.

    Unfortunately, this also means that, having had such a heavy diet of this more substantial sort of writing, I tend to find the other more than a bit thin for my own taste these days, and therefore don't tend to read that much of it.

    So the answer, for me, is that there is no "in general" here, really; it depends on the book or writer: is this work something which I can go back to frequently, without much of a pause between (whether I choose to do so or not is another matter), or is it something which relies too much on contrivances and gimmicks to "surprise" me, and therefore is much less capable of offering me a fulfilling experience under those circumstances. If the latter, then I may never reread it; or it may be years or decades before I have any desire to do so....

    Metryq Cave Painter

    Mar 30, 2011
    I suppose one might "lose" the details or even major plot points of a good book depending on how much it makes one think. That is, a book might be enjoyable for some fun action or other "cotton candy" aspects, but a thought-provoking book may be more "distracting." Chains of thought prompted by the book might stick with one for a long time after finishing the book so that the "life changing" ruminations make the more lasting impression.

    Connavar Well-Known Member

    Apr 1, 2007
    Sometimes i think i have forgotten early books i liked by fav authors and cant remember them at all. Then days later i can clearly remember the books. The better genre or non-genre book is the easier it is to remember many years later for me.

    I have read 100 books per year in the last 4 years so my memory banks is starting to reach its limits. Its time soon to re-read classic favs, modern genre favs. When i cant remember a book by Jack Vance who is my alltime fav author then its time to start re-reading is what i think ;)

    elvet Easily amused

    Feb 21, 2006
    Ontario, Canada
    I agree that the more 'different' a book is from the usual fare, the more I will remember it. However, I do think that I'm getting worse at remembering books the older I get, especially when I'm stressed. Combine a run-of-the-mill book with a bad week, and I'll forget most of it within days.

    Jojo999 Member

    Jan 29, 2009
    What I find weird is that I have books in my collection from the 1960's and 1970's that I have picked up to read again but yet did not recall ever reading them before!

    I know that I read each one in the past but it's just strange to have no recollection whatsoever of reading some books.

    steve12553 The Enigma of Steel

    Feb 5, 2006
    Moved my books to the deep south. I have a loft/li
    Sometimes it's not a matter of forgetting but rather how much the current you with more experiences and a different perspective on many things, sees the book as opposed to the original younger you did. My perspective changes and cycles and improves and changes again. Best example: After seeing many of the Basil Rathbone/ Sherlock Holmes movies as a child in the sixties, I found a copy of the Complete Sherlock Holmes in the library. I read it and was overwelmed. Years later a aquired a copy from a book club and reread it. Again, overwelmed. Five or ten years later, I reread it. The stories seemed a little trite and seemed to be the same thing over and over again. Years later, I aquires an electronic copy for my PDA and began reading again. The older me began to appreceate the subtlies that I had not seen on the previous reading. I understood that the writing was brilliant if you consider what the known world consisted of in Victorian England. Holmes was practising an early for of Crime scene investigation with none of the sophisticated tools that are used today. His author was a genius. My ability to put things in perspective is not something I was born with. If a book is worth its salt, I see it differently during a second, third or even fourth reading. Many books will not stand the test of time.
    Last edited: Sep 25, 2011

    demos99 Multiversal nomad

    Sep 20, 2011
    Very, very occasionally I'll pick up a book and start reading and at some point come across a sentence or a paragraph that seems familiar and realise that I've already read this book but entirely forgotten that I had. Then I'll have an exciting voyage of rediscovery because it's not true that you can't discover a good book twice. :D

    And I don't mind forgetting bits of a really good book because when/if I revisit it I can recreate something of the experience of first reading it, which if I'm re-reading it must mean it was really good. Unless it was really bad and I've just forgotten how bad it was! :p

    I think I tend to retain the basic plots even if some/most of the details fade over time. I know I read Poe's 'The Gold Bug' back in the mid-80s and it was good though I don't recall too much of the narrative but it was a quarter of a century ago so I guess that's only to be expected. With a novel like The Lord of the Rings, which I read 8-10 years ago I probably remember most of the plot, enough to know roughly where to find a particular passage if I want to but I probably knew the book better five years ago when it was fresher in my mind.

    jojajihisc vast and cool

    Oct 30, 2008
    Maybe a year or two to forget, but I don't know how long it takes for me to generate the will to want to do so, or if it can even be quantified for me. I'd always be thinking about how I could be reading something else for the first time.

    rune rune

    Jun 3, 2004
    I think re-reading is a good thing, I do it often. Probably nearly a year between re-reads as we all read so much and by then you've forgotten a lot

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