What if I don't remember everything I read?

Someone recently told me that he struggles to move forward reading a book if he can't remember what he's already read. He didn't ask my advice, but his situation made me think about the value of reading if you don't remember everything? Should you remember everything you read?

First, if you really can't remember anything, then you should reevaluate reading the book at all. If you don't like the book enough to engage your brain with the book, then maybe this isn't the time. Don't read a book just because everyone says you should. It could be that the problem is with the book and not with you.

Second, part of the value of reading a book is that it forms your brain. They way a good author thinks, sees, and argues gives you a new way to think. That is part of the value of reading. Not just learning what the author thinks, but why and how. For example, part of the value of reading John Piper is that you can learn how he thinks about the Bible, theology, and the world. When you come to a new subject, Bible verse, etc. you don't have to know what Piper thinks if you know how he would think about it. You can learn to ask the types of questions he would ask. That is part of the value of reading good authors.

Third, you actually remember more than you realize. It might not show up until later. Something will jog your memory, and it will be right there again. I think it would better to remember 45% of 10 good books than to remember 100% of one book. I'm closing in on 1000 books on my booklist, and have forgotten so much, but I've gained so much more. Sometimes those thoughts show up when I least expect them. I don't believe in skimming, but if something slips my memory, then I count it as the cost of reading a lot.


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