Sunday, November 18, 2007

Forget It

This Economist article got me thinking. Pierre Bayard divides all books into four categories:
• books unknown to me
• books I have skimmed
• books I have heard about
• books I have forgotten

I have no hesitation in placing the majority of books in the world into the first category. Let’s not pretend otherwise.

Skimmed? Skimmed? I don’t know. I honestly don’t remember skimming any book, ever. Oh wait, yes I do. The First Men in the Moon by H.G. Wells. I had to read it for a university subject, and found it unreadable. My essay came back with a comment on it “you don’t appear to have read this book.” There’s a good reason for that.

In general though, I don’t skim. Some books I find unreadable, but those are simply put down, never to be picked up again. Skimming is a very small category.

Books heard about but not read? Well, put most of the ‘classics’ into that category. Is that bad? Probably. I mean in 2006 I read Catch 22 for the first time. I’m 34! That’s just embarrassing. This is a large category, I must confess, but not nearly so large as the ‘unknown’ first category.

The last category is ‘books forgotten’. I guess that means, ‘books read that cannot be recalled word for word? I don’t know.

I wouldn’t say I have forgotten every book I’ve read. However I will confess the main reason I started a LibraryThing account to record all the books I read this year is so I don’t read them again until I have good and forgotten large chunks of them. If all I can remember of a book is a few generalities and that I enjoyed reading it, then I’m happy to pick it up again.

In practise, this takes about three or four years.

So while my first reaction to the last category was to feel mildly insulted, I must agree to its accuracy, if somewhat reluctantly. In truth, I rely on forgetting books I have read. Otherwise, how else could I read and enjoy them all over again?

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