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Welcome to Advice in The Stacks, a bookish advice column from me, Traci Thomas, the host and creator of The Stacks podcast. My show is all about books and the people who read them, with new episodes out every Wednesday on your favorite podcast platform. Due to the nature of the show I am constantly asked for advice on all things books, so I’m making it formal and bringing my advice to all of you with my monthly column here at SheReads.com.
If you have questions about anything book related, CLICK HERE and submit your question, and then come back the last Thursday of the month to see my advice.
How would you rate your memory about what happened in a book after you read it? Sometimes I feel like I read a book and then forget everything in it. Tricks for making sure this doesn’t happen?
Help! A forgetful reader
To my dear forgetful reader,
You are super duper not alone. I can’t speak for anyone else, but I forget everything I read, sometimes within a few days. I would rate my book memory at about a 5/10. While sometimes this bums me out when I’m trying to talk to a friend who has recently read a book that I read months ago, and I struggle to remember character names or plot details, mostly I’m ok with this.
The reason why? Because I can usually always remember how a book made me feel.
To me, how a book makes you feel is the most important part. Do I really need to know every plot detail? No. I don’t. Do I love when I see a book and all of a sudden I realize my heart rate has quickened, because I’m remembering how intense it was? Yes. I do. To me, those involuntary physical reactions are what it is all about.
If you really want to remember a book (or every book) I would suggest a book journal, or other place for note taking. When I’m reading a book to be discussed on The Stacks, I always take notes directly into the notes app on my iPhone. The notes for sure help me remember little plot points, big ideas, questions I want to think more about, etc.
In addition to my quick notes, I also leave a few sentences about my thoughts on every book I read over on my Goodreads page. I do this the moment I finish the book, so I can get my initial thoughts out and recorded somewhere. Its also a nice thing to have when I look back on a book I read years ago. It takes a few seconds but usually provides me the details I’m looking for.
You can take this and run with it. I have seen some gorgeous book journals that have pictures of the cover and notes, and all sorts of things. I have also seen people put a post it note on every book they finish with some quick thoughts. There is of course the tried and true, writing in the margins of your book (a thing I can’t do, but wish I could). You could also make a google doc or spreadsheet where you jot down your thoughts on each book (if you join The Stacks Pack you can get my insanely detailed reading tracker at the end of the year). I think if your goal is to remember a book and what happens in it, your best bet is to take some notes, anywhere that works for you.
For me, reading is a joyful thing, I don’t want to create too much work for myself. If a book doesn’t leave any impression on me, it is probably best I forget it.
Dear Traci, My friends and I started a virtual book club to keep in touch after college. I’m really proud of how long we’ve kept it up and it’s a great way to stay caught up with each others’ lives, but over the years I’ve gotten a little frustrated with the discussions. I feel like we pick the same kinds of books and talk about the same kinds of things, over and over again. I’ve tried to mix things up when it’s my turn to choose, by picking a book that will get us talking about some different topics, but the conversation always feels stilted and awkward. Any advice for breaking out of a book club rut, or am I doomed to read white lady detective novels (😬😬 sorry but not that sorry!) for the rest of my life??
Sincerely, Bored at Book Club
Dear Bored at Book Club,
Oh man, that sucks big time. White lady detective novels? No thanks.
Let me be frank, I am not in a book club (except the one I started for The Stacks podcast) for this very reason. I love reading and don’t have enough time in my life to get stuck reading books that are of no interest to me. If I were in your shoes, I would stop reading the books that do not sound good to you immediately. You can still go to the book club and catch up with your people (my understanding is this is how most people do book club anyway, they do not in fact read and discuss the book).
If you really want to keep reading with these people, maybe you could suggest reading along with another book club. Usually with celebrity book clubs there is a conversation you can listen along to or get prompts from to help the conversation flow more freely. For example, if you read along with The Stacks Book Club, you’ll get an entire 60-minute podcast episode where we discuss the book in detail. I know Oprah’s Book Club does a book discussion (often with the author) at the end of the month. Even if the book leaves the club feeling stuck, maybe hearing other people discuss it will help to open up the conversation, and give added value for the time you spent reading.
Another way forward might be to read a few books a year that are “ripped from the headlines.” You could interpret that to mean based on true stories, about current events, etc. This way you all can engage in conversations that feel urgent.
As far as picking books, maybe you can lay out a theme for each month of the year in advance. Things you and your book club would be interested in exploring. Then you can ask the person who selects the book to pick something that hits on that month’s theme. This way you’re not getting a year’s worth of detective novels. Maybe only a handful. Also, having this conversation with the people in your book club in advance might help you all decide more clearly what kinds of books and conversations you truly want to have.
If you find out that the club isn’t interested in reading the kinds of books you love, you can always leave the book club. You do not have to read books that bore you. I promise.
A few months back in this very column I shared a bunch of books I think make good book club selections, and here are a few more, because who doesn’t love a list of books that are fun to talk about?
First off: ANYTHING by Toni Morrison! Every year we read one Toni Morisson novel for The Stacks Book Club, and every year, that book conversation is one of my favorites. You can not miss with Miss Morrison.
Allow Me to Retort: A Black Guy’s Guide to the Constitution by Elie Mystal
I can’t stop suggesting this book, especially given the latest rulings from The Supreme Court. This book is ripe for things to discuss with people without having to actually discuss your own political stances (though, I would encourage you and your book club to lean into that, if that feels safe).
Seek You: A Journey Through American Loneliness by Kirsten Radtke
We’ve all been lonely. Everyone in your club will have thoughts on this. This book is also a graphic book, so it’s different from what many adults read regularly, and so that might shock your club out of their rut. I loved this book so much I demanded Kirsten Radtke come on the podcast to discuss the book, which you can listen to it here.
The Swimmers by Julie Otsuka
This has been a favorite read of 2022 so far. It is short and different. The writing is so good. There are conversations to be had around style and content, about metaphor and family. It is a dream pick for a book club looking to mix things up. There is an episode of The Stacks on this book for your book club, should you wish to have more content to discuss.
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