“What’s the point of reading so many books when I can barely remember what’s in them?” British novelist, James Collins, now living in Greece, complained in an essay in the NYT Book Review in 2010. (His first novel, Beginner’s Greek, was published in 2008; has anyone read it?) He wondered if he might just as well have spent his reading time watching golf. Surely, he thought, he must have been affected by his books, surely his brain must have been reshaped and changed his thinking without his noticing.
He pursued his question: he called Maryanne Wolf, a professor of child development at Tufts University, and asked her if his most recently read book that had held him absorbed and unfriendly during a summer vacation at a friend’s summer place on a lake, if (are you still with me?) —if it had had any effect on him.
‘I totally believe that you are a different person for having read that book,” she said, basing her certainty on her credentials as a neuroscientist and an old literature major. She said that while we can’t recall the specifics, there is still a “wraith of memory” (Henry James) that has become a part of our knowledge.
I guess I agree. Remember: “I am a part of all that I have met”? (From Lord Tennyson’s Ulysses) I guess that’s why I love to quote things I have read. I guess some things stick longer than others. There’s always the pleasure of re-reading—if there’s time.