How To Remember What You Read

How to remember what you read

Wait, why can’t I remember what I read a few weeks ago?” Have you ever asked yourself this question? Most of us have!

It could have been a book, a magazine, or even a newsletter. For some strange reason, you can’t quite recall what you read. Nothing. Not even the cover or the title.

While it might be easy for some readers to read and remember a good chunk of what they read – whether they enjoyed the book or not – it’s, however, super difficult for others to recall books, plots, or even characters in the story.

Does this mean that there’s something wrong with you if you can’t remember everything you’ve read? Absolutely not! The human brain is tricky like that and it’s part of its defense mechanism to let go of some information to make room for other data. Forgetting something you’ve read (even if you’ve done it fairly recently) is very common — especially in avid readers.

Even though it’s physically normal, it doesn’t mean that there aren’t easy ways to retain more of what you’ve read. In this article, we will take a closer look at some handy tips and tricks on how to remember what you read including the lists of books that you have also read, which is also extremely important. 

“I Cannot Remember the Books I’ve Read!” — Don’t Worry; You Are not Alone

If you feel a bit down because of this issue, you’re not alone — not remembering what they’ve read is a real problem that’s costing most people a remarkable reading experience. In fact, it might be the factor that’s been contributing to the declining number of book readers over the years!

Here’s an interesting fact. 

In 2017, only 53 percent of Americans had read a book for pleasure compared to 61 percent back in 1992 – a record low according to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

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Interestingly, by 2019, a worryingly 27 percent of  American adults admitted that they had not read any books in the past year, up from 19% in 2011, according to a survey by Pew Research Center.

While not remembering what you read is not entirely to blame for this trend, how to retain what you read is part and parcel of your reading experience and without it, the culture of reading is bound to suffer in the long run.

So, how can you – whether you are an avid reader or simply just starting out – ensure that you get the best out of your reading experience by remembering what you have read?

Let’s find out!

Why Can’t I Remember What I Read?

Remembering what you read is crucial when you read for work or for your studies. But it’s also important to remember the novels you’ve read, right? That’s half the fun! Here are some possible reasons why you can’t retain everything you’ve read.

What You’ve Read Isn’t Captivating Enough

Part of the reason why you can’t seem to remember what you’ve read could be that the stories are not memorable and captivating enough or maybe you are just reading books for the fun of it. It happens. Not every book you read is a memorable one.

Let’s break it down a bit further, shall we?

Our Memory Often Plays Tricks on Us

You see, reading is somewhat a complex exercise mostly because it involves a core function of our brain. Memory.

While our memory cannot retain every little detail we feed it with, our brain chooses which information to retain and which one to discard.

Unless you condition your brain to remember the books you have read, chances are that you will forget with time.

Passive Reading Is Not Your Friend

Another compelling reason why you can’t remember what you read is that you engage in passive reading where you technically read content to finish it as opposed to absorbing what is written.

What you want is to be an active reader — someone who has the motivation and the desire to learn something from the books they read.

Active readers visualize, clarify, question, and predict. They also connect what they are reading with what they’ve experienced, felt, or seen in their own lives. They also evaluate what they’ve read and develop an opinion about it.

Too Much on Your Plate?

A busy work-life schedule could also be the reason why remembering what you read is proving to be a tough cookie to crack. Technology has also played a huge role in complicating our lives with platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter hurling all types of content our way making it super difficult to remember anything really.

On the flip side, the same technology can be used to boost our memory or at least complement our ability to remember what we read (more of this later in the article, so stick around).

How to Remember the List of Books I’ve Read

While the above reasons, and others not mentioned here, may seem overwhelming, there are several ways that help to get around remembering the list of books that you have read in the past.

To get you started, give some of these tactics a try and see which one(s) work best for you:

1. Use a pen and a notebook: Grab a notebook and keep a record of every book you read. Keep this list updated every time you finish reading a book. This will help you to remember the books that you have read by quickly taking a glance at them whenever you need to.

2. Create a spreadsheet: If your tech skills are spot on then you should use this digital method to keep a record of all the books you read. What if you don’t like spreadsheets that much? Perhaps they remind you of work tasks too much? If so, then the good old notebook is your friend. Or is it?

4. Use specialized apps: If taking notes is a big no-no for you and spreadsheets aren’t your cup of tea then you definitely need to start using specialized reading tracker apps. These apps are great for keeping tabs on what you have read and what you plan to read. 

Basmo, for instance, is an app created for avid readers who want to make sure they remember everything they’ve read. You can create book lists with just a few taps and even organize your books according to the genre, year, and other criteria.

Give Your Reading Experience
An Extra Boost With Basmo

Track the books you read, monitor the time you spend reading and keep notes on your reading habits and how it makes you feel. You can set yourself targets for the time you spend reading and you can get notified whenever you’re behind on your reading time. 

Download on the App Store
Get it on Google Play

How to Remember What You Read

There is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to remembering what you’ve read. Different people have different preferences. Try the ones below to find out which of them matches your style and your needs:

1. Take Notes as You Read

This is probably one of the most commonly used methods of internalizing what you’ve read. It’s a tactic that most readers have used mostly because it’s what we were taught in school. As old as the method is, it is quite effective nonetheless as most people will remember points they jotted down in a notebook without too much fuss.

However, jotting down points in a notebook can be somewhat exhausting for some. That’s why you should delegate such a task to a reading app like Basmo.

Thanks to technology, there’s a smarter way to take notes without actually taking notes. Plus, you can have them stored in a centralized location that you can easily access at any time instead of scattered across dozens of notebooks.

When you start a reading session on Basmo, you have the option to Write your thoughts. You can use it any time during your reading session to write down your favorite quotes or a few notes about the book.

  1. You log in to Basmo. 
  2. Click on the + sign to search for the book you’re currently reading. A list with possible book titles and authors will pop up. 
  3. Once you’ve found the book, tap on it. 
  4. To start your reading session, tap again on that book and on the Start Session button. 
  5. Now that the timer’s started, you can close your phone and start reading your book. 
  6. Anytime you want to take notes, just open back the app. You’ll find a special section dedicated to writing your thoughts. 
  7. When you’re done, you can tap on the End Session section, you’ll set your bookmark page so you’ll know where you left off, and you’re done for the day! 

With Basmo, you can take screenshots of your favorite paragraphs and read them again later – a nifty little feature that can transform your reading.

2. Visualize What You’ve Read

Most books, novels to be precise, do not have photos or images as part of the story. Reading hundreds of pages of text without some sort of visual aid can be challenging for most readers. To overcome this, you should try to visualize things you read about as much as possible. 

This tactic helps you to create a mental picture of what you’ve just read, making it easier for you to remember parts of the story – at least the interesting ones or the ones that matter most.

3. Clarify the Things You’ve Read

If you want the book you’ve just finished reading to stick with you for longer, try to avoid glossing over the chapters so that you can finish the book and grab the next one. Not unless your main aim is to read as many books as possible within a given period of time. 

Nietzsche once said that “remembering how I feel about certain things is enough. I don’t need to remember the things themselves, too.” This quote fits memorizing what you’ve read as well. If you can remember how a certain book or a certain chapter made you feel, you will remember it better. 

Use Basmo to write down your feelings. After every reading session in Basmo, you can reflect on your reading and assign an emotion to that session. Later on, when you see the emotion you’ve assigned to it, it will be easier to remember what you’ve read, too.

Retaining what you’ve read is all about understanding what you’ve read. If there’s a section or chapter that you haven’t quite understood, by all means, read it again to clarify what it’s all about. There’s absolutely no need to move on to the next chapter if the last few pages of the last one didn’t make any sense to you.

4. Make Connections with Real-Life Events

We all have a strong connection to the things we love. We also easily remember all the good experiences we’ve had. Sure, we remember the bad ones, too, but oftentimes less vividly — it’s our brain’s way to protect us from pain.

The same goes for books. The best ones stay with you for longer.

Use this brain hack to your advantage: try and draw parallels between what you read and your own life. Perhaps some of the characters share a few traits with you or perhaps they’ve been in a similar situation. Maybe a long description is boring and you want to skip it. But it can become suddenly interesting if you can think of a real-life place that resembles what you read.

Make a mental note of these similarities for every book you read. Want to remember it for even longer? Make an actual written note on Basmo. On Basmo, you can take “regular” notes or enrich them with photos or scans of your favorite chapters or pages. You can always come back to your notes and refresh your memory!

5. Highlight the Important Sections

This age-old tactic will help you to easily identify sections that are critical to the story you are reading. As you read, always highlight parts of the chapter that you think are crucial to the story. 

These highlighted areas act as summaries that you can refer to when you are done reading the book and need to recap what you’ve read. 

What happens if the book you’re reading is not your own and you can’t highlight things on it? Or if you simply don’t like to do that? A reading tracker app like Basmo is the easiest solution. The next point explains how you can do this easily and without damaging your books.

6. Use a Reading Tracker App

The various app marketplaces – App Store and Google Play Store – are filled with nifty reading tracker applications that can save you the headache of trying to remember books, titles, and plots that you have read. Even though you’ll be spoilt for choice, make sure you choose a reading tracker app that fits your reading style. 

If you want to highlight what you’ve read, you can easily use Basmo to scan entire pages and then highlight everything you need to highlight on them without fear that you’ll be damaging them.

Your reading goal is also super important and a reading tracker app that will help you to achieve that objective is what you need. For instance, the Basmo app can help you set and reach your milestones. Setting annual reading goals and meeting them was never this easy!

To set reading goals in Basmo:

  1. Go to the Goals tab on your home screen. You will see the daily and yearly reading goals that were automatically added to your account when you first installed the app.
  2. To change these goals, simply tap Adjust goal. The changes will appear immediately.

Ready to take your reading game to the next level?
Try Basmo book tracker today!

It’s 100% free to download, so what have you got to lose?

Download on the App Store
Get it on Google Play


There are dozens of solutions that help fix avid readers’ most common problem: how to retain what you read. If for some reason you find it hard to keep remembering what you read, then this article should do the trick. 

Don’t be discouraged if the first thing you try doesn’t work. Everyone’s different and each brain reacts to different things. Basmo’s community of readers swear by trying a combination of some of the above highlighted tips and tricks to see which one(s) suits you the best. 

Give them a shot!

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