Did I Just Read That? Why Great Non-fiction Books Don’t Seem to Stick.

Have you ever read an amazing non-fiction book and realized as soon as you finished it that you can’t even remember the main points? You’re not alone. Ralph Waldo Emerson once said “I can’t remember the books I’ve read any more than the meals I’ve eaten…” Why are non-fiction books so difficult to remember and is there any way to correct this problem?

There are several reasons why it is often difficult to remember what you’ve read in a non-fiction book. The first is that the nature of captivating non-fiction writing requires an author to use stories to illustrate her point. Often, the narrative is more intriguing or interesting than the information. Consequently, we often remember the story but not the information.

A second reason is because non-fiction authors want to share their expertise in what is often their only book on the subject. This results in an inordinate amount of detailed information. The sheer volume of information is overwhelming, making identifying and remembering the key points difficult.

Finally, the average adult reads at a rate of 300 words per minute. With the average non-fiction book containing between 80,000-100,000 words, it takes approximately five hours to read. These five hours are generally spread over one or two weeks sacrificing context and continuity resulting in decreased retention.

To recap, the narrative nature, amount of information and required reading time make it difficult to retain the main points of non-fiction books. In a future post, we’ll discuss some strategies for approaching to the problem of remembering non-fiction content