“Remember”: L. Genova On Forgetting

Remember: The Science of Memory and the Art of Forgetting is new nonfiction by neuroscientist Lisa Genova. Genova is also the author of several novels, including Still Alice, about a 50-year-old professor who’s diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. It later became a movie starring Julianne Moore.

Although aspects of Alzheimer’s are addressed in Genova’s new book, Remember is more about the kind of memory issues everyone faces at times. As her publisher’s blurb reminds us, “Just because your memory sometimes fails doesn’t mean it’s broken or succumbing to disease. Forgetting is actually part of being human.”

The three-part structure of Remember includes How We Remember, What We Forget, and Improve or Impair. In brief:

  1. Remembering has a great deal to do with the amount of attention we give something. (Interested? Or not?)
  2. We forget a lot of things, and that’s okay. (Multitasking impairs memory.)
  3. There are things we can do to remember better. (Sadly, solving crossword puzzles is not one of them.)

In addition, from the Publishers Weekly review: “She explains the different kinds of memory (such as working memory and muscle memory) and the pitfalls inherent in each (such as how relying on working memory can lead to forgetfulness, and muscle memory can sustain bad habits), before exploring the functions of forgetting and the distinction between normal memory failures and something more serious. Genova blends popular science and self-help, providing lay reader-friendly descriptions of the function of memory and sharing tips for better memory in a helpful appendix.”

And from Kirkus Reviews: “In conversational language, Genova details how the brain processes events and how we have the power to help select what transfers from fleeting knowledge to long-term memory. For example, while it is common to forget the name of a person you briefly met, you can also train yourself to improve attention to such details and improve recall. ‘Memory is the sum of what we remember and what we forget,’ writes the author, ‘and there is an art and science to both.'”

So, how do we actually train ourselves regarding recall? One Goodreads reviewer says she learned the following: “…I need to pay attention to details I want to remember, decrease distractions, rehearse facts, self-test (quiz myself on what I know), attach meaning to moments, use visual and spatial memory, use lists, and keep a diary. I loved the idea to replicate context during memory retrieval, too. So if I study for a botany test while drinking a Mocha Frappuccino, I’ll try to drink the same thing while I’m taking the test so that I can recall information better.”

What about reducing your risk of ever getting Alzheimer’s? Suggestions include a Mediterranean diet, sufficient vitamin D, avoidance of alcohol (including red wine), physical exercise, getting adequate sleep, preventing and/or dealing with cardiovascular issues, managing stress, doing meditation, and learning new things.

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