07: A Book That I Can Quote By Heart

When I was younger, my friends and I could recite huge chunks of the Harry Potter novels to each other. Now, I don’t think that I could quote a single line from Harry Potter if I tried. Years of studying literature have taught me to memorise useful lines from novels, poems and plays – and to forget them once they are no longer useful in order to make room for new things. Which is why I still write down phrases that excite me, and why I won’t remember that quote the next day when I’ve had to think about something else.

The last novels that I did a particularly good job of memorising were The Bell Jar and Play It As It Lays. For a module in Modern American Women’s Writing, I decided that I wanted to write my exam on these two books. We got to see the exam paper beforehand and I picked a question relating to mental and physical illness. Then I spent weeks reading the books, highlighting pertinent passages, copying them out onto paper, copying them onto a Word document, printing out the Word document and highlighting them again, then copying them numerous times onto more sheets of paper and eventually condensed them so they would fit onto a few flashcards. What I ended up with was about 70% of each novel, along with a smattering of critical quotations, committed to memory. I aced the exam – of course. Then promptly forgot it all when I had to start studying for another module. If I still had those trusty flashcards, though, I bet I could have a go at reciting at least one of the novels.

English students – you know what I’m talking about, right?

Any books that you know off by heart?

4 thoughts on “07: A Book That I Can Quote By Heart

  1. Yes I completely understand this! I’m exactly the same, I have a terrible memory when it comes to memorizing facts, dates, quotations etc, it comes with the fibromyalgia! But I got quite good at committing them to memory and then, as you say, promptly forgetting them all afterwards. The only text that I can quote is Shakespeare’s Sonnet 116 because I love it more than anything.

    • Like you say, I have an awful memory in general. I can forget what tv show I’m watching while the ad break is on, and I’m that person who walks into a shop and stands there confused for a while thinking ‘Now what did I come in here for?’ With exam prep, it was always just a case of repeating things to myself so many times that they felt like second nature.

    • The trick is to copy it out, read it to yourself, copy it out again, over and over until you think you’re going to die. Write a few words from a quotation on a flashcard and get your friends to quiz you on it. It feels like elaborate and unusual self-torture, but it works – for me anyway.

      Not that I have any advice on how to achieve the elusive first, as a proud owner of a 2:1, which I have termed as a ‘drinker’s degree’ ;)

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