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Book Review :: Why We Remember by Charan Ranganath

Guest Post by Kevin Brown

The full title of Charan Ranganath’s work, Why We Remember: Unlocking Memory’s Power to Hold on to What Matters, implicitly lays out his goal, as he wants to talk about how and why our brains work, not those times when we believe they don’t. It’s that belief most of us have that Ranganath wants to disprove, as he argues that our brains are designed to forget almost everything we learn or experience; they couldn’t function otherwise.

Instead, he wants readers to see that our brains work quite well when it comes to memory, once we understand why we remember what we do and, thus, how we can retain more of what we want to remember. Part of the problem, he points out, isn’t memory; it’s our lack of attention and intention. We are easily distracted, and we don’t work to remember what we say we want to recall.

He delves into how our feelings do and don’t affect our memories, and he explores how and when our memories change, but also how reliable they often are. Ranganath draws on his experience with teaching to talk about how frequently testing oneself is more beneficial than the studying (i.e., cramming) that most students (and most adults) do.

I found the chapter on openness to novelty and “the strange” to be the most interesting, as we almost always talk about memory’s effects on our past, but, throughout the book, Ranganath also makes the case that our memory shapes who we are today and who we believe we can be tomorrow. His book looks forward as much as it looks back.

Why We Remember by Charan Ranganath. Doubleday, February 2024

Reviewer bio: Kevin Brown has published three books of poetry: Liturgical Calendar: Poems (Wipf and Stock); A Lexicon of Lost Words (winner of the Violet Reed Haas Prize for Poetry, Snake Nation Press); and Exit Lines (Plain View Press). He also has a memoir, Another Way: Finding Faith, Then Finding It Again, and a book of scholarship, They Love to Tell the Stories: Five Contemporary Novelists Take on the Gospels. Twitter @kevinbrownwrite

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