Biblioamnesia and the gentle fading of books

The Washington Post has a curious short article on what the author light-heartedly refers to as ‘biblio-amnesia’ where once-read books slowly fade from memory.

After I posted the story on internet service The Twitter, user @bfwriter pointed me toward a fantastic piece by poet Billy Collins, on exactly this experience.

by Billy Collins

The name of the author is the first to go
followed obediently by the title, the plot,
the heartbreaking conclusion, the entire novel
which suddenly becomes one you have never read,
never even heard of,

as if, one by one, the memories you used to harbor
decided to retire to the southern hemisphere of the brain,
to a little fishing village where there are no phones.

Long ago you kissed the names of the nine Muses goodbye
and watched the quadratic equation pack its bag,
and even now as you memorize the order of the planets,

something else is slipping away, a state flower perhaps,
the address of an uncle, the capital of Paraguay.

Whatever it is you are struggling to remember
it is not poised on the tip of your tongue,
not even lurking in some obscure corner of your spleen.

It has floated away down a dark mythological river
whose name begins with an L as far as you can recall,
well on your own way to oblivion where you will join those
who have even forgotten how to swim and how to ride a bicycle.

No wonder you rise in the middle of the night
to look up the date of a famous battle in a book on war.
No wonder the moon in the window seems to have drifted
out of a love poem that you used to know by heart.


Link to WashPost piece on ‘biblio-amnesia’.
Link to Billy Collins poem text and audio (via @bfwriter)


  1. Camilla Peffer
    Posted June 13, 2011 at 12:55 am | Permalink

    I feel this way about my college degree.

  2. Lesath
    Posted June 13, 2011 at 2:48 am | Permalink

    Vaughan — I miss Spike Activity! Just saying :)

  3. Posted June 14, 2011 at 3:53 am | Permalink

    No kidding! Which is why I say: “Thanx be to all the gods and goddesses for the Interwebs!” Why I don’t have to remember anything any more…almost.

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