Searching for interesting stories about total memory loss!
June 28, 2010 7:28 PM   Subscribe

I'm interested to read books about people who have lost their memory. Preferably BY people who have completely lost their memory, but fiction works too. Novel type format best, as I'm just following a current bit of curiosity triggered by a "This American Life" episode, not really looking for information per se. Thanks!
posted by bluesky78987 to Society & Culture (25 answers total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
By "lost their memory", what do you mean? There are a lot of different types of memory loss. Are you only interested in total amnesia, or inability to form new memories?

Either way, look into, well, basically everything Oliver Sacks has ever written... because it's all great. But he has a lot of stuff on all types of memory loss.
posted by brainmouse at 7:36 PM on June 28, 2010

Thank you for reminding me of a book I've been meaning to read! Jill Taylor's My Stroke of Insight fits the bill of "written by," and is from a neuroscientist at that.

Her book doesn't *just* deal with memory loss, but it's a part of her story. From an interview I read with her a while back:

"When the cells in my left brain became nonfunctional because they were swimming in a pool of blood, they lost their ability to inhibit the cells in my right hemisphere. In my right brain, I shifted into the consciousness of the present moment. I was in the right here, right now awareness, with no memories of my past and no perception of the future... This is great way to exist if you don't have to communicate with the external world or care whether or not you have the capacity to learn. I found that in order for me to be able to learn anything, however, I had to take information from the last moment and apply it to the present moment."

On preview: Oliver Sacks is also great.
posted by deludingmyself at 7:37 PM on June 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

I haven't read it, but except for the novel-length constraint, The Vintage Book of Amnesia seems like a good fit.
posted by Sam Ryan at 7:47 PM on June 28, 2010

Jill Taylor also gave a TED talk about her experience. Not a book, obviously, but an interesting story about memory loss nonetheless.
posted by axiom at 8:03 PM on June 28, 2010

My book club read In The Shadow of Memory, by Floyd Skloot. It was very good. Sorry no link; I'm on a mobile.
posted by matildaben at 8:10 PM on June 28, 2010

Look at recent works of Howard Engel, who had memory problems (not completely amnesia) and alexia after a stroke. Memory Book is fiction but the main character has the same problem and I think more severe amnesia. Engel also has a memoir about his experiences.
posted by thirteenkiller at 8:13 PM on June 28, 2010

Someone just gave me The Housekeeper and the Professor by Yoko Ogawa, a novel about a mathematician who is left with only 80 minutes of short term memory after a TBI. I haven't started reading it yet, but it is supposed to be good.
posted by freejinn at 8:42 PM on June 28, 2010

A Clean Slate by Laura Caldwell. I couldn't put it down.
posted by SisterHavana at 8:50 PM on June 28, 2010

The Echo Maker by Richard Powers
posted by mattbucher at 9:01 PM on June 28, 2010 [2 favorites]

Man Walks into a Room by Nicole Krauss
posted by mattbucher at 9:01 PM on June 28, 2010

I'll mention the (fairly accepted) theory that Agatha Christie was suffering from Alzheimer's when she wrote her last two novels, 'Elephants Can Remember' and 'Postern of Fate'.
posted by mdrew at 9:16 PM on June 28, 2010

If you like bad chick lit, you can try Remember Me? by Sophie Kinsella. The protagonist lost several years during which she had radically changed her life.
posted by acidic at 9:30 PM on June 28, 2010

Still Alice is a portrait of a woman coming to terms with early Alzheimers.
posted by karminai at 9:42 PM on June 28, 2010

Yeah I was coming in to suggest Still Alice but karminai beat me to it. I highly recommend it.
posted by kthxbi at 10:21 PM on June 28, 2010


Someone with amnesia is a minor character in L.M. Montgomery's Anne's House of Dreams.
posted by brujita at 10:28 PM on June 28, 2010

Gene Wolfe's Soldier in the Mist series follows the life of a character with a mental condition similar to the real life patient HM, who was unable to form new episodic memories after brain surgery for epilepsy iirc where sections of his tmperol? lobe was removed on both sides of his brain.

There is a web site devoted to HM and his brain was aslo sliced in to plates for future research after his recent death.

iirc Korsakofs syndrome, brought on by serious alcoholism also causes similar symptoms.

The Gene Wolfe books have pretty good symtoms for the chaaracter as he does seem to form emotional and non verbal memories over time.
posted by bleary at 10:46 PM on June 28, 2010

Forever Today: A Memoir of Love and Amnesia by the wife of Clive Wearing, a musicologist and conductor who lost his memory. Oliver Sacks wrote about him too in Musicophilia.
posted by Wordwoman at 10:57 PM on June 28, 2010

A documentary rather than a book, but Hunting Down Memory is about a man who loses his life's memories on a trip to China and tries to find out what happened to him and try to recover his identity. I have no idea how you'd track it down, but it's haunting.
posted by yellowbinder at 12:33 AM on June 29, 2010

Out of Mind, by the Dutch writer J. Bernlef. Which is about a man who emigrated to the US, and slowly drifts into Alzheimer's disease, of which he is very much aware in his better moments.

Has also been made into a movie, and a theatre play.
posted by ijsbrand at 2:10 AM on June 29, 2010

The classic Oliver Sacks is The man who mistook his wife for a hat. Stories about case studies of neurological conditions, many involving aspects of memory loss. A great read.
posted by freya_lamb at 4:31 AM on June 29, 2010 [1 favorite]

I haven't read it, so can't recommend it, per se, but my mom bought me a copy of The Man Who Lost Himself, telling me "You have to read this!" YMMV
posted by segatakai at 4:58 AM on June 29, 2010

Does Flowers for Algernon fit your requirements?
posted by yoyoceramic at 7:46 AM on June 29, 2010

For fiction, try The Mysterious Flame of Queen Laona by Umberto Eco.
posted by motsque at 7:53 AM on June 29, 2010

Stephen Tobolowsky has lost his memory/had amnesia, and has talked about it in podcasts over here. I think The X Factor (covers when he had amnesia due to a drug he was put on, plus auditioning for Memento) and The Afflictions Of Love and Three Honeymoons (the latter two covering his neck-breaking accident, as I recall) might help you out.
posted by jenfullmoon at 9:23 AM on June 29, 2010

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