The Memory Journal by Thanos Dodd has several interesting elements that make it worth checking out if you’re a memory enthusiast. First, the author has clearly spent time using classical memory techniques and demonstrates a developed knowledge of the field. My overarching criticism is that he seems to think that other people can pick up the techniques as he uses them – as all instructors must inevitably do – but he doesn’t supplement these teachings with tips on how readers can modify the methods for their own purposes.
This represents a deeply problematic aspect of mnemonics and memory techniques. We can never fully explain how they work without giving examples, and yet the examples can rarely be used by the learner due to the deeply personal nature of how the associative material triggers the memorized information during recall. It is not a purely mechanical process like sewing or flipping a card in some special manner during a magic trick. It is an imaginative process that only personal experimentation can fully unlock and mnemonic examples, however necessary they may be in teaching memory techniques, risk frustrating people more than teaching them.
That said, it is good that Dodd has his own vocabulary. For example, whereas in the Magnetic Memory Method, we use the word “station” to describe any spot where we place a piece of associative-imagery that will later help us recall a piece of information, Dodd calls these “fixed points.”
However, he uses this term when talking about the body as a means of memorizing information. Thus, the head, throat, left arm, chest, right arm, etc. are the “fixed points” we can use to place associative-imagery for later recall.
Shockingly, however, Dodd doesn’t seem to make the connection between these bodily “fixed” points and the stops along a journey when he discusses the journey method. Furthermore, he doesn’t bring the journey method together with the Memory Palace method (which is one of the most important and revolutionary features of the Magnetic Memory Method).
In effect, Dodd limits the use of both journeying and Memory Palaces by not bringing them together as a combined strategy and I fear that readers of his book will have limited success as a result, particularly with Memory Palaces because there is no specific teaching on how best to construct them, how many a person should have, and although there is reference to “fixed points” (or “stations,” to use the lingo of the Magnetic Memory Method) in his description of Memory Palaces, I’m still concerned that his description of the technique may be too confusing.
Overall, both the journey method and Memory Palaces are insufficiently described in Dodd’s book. Why is this so problematic? One reason is that the journey method is limited to memorizing shopping lists in his description and he suggests they they are best for short term use. Although this is not untrue, such an approach limits the power of the journey method for long term memory storage, and as readers of the Magnetic Memory Newsletter and listeners to the Magnetic Memory Method Podcast know, I think shopping lists is a decent enough exercise, but that there are far better applications.
For example, you’ll achieve a lot more by writing down your shopping list and spending your grocery store time reviewing foreign language vocabulary words you’ve stored in your Memory Palaces or engaging in some of the other grocery store memory exercises I’ve taught you throughout the pages of the Magnetic Memory Newsletter.
A major problem in the chapter on Memory Palaces is Dodd’s focus on imaginary Memory Palaces instead of Memory Palaces based on real locations. Although you can certainly build fantasy Memory Palaces, you need to memorize them first before you can use them. Memory Palaces based on real locations, however, are a free resource and you need to do little more than decide upon how you are going to journey through them. This again makes the author’s separation of journeys and Memory Palaces frustrating because he seems think that we only have the journey between home and work or home an school to work with, when in fact every building with which we are familiar is brimming with potential for use as a Memory Palace with an amazingly stable journey waiting within it to be fitted with a number of fixed points/stations for placing associative-imagery we can later trigger to enable detailed recall of the important information we’ve quickly and easily memorized.
The reader is also taught to use Memory Palaces to memorize fickle things, again focusing on mnemonic examples of associative-imagery that could frustrate the reader more than help a person develop solid memory skills, though again, that is always the risk a teacher takes and I deeply admire Dodd for taking that risk.
Two very positive elements of Dodd’s The Memory Journal are his focus on the pleasure that memory techniques bring and the importance of giving associative-imagery context. Unfortunately, he only mentions context once when discussing the art of memorizing phone numbers, but this concept should be extended to all memory efforts, and indeed my own memory teachings are constantly about context. As Dodd puts it, context is the means by which we avoid mixing up the mounds of associative-imagery we create, so the stronger the context, the more clean the divisions and the less frequently things get mixed up.
Of course, with the Magnetic Memory Method’s focus on location-based Memory Palaces, things never get messed up so long as the inner-Memory Palace journeys are properly constructed. For Dodd, context means adding a theme to the associative-imagery, and I think it’s a powerful idea to add to location-based efforts, even though locations and stations will always be context enough. In many ways, the context Dodd is speaking of fits my principle of compounding if your associative-imagery needs an extra bit of pep. All in all, Dodd gives an interesting discussion of this, albeit a brief one.
Unfortunately, the chapters on speed reading are nonsense and I maintain my views on “slow reading” as something we should be striving for. Maybe I’m getting old and conservative, but even if speed reading techniques do improve concentration, words are like wine and I see nothing to be gained from guzzling things down. And if you find yourself in a situation where you have to read lots of books super fast and aren’t really even enjoying the process, maybe that’s an indicator that you could rearrange your life so that you’re able to slow down and actually enjoy the things you read.
And if you do want a method for reading academic books quickly and in a way that allows you to memorize the key points, check out the chapter in Volume 1 of the Magnetic Memory Newsletter called “What if I wanted to memorize a chapter in a textbook so I could ace an exam?” I’ll teach you how to prepare yourself to devour the most important parts of any book in a way that is easy, effective, elegant and fun.
Dodd includes some extras in the book, such as memorizing mathematical formulas, which is very interesting. I would have preferred to see this developed as a complete chapter in place of the speed reading stuff, but perhaps he’ll produce a complete book on memorizing math at some point in time.
In sum, I recommend this book to anyone looking for a description of how one person uses memory techniques. I do think you’ll pick up a few good ideas, but The Memory Journal is limited as a source of training. The author has a limited understanding of the full potential of both journeying and Memory Palaces and overburdens the book with examples of associative-imagery. I think his chapters on memorizing dates, appointments and the bonus on memorizing mathematical formulas have seeds of value and hope the author expands these in a subsequent edition. These criticisms aside, the author should be commended for spreading the good news about memory techniques and if you’re a memory enthusiast you should read Thanos Dodd’s The Memory Journal and let the author know what you think.
Anthony Metivier is the founder of the Magnetic Memory Method, a systematic, 21st Century approach to memorizing foreign language vocabulary in a way that is easy, elegant, effective and fun.