The good: Songlines really do work for memory (I tried it!)
The not-so-good: I needed to concentrate a little more on this book – it’s not a book you read while half asleep.
Why I chose it: Thank you to Allen & Unwin for the copy of this book – I do love great non-fiction.
Publisher: Allen & Unwin
My rating: 8 out of 10
Book details: Release date 22th June 2016, Australian RRP $32.99
Have you ever stopped to wonder how ancient societies managed to remember so much, yet didn’t write it down? Have you ever Googled Stonehenge theories or wondered about the meaning of the statues on Easter Island? Ever wanted to try to remember more without relying on your smartphone and copious sticky notes? If you’ve answered yes to any of these questions (or forgotten them by now), The Memory Code is a book you should take the time to read.
Lynne Kelly has put all this together, and more, in a very readable book. It combines science and anthropology together in a way that the reader can easily understand the theories and evidence about how ancient societies retained so much information and passed it down the generations. It’s a fascinating read with in depth research (and contains a bibliography at the end, should the reader be interested in exploring any of the topics further). I am very impressed at how Dr Kelly explains her theories – it’s so easily accessible even though I have no formal training of anthropology or archaeology beyond high school social studies!
What I found most rewarding about the book was the practical application of memory spaces and songlines. Dr Kelly explains how she remembers the history of the world by recalling it as objects on her daily walk with the dog. Houses represent the time periods and she may link something as mundane as a letterbox with a crucial fact. What’s even cooler, is linking facts with silly songs, rhymes or puns. It seemed like a great way to remember things, without rote studying. Unfortunately, being the middle of winter, I can’t see the houses to practice this! So, to test her theory and see if it worked for me, I decided to do this on my daily drive for a big presentation I had to give. I didn’t want to take any notes and I had to remember a number of facts and statistics, so I practiced while driving to and from work. I used landmarks, signs and turning off points to remember the facts. Did it work? Yes, it did! By replaying the trip in my head in the background while I was talking, I could recall each key point with the correct numbers. It was surprisingly easy and quite fun! I plan to do this for an even bigger and longer presentation I need to give in the future with some complex mechanisms to describe.
If you’re not into that kind of recall, how about a memory board? (Pinterest doesn’t count). The Australian Aboriginals used a coolamon, which had carvings which acted as a memory aid. The Luba people in Zaire used a lukasa with beads and shells, each one acting as a trigger. But the biggest of all was Stonehenge. Dr Kelly offers the theory that Stonehenge was used as a memory tool as cultures transitioned from a nomadic life to a settled, farming life. Her ideas are detailed and supported with evidence of what we know about people of the time. It was all so interesting! My only problem with the book was that it’s not one to read while you’re too tired to concentrate – you need to give it the attention it deserves to fully appreciate the complexity and spark your own ideas. But naturally that just meant I had to sneak the book out more times during the day…
The Memory Code is an absorbing read, give it a go and be amazed.