Memorizing Nonfiction Books - would love some feedback on potential method

Hi guys, I’m new to the forum and relatively new to mnemonics. I’ve thumbed through the forums - and by ‘thumbed through’, I mean ‘browsed each page of the ‘general memory chat’ and ‘memory systems & technique’ and read posts that seemed relevant to me, cuz I’m an overachiever’ - and a number of books trying to figure out the best way (for me) to achieve one of my primary goals, the memorization of facts in nonfiction books.

By memorization, I don’t mean quoting word-for-word, but grasping general concepts and, especially, memorizing specific facts, be they definitions, historical dates/discoveries, etc. I’m a science writer specializing in space/astrophysics, and there are a slew of things that I want to retain.

I’ve come up with a linked-based method of memorization, which I would love feedback on. I know that, ultimately, it comes down to what works for me (and I’ve already put it into practice), but I figure there may be some things you guys can point out. Apologies if this is familiar, I did slip it into my intro post.

The idea is to create a primary link between the chapters, which images I’ve color-coded blue. So A, B, C, etc. Then, each chapter has a run-through of ideas and points, a1, a2, a3, etc. I want to be able to find the points in the chapter, and be able to either ‘leaf’ through the chapter headings (like a table of contents) or run down the contents of the chapter. I kind of visualize it like those icicle Christmas lights, a single horizontal string (chapter headings) with vertical strings (chapter contents) hanging down.

As such, the ‘table of contents’ images go:

A-B-Aa, B-C-Ba, C-D-Ca

Aa is of course linked to Ab is linked to Ac, etc.

The biggest problem I am finding seems to be the biggest issue with the link method, which is, you lose your path, you skip over information. I’ve noticed this particularly when my images are weak or when there are repetitions, as I tend to get with number images ([Princess] Leah seems to make a number of appearances, for whatever reason). I’m working with a 0-100 PAO system to combat this but while I started while putting the system together and so was using single digits only; I’m hoping that the full, expanded system will help combat that.

Anyway, I would love any feedback on potential problems you might see in this system.

A secondary, related question I have is this: I’m also constructing a virtual memory palace of rooms, each one with 35-50 loci for various space topics. In addition to facts, I would also like to use the rooms as a ‘card catalog’ for related books. So for instance, on the first node in the Pluto room, I might have the size of the dwarf planet (factual information) and the title/author image of the book “How I Killed Pluto and Why It Had It Coming” (book information). If I wanted to retain both of these facts long term, would there be a problem overlapping the two? Again, I know it will vary by person and I’m putting it into play (well, I will as soon as I create my Pluto room, at the moment I’m only up to the asteroid belt lol), but I’d love to know if you feel this would be too much to retain long term.

Thanks for your help!


** I should, I wound up using the link method because I’m somewhat loathe to file each book on a journey or in a memory palace. I plow through books at a fearsome rate; I just started my 99th book for 2013 today. At a minimum I hit one nonfiction, space-related book a month, which means twelve palaces or journeys I would have to create each year. Because they would be long-term locations, I wouldn’t be frequently reusing them, but would have to put a significant amount of work into them at the start. This is why I leaned toward the link method, which I am admittedly weaker at.

We are like cosmic twins… I read tons of books, have 8 checked out at the moment, and i also plowed through all of general memory chat looking for interesting posts, and through method of loci forum on my first days here too… Anyway, what i do for similar systems of information, is create a journey, or remember one, and place the book on it. It could even be one room. Its a combination of journey method and link method. I make a journey with like 10 loci, one for each chapter of information, and then to each of those 10 images, i link more stuff. Journeys are really not that hard to create or remember, especially short ones that include just the chapters of a book. Im not sure what the second question is asking, but usually no, its not a problem to overlay information, and we have practically unlimited capability for long term storage. Concordantly, the problem with the link method, is if you lose 1 link, you lose everything after it. With the journey method, there is a background, so you know where things are supposed to go, and even if you forget one, you still have all the others. But for me, combining both journey and link method is best.

If you havent already, try reading these links, theyre good sources of information, and they show how some people store information in a way that works well for them.

Its a great way to organize all your journeys, and you could use it to connect all the books you memorize into one central location to easily access any one of them quickly.

I am also a science writer, so welcome - good to have you here. No idea if any of this will be of use, but I am keen to hear more of what you are doing. I memorise for permanency and wouldn’t have a hope in any competition. I can’t do things fast or under pressure. Pity. But I can do them for the long term.

Bateman: I must check out the links you pointed to. I didn’t know about them. Thank you.

The worries with overlapping information in a single location is not, in my experience, a problem. I have four long journeys, with multiple information bits in each location and never seem to get confused. In fact, they often give me a link.

As for adding new locations, that’s a breeze. I couldn’t cope with more than 10 locations in a room, though. I’d really appreciate a description of your memory palace and the way you do so many locations. Sounds fascinating!

I have 10 locations in a room, every fifth marked by being a window, with the first the door. When I wanted to have locations that I could add a lot of information into, I decided that one portion of a room was not enough, so I headed off around the block with the dog. Each house or shop is a location. For example, I have all 242 countries of the world in one journey, around the house and then down to the shops and back. I also have the twentieth century, year by year, encoded into some of that journey, and some of the bird families discussed below. Another block does history - marked out in time segments. Another prehistory, again in time segments. So each country or time can have more and more added because there is so much detail in a house or shop to link to.

I am currently doing a new one using a miniature space - modelled on the African hand-held memory board known as the lukasa. Mine has over the 82 beads and shells I need glued on for the 82 bird families for our state, and then I use journeys along streets for any family with more than 5 birds in it. I use linked stories for the birds in each family - the largest being the 36 honeyeaters. I am getting to know the memory board so well that I don’t need it with me. My goal is to be able to do the 403 birds in taxonomic order, with family names, by Christmas. I’m married to a keen birder, so he likes the idea of having a walking checklist in tow. I’m keying in key identifying features as well.

I am doing other topics using playing card decks (standard and tarot) and my palms as memory aids. They are miniature memory palaces in a way. One day, I’ll be able to compare all the methods, as long as I stop adding more and more. It’s such fun!


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Hi, Lynne.
I don’t know how Scottie does it, but for me, adding a lot of loci per room just has to do with familiarity. If i only know a vague shape and color of a room, ill just make the standard 10, door, corners, walls, floor ceiling. But if its someplace like my house, I could get 50-100 in a room. I just add stuff to every object that I know, left pillow, right pillow, middle pillow, top of bed, bottom of bed, left side of bed etc… Its because for me there needs to be things to attach other things to. I also can’t really place a lot of stuff in a park, if there isn’t any distinguishing marks, like weird looking trees, or benches. Also Lynne, maybe you’re looking at the rooms from too big of a scale. When you focus on items in the room, the stuff you put on them is also smaller. But you probably know that, with your beads and hands loci.


Thanks everyone for your responses! Sorry about the delay.


I read over those two links in my perusing, but thanks for the reminder on them. My only concern on individual journeys is the sheer amount of information I intend to store. Then, too, there is the delay factor; when I pick up a book that I want to store, I don’t want to have to take the extra time (it winds up the cost of a ‘day’, though the time is minimal) to create a new journey. I suppose I could read the book first and then determine how many loci would be needed, so as not to ‘over create’ but still, that would be losing a day off the next book.

Instead, what I’m leaning toward is connecting that first link to a set locus in the appropriate room (at least, for books on space; I still haven’t figured out what to do for the interesting historical and other nonfiction books that I read). Because that’s a fixed point, I’m hoping that it will keep me from losing the entire journey/link, plus it has the added advantage of being more searchable (‘I just read a book on Pluto, what was it?’ /tromps through Pluto room ‘Oh yes!’).


Haha, okay, I did actually read over the posts but I wanted to give you the detailed response it deserved, which was part of the reason for my delay (and ugh, trying to make a long post on my tablet, /wrists)

I, too, am not overly worried about competitions. I only just started memorizing cards, but I’m doing so using the link method (which I know isn’t ideal for competitions) solely as a ‘warmup’ for the day. I’m interested in reducing times, but also in getting practice with something that I know I’m weak in.

I occasionally have seen an image from one journey on another one, but I’m always able to recognize it as ‘false’. Then, too, these are usually from my random, temporary lists, so I’m not overly concerned.

I love your memory board, what a great idea.

Regarding my memory palace:
I started out with my house, 5 loci per room, but then more reading (and experience) told me not to use my home for permanent items (nothing like seeing McDonald’s arches and a dead president on my toilet for William McKinley, very disruptive). I knew that I wanted a large quantity of memory palaces, and I started googling and considering virtual palaces, although the reality is that I could have constructed them from known locations. I was concerned at the time, however, that the rooms wouldn’t contain a sufficient amount of loci.

I started off very basic: my ‘Mercury’ room is the front entry room, and I designed it as such, so it only has about 35 items, well spaced. In most cases, the items in it would be found inside of an entry hall - a coat rack, umbrella stand, bay window, etc. I added two Mercury-related paintings, one that I googled and one that I added after the fact and pretty much made up. I would do it differently now.

After Mercury, I decided it was more important to follow a ‘theme’ rather than to avoid repeating objects in a room. Then too, I read a post – I can’t remember if it was from Josh Cohen or Loci in the Sky, but it was inside a thread and I can’t seem to find it – about putting 1,000 loci inside each room. I didn’t want to go that high, but I decided to shoot for 50 loci per room. A little quick math told me that’s 7x7, with an extra one fitting in somewhere.

My twelve year old helped me, as well. For instance, my Earth room is a greenhouse. I’m not huge on plants – I joke that I have a brown thumb – so I was only including plants that I could recognize (roses, strawberries, lettuce, etc). I asked my daughter for ideas on what to put in my greenhouse and she said ‘put a big apple tree in the middle of the room. Can you imagine how many things you can hang off the branches?!’ My first reaction was, you can’t put an apple tree in a greenhouse. Then I realized I was never going to build the room, and I could put what I want in it. So not only do I have an apple tree (at the moment only one locus) with a small brick circle around it and a bench, I also have a compost pile (which I would NEVER put in a greenhouse) and a chicken coop inside (googling greenhouse brought me a web post of someone who keeps fowl in their greenhouse to generate body heat warmth lol).

But that was only the least of it. My Mars room is a giant dungeon-like armory. I have a cannon and a catapult and a full Roman legion, as well as a barrels of gunpowder and some lances, and they all take up roughly the same space. And my room on the Martian room Phobos (‘fear’) is a giant funhouse, complete with Pennywise the clown, crashing ceilings, crocodile pits, a dentist chair, a bed for the monster to hide under, and a shower with Psycho music playing.

In short, I went for theme over decor. I won’t be having anyone over to this memory palace lol.

I’ve also found, in practice, that loci that I thought would only be good for one image are often good for multiples. For instance, the first object in my Deimos room is a slide (I went with a ‘swift’ focus, after one of the craters, since ‘terror’ is too close to the haunted house fear), and have five or six images on it at various points (top of the slide, middle, another bend, bottom, next to).

As for the actual creation:

I have a regular spiral notebook that I use to keep track of everything. When I start out, I sketch a rectangle at the top of the page, and then begin creating my columns of images in a very rough sketch, while listing them numerically below. I suppose I really do use linking here to keep them straight (I back away from Pennywise and trip over the dentist chair. fall out of the chair into a nest of insects a la Temple of Doom) but after reviewing they tend to fall into place. Also, the sketch helps; although my artistic ability is terrible (my daughter told me only the tulips in my greenhouse looked like what they were supposed to be), I can ‘see’ where they are in the order, whether at the top of the column, bottom, or middle, and often what comes next or before.

I should note that, because the information will come in disjointed, I don’t bother with a special highlight for the 5th or 10th or some other location. However, as noted, the columns help me remember ‘where’ objects are in the order.

Hope that helps!


Hey Scottie.
How fast can you memorize a deck of cards with the link method? How much information are you planning to store from each book? I’m not sure I understand what you wish to accomplish wish the link method for non fiction books. Do you just want to get the general theme of the book? Or do you want to know how the book is organized, putting relevant main ideas in chapters and choice quotes?

I never use my house for my journeys, and its quite easy to think of a journey, at least for me. It doesn’t take that much time. Just think of a friends house, or a school, or workplace you have been in in the past. Or a store you went into often, or even a video game. Just a couple days ago, I remembered a game that i used to play couple years ago, and counted 39 maps that i remember perfectly. Roughly estimating, I have two thousand loci from those. I already connected those 39 to my journey of journeys, so I can easily access any of them.

Gavinos massive memory palace system is intended just for that, long term storage of immense amounts of information, in an organized system.

Journeys are not hard to create or remember, but it does help to go over them before trying to memorize information using them, and pick your loci spots.

I’m not sure what you meant by 7x7, did you mean you have 7 loci in a room, and to each of them, you link 7 items?

The problem (for me) with long(more than 5) link system is they collapse too easily. Most of the time ill get to 6 or so items and have no idea what the next item is. Maybe making the connections stronger would work, but its way simpler to just have 10 loci in a room with 4 or so items linked to them than 40 items linked together, with only the first being attached to a locus. Quicker access to the information too.

On another note, I just thought of the fictional characters’ Hannibal Lecters memory palace. He stored information, from various sources, according to what the information was, like you in a way. This room is for Mercury, this room is for Venus etc… I’ll start doing it like that, it seems way simpler since the books I read are on topics that relate to one another. It doesn’t particularly matter to me where the information came from, seems better to just store it in one place than in 10 different books.

Good luck, and tell us how everything worked out.

Bateman, Scottie, Thank you so much for such interesting and thorough replies. I am going to try them out. I’ve never done an imaginary memory palace before. I rather like the idea. I have so many journeys and other memory experiments on the go, why not add a few more?

Fascinating people on this board.


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I probably overdo it for journeys…actually, I’m not sure I’ve really sat down with a hard-and-fast journey attempt other than the general overview I did…but I tend to doubt my ability to recall things. Of course, I also tend to get lost with a GPS, which doesn’t help lol. (No, I really do.)

The card memorization is…bad, lol. I’m around ten minutes, but I’ve only really done it a handful of times, and I keep getting spades and clubs mixed up. So I’ll remember the right item but the wrong card because I glanced at it when inputting it and got it wrong. It’s somewhere around tenth on my priority list, so I’m only occasionally doing it when I get the time to sit down, and it doesn’t particularly enthrall me.

When I said 7x7, what I mean is that I arrange a room in (roughly) 7 columns and 7 rows, and try to fit one loci at each spot. Sometimes it comes out less, sometimes more, I’m terribly unorganized.

I made a haunted house for the Martian moon Phobos. The essential layout for it is:

Black crepe door Mirror/ Ring girl Tombstones/new dirt graves
Cold packed dirt floor Pirrana tank Snake tank
Zombie Table with:-brains Rats beneath tank Ceiling falling down
Spiders in your face - eyeballs High pit (fear-of-heights high) Various specific insects Crocodile pit -bloody knife Spikes at bottom of pit Dentist’s chair
Bars over pit Werewolf Ghost Pennywise (clown from It)
Grim Reaper Bloody axe Clocks - 4 very dift ones

(this is next to the other column but the box isn’t large enough)

Mummy Elevator (freefalling) Fire
Rolling bolder (Temple of Doom) Pool/pool cover Narrow passage (claustraphobia)
Bed/pillow/monster hand Hydra Stethoscope/needle/scapel (drs)
Shower Vampire Stage
Shower curtain Dalek (Doctor Who) Chainsaw-wielding nut (Jason mask optional)
Antibacterial soap (lol)
Barred door

Hopefully that gives you the general idea, but as I said, I’ve found that I can attach more things to the loci than I originally suspected, which means that each one has more than a single option. This is good, since I’m often memorizing numbers in both metric and…um…nonmetric, so I wind up with multiple images for a single bit of information.

I can see what you mean about the problems with linking, though. So far, I’ve only filed one book, and I do on occasion have some trouble with pulling the links. However, the information is coming through faster than the images sometimes, especially the numbers. I downloaded supermemo to drill me on the information, which (I hope) is helping to permanently file the information, the eventual goal. It seems to be working. :slight_smile:

I do need to sit down and memorize the information from the second book. The first one, I did it chapter by chapter as I read, which did lead to some facts out of logical sequence, even within the chapters. I decided to do the next book by reviewing it afterwards (which has the ‘studying’ bonus), but that means…more time. I’m not sure at this moment how I feel about that, given that the information from the first one seems to have been retained (and I did think about it and apply it, as well); it seems ideal to do it faster, chapter by chapter. I’ll keep experimenting. :slight_smile:

Thanks again for the feedback guys!


Very interesting idea to create a lukasa. Did you create it with a plan for the birds in mind or did you glue beads and shells to it and then decide what to memorize with it?

I made my memory board long before I chose this topic to encode. I made it as a model when talking about indigenous memory devices because I didn’t have a real one to show in presentations on the topic. I was using it to encode other topics but decided to do the birds for practical reasons, partly because I was more closely modelling indigenous methods because bird classification and ecological / behavioural knowledge features so strongly in non-literate oral tradition all over the world. My area of research is artificial memory methods in non-literate cultures and practical knowledge.

This experiment is exceeding all expectations. I am getting the birds in much faster than I expected - will easily make the Christmas deadline. The stories which are emerging are very like those told to children by indigenous cultures which form the basic structure of the knowledge system. As I add more and more details about the birds, I am building up the layers just as indigenous cultures do. Plus I am adding in the combination of methods they use without even thinking about it - a combination of song, dance and mythology.

For example, some birds are identified by call more than appearance. I am adding in little call-songs. Some are known by behaviour. For example, when I pass the location for Sanderlings, I do a little run up and down - imitating Sanderlings, a beach bird which feeds by chasing the waves out and feeding on the remaining little critters. Then they run in from the next wave. A dance can represent this bird far better than any description or song. I also touch each bead or group of beads, and they each feel different because of the angles, edges and surrounding beads or edge of the board. This seems to add another mnemonic dimension. I have photos of Luba memory experts touching the board as the recall, almost identical in sitting position and handling to Australian Aboriginal doing the same with sacred memory stones called churinga.

Sorry to wafle on and on, but this experiment is really getting me excited!

The memory board, turned up the other way, is quite different. I’m using it to encode a history of the art of memory. I am sure there is an irony in that.

Thank you for your interest!

Hi scottiegazelle,

I find your posts really interesting, but I don’t understand some of it. Others probably do, so apologies if I seem a bit slow on the uptake. I am encoding astronomy to my palms and the back of my hands - yet another experiment - some work better than others! So what you are choosing to encode with astronomy, and how, is of great interest. I didn’t understand what you are saying about making a haunted house for the Martian moon Phobos.

I can’t see how what you wrote relates to a house or to Phobos. It could be that I can’t work out the layout because of the box size issue you mention. Can you explain the properties of Phobos you are memorising with one of the locations and how that works. Sorry if I am asking for the obvious, but I would really appreciate it.


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