Memory fascinates people — how we keep it, how we lose it, and what happens afterward. Books that focus on the capabilities of the mind also strike a deep chord with BookBub readers; we’ve seen titles about topics like Alzheimer’s and amnesia perform well across genres. Even our latest book club pick centered around a man suffering from memory loss!
BookBub members aren’t alone. Many books on this topic have been turned into blockbuster movies, ranging from The Notebook by Nicholas Sparks to The Bourne Identity by Robert Ludlum. The amnesia trope often appears in romance movies, but it’s not unusual for different genres of entertainment to dive into the stranger side of memory loss (think the offbeat premise of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind).
In the book world, amnesia plotlines appear regularly in thrillers, mysteries, and romantic suspense titles, while non-fiction, literary, and women’s fiction stories often grapple with the challenge of coping with memory loss. Although the tropes in each genre differ, titles dealing with the subject resonate with readers across BookBub categories. Below, we explore three reasons that help explain the trend:
Increasingly, memory loss occupies an intimate part of the public consciousness. In 2013, 5.2 million Americans were estimated to be living with Alzheimer’s, including one out of nine people aged 65 or older. Because of this, many readers may know friends or family affected by a decline in mental abilities, and it makes sense that books focusing on the same issues would strike a chord.
For example, The Rockin’ Chair by Steven Manchester tackles the effect of memory loss on families, while the protagonist in Eric Rill’s An Absent Mind confronts an Alzheimer’s diagnosis. Both titles strongly resonated with BookBub members, performing above average for their genres.
2) Instant Conflict
While amnesia itself is uncommon, the premises of plenty of books center around the affliction. Amnesia plotlines often begin the moment after memory loss, so the reader can follow the conflict from page one. For example, the protagonist in the thriller What She Saw by Sheila Low knows she’s on a train but no more than that, and the book pulls the reader along as she attempts to understand her circumstances.
In addition to the inherent tension in not knowing who or where a character is, there’s also an emotional conflict, since an amnesiac character is a blank slate. In the young adult novel Sia by Josh Grayson, the protagonist has no memory of her former life. But as she slowly meets family, friends, and enemies, she is forced to confront the person she once was. And in the romantic suspense title Saving Grace by Norah Wilson, the protagonist can’t recall why she made a life-altering decision, and finds herself unable to trust anyone. Secrets are inevitable in these situations, and if we know anything, it’s that readers love secrets.
3) Fear of the Unknown
Any book about memory loss deals with the way our own minds betray us. People depend on their brains, and the fear of losing control can be paralyzing. For example, in our book club pick Pines by Blake Crouch, the main character begins to believe he may be going mad when he can’t draw on his memories. That anxiety keeps the reader on edge throughout much of the novel.
Stories that touch on innate, universal fears garner strong reactions, and this psychological hook is no less true when it comes to memory. After all, if we can’t trust our own mind, what can we trust?
While each book handles memory in a slightly different way, one thing is constant: they all feature characters that persevere against the odds. And no matter the story, this theme consistently strikes a chord with our readers. Whether a protagonist is starting as a blank slate and reinventing herself, or dealing with the declining health of a family member, these titles display the strength and fortitude that brings readers back time and again.
Blog contributor Hannah Reynolds is a member of BookBub’s editorial team. In addition to curating content, she studies trends within and across genres, and in her free time enjoys reading many of the titles featured in BookBub’s daily email.
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