If you’ve read any of my posts over the years, you know that I’m a huge fan of paper and pencil. My writing calendar, notes, and journals are all done longhand. I’m the person who haunts the back-to-school sales and scoops up notebooks like they may never make any more. There’s just something calming about writing things down instead of typing it all into yet another app. That’s why a few years ago I decided to add to my longhand pile and start keeping a reading journal.
The idea actually came to me as a result of cleaning out my parents’ house. I found some of the old reading journals my school made us use to record our summer reading. We had to write down the titles, authors, and a short description of each book. That little bit of information actually made me remember the books I read over those summers. Talk about nostalgia…
That’s when the lightbulb went off. At the time, it seemed like much of my reading was blurring together. I couldn’t remember half of what I read and if I could, I had a hard time remembering if I’d even liked it. A few times I tried to recall a book so I could use it again for research but had no idea what the book was called. I read so much that blurring is inevitable. The idea of writing down what I read with a couple of sentences seemed like a great way to help me recall books.
Yes, I know there are plenty of apps for this, or you can use Goodreads. Goodreads is a good choice for getting together with friends and sharing what you all read. It’s great for challenges and public accountability. But that’s the trouble: It’s public. You may censor your comments to avoid hurting someone’s feelings or attracting trolls. You may not feel comfortable making the personal notes you want to make.
A private writing journal that’s just for you solves the problem. You can be as honest as you want and make notes about anything without others thinking you’re weird. There’s no judgment or trolls to argue with your opinion.
It turns out, there are other benefits, as well.
It’s a great way to track the passage of time.
I love looking back at my journals. I can remember what I read on vacation, or when someone was in the hospital. The journal shows how my reading tastes have changed over the years, and it tracks my “phases.” (It’s fun to look back and remember the mystery phase, the literary fiction phase, the manga phase, and so on. I go through a lot of reading phases where I’ll read the heck out of one genre or author and then not touch it again for years. If ever.) Much like a regular journal, a reading journal becomes a record of your life and the books that accompany you on your journey.
Tracking series becomes a breeze.
I read a lot of series and it gets hard to remember how far along I am in each. This is especially true when there are many years between books. Is the book that just came out the one I need to read, or am I still two books behind? Have I read the accompanying novellas or short stories? Did I even like this series enough to keep reading, or did the last book jump the shark? I just turn to my reading journal and look for the answers.
You can keep your TBR list straight.
Every time you hear about a book you want to read, jot it down in your journal along with why you think you want to read it. This is helpful when you’re looking for something specific. You think, “Hey, I want to read a good family saga” so you go to your list and see what might meet that criteria. It saves you from endlessly trawling Amazon or Goodreads looking for something to read. (But if you still feel compelled to go to the bookstore and browse, I’m not gonna stop you!)
It’s great for recommendations.
When people ask for recommendations, it’s handy to have a ready-made list. I actually keep a “recommended” list in my journal (there’s also one on this site), but I can also quickly skim my journal to find books I loved that might work as a recommendation.
It’s easier to find books when you need them.
I read a lot of books that I need to find again. They’re usually non-fiction books that have some random factoid that I later want to add to a story or article. I can remember the fact, but finding the book again to properly cite it or expand upon it becomes a challenge. With a reading journal, I can write down any interesting facts at the time I read them, or make notes about what sort of articles or stories this book might be useful for. It makes finding them again a whole lot easier than saying, “I think it was green and the size of a shoebox.”
Research gets easier.
Along with the thought above, if you read a lot for research, a reading journal makes it much easier to track what you’ve read. I keep separate pages in my journal for books related to my novels or work projects. It makes creating a bibliography much simpler, and it’s easier to go back to certain books if I need to.
It simplifies purging.
No one likes to think about needing to purge their books, but it happens. You move or you need more space so some beloved titles have to go. Your reading journal makes it easy to look back and see which books didn’t wow you or provide any useful information. Those are the easy ones to dump in the donation/sale box.
You can keep a journal for other things, as well. I keep a board gaming journal that’s very similar to my reading journal. I track how many times I play a game, who I played with, whether we enjoyed it, and anything else about the event that seems noteworthy. It’s fun to go back and see what we played over a year and it makes getting rid of the so-so games much easier.
I know other people who use journals to track movies/DVD’s. They even track whether or not they watched the bonus features. You can also track TV shows, music, video games, or anything else you’d like to have a record of.
Creating a reading journal doesn’t have to be a huge undertaking. You can just use a basic notebook if you want, or you can get a fancy journal. (If you’re a big reader, I recommend starting with something big, like a binder or five subject notebook. The dinky notebooks are cute and portable, but not practical for a voracious reader. You’ll be looking for a new journal in a matter of weeks.) There are free printable pages all over the internet if you want something pre-made.
It’s up to you and how creative you want to be. Some people track different genres in separate books, others lump it all together but maybe use different colored ink for various genres. Some people use different colored paper or tabs to keep things organized, others get all crazy with stencils or glitter for decoration. You can have a simple journal or something that better resembles a scrapbook. It’s up to you.
How you organize your journal should be a function of how you work best. This is just for you, so don’t worry about adhering to a certain system. If it makes sense to you, it’s all good. Some people just list the title, date read, and a quick synopsis. Others write down special quotes, note inspirational passages, or do a full summary/review. How much or little information you include depends on your needs and what you want your journal to accomplish. And you don’t have to keep the same information for every book. Maybe you include more details from self-help books, for example, but just jot down a sentence about novels.
To help with navigation, I mark each book with an icon (or more than one, depending) next to the title. I use stars for books I love and thumbs down for ones I didn’t like. I have other categories, as well, like swords for books related to the Threads of the Moirae series, hearts for romance, unicorns for fantasy, etc. It’s easy to see what category a book fits into. I doodle my icons, but stickers work, too.
The bottom line is that a reading journal can be a fun and useful tool, and they’re not difficult to make or use. A well-used journal that makes sense to you will give you a lot of joy in years to come as you look back on your reading activities.
(Photo courtesy of designedbyjess)