Keep a Book Journal? Um, Not So Much

I have loved to read since I was in grade school—more than 50 years ago. In the intervening time I’ve gobbled up a lot books. I slowed down while my sons were growing up, but now I can read as much as I like. So much so, that I consciously limit my book intake so I can fit in all of the other things I want to do. Nonetheless, I average about four books per month. Until recently, I never kept a book journal or list of what I’ve read.

Why not? Laziness, mostly. Making a list or creating a system of tracking what I read seemed like homework. Besides, aside from me, who cares what I read? If anything, keeping a list might make me feel vaguely guilty about all that reading . . . when I could be doing something more virtuous and less fun like training for a marathon (oh wait, I’m not a runner).

Learning that Star Tribune books editor Laurie Hertzel never caught on to using Goodreads made me feel better. I’m a Goodreads dropout too (my apologies to the dozen people who follow me).

Her article about book journals describes the various ways avid readers approach book journals. Some people record the title, author, and date the book was read to keep from accidentally repeating a book or for a sense of accomplishment. Others rate the books. The article also mentioned that a few particularly organized readers develop Excel spreadsheets—that’s so not me!

That’s why I’m surprised that in the last two years, I’ve begun making a few notes about my reading. It began as a list of books I want to read, culled from book reviews and book blogs. I’d jot my list in Notes on my phone. But after I read the book, I didn’t always delete the title (re: laziness) so the list began to grow.

My process is still hit or miss, but sometimes I add a gold star next to titles I loved in case anyone wants a recommendation. I’ll put a + next to pretty good books, +~ next to books that were good but didn’t quite work, and a ~ for so-so books. Books that I actively disliked or abandoned get a NOT symbol or a minus (these days, I’ll desert a book if I don’t love it after 50-75 pages—life’s too short). When I’m underwhelmed by a book, I occasionally jot a brief note about it, especially if I’m trying to understand why I didn’t like something that was critically acclaimed.


Book notes

Reading is the real pleasure. Some people enjoy making scrapbooks of their experiences or photo albums of their travels. The process enhances their enjoyment. I don’t do either one. For me, the fun is stepping into another world, a different time, or an unfamiliar culture. Getting caught up in a story. Unlike real life, I have no responsibility for the characters and no ability to intervene in their dramas. I’m just along for the ride. The experience is enough.

However, if you ever want a recommendation or my opinion, just ask—I might have a note!

12 thoughts on “Keep a Book Journal? Um, Not So Much

  1. Your post warmed my heart. I’ve kept a list of every book I’ve read since graduating from college, though have only intermittently comment on them, which I regret. I also have long lists of books I want to read…plus have reached the limit on my wish list. Crazy I know. And now, spurred on by a new friend, I’ve started keeping a list of movies I see…and am rating them. Last night: Atomic Blonde. Violent but loved seeing anoher strong female lead…and may even add the book it’s based on to my “someday I’m going to read” list.

    • I’m impressed you’ve kept a list since college! What’s been interesting to me is that there are books I liked back then that no longer appeal to me. For example, my book group wanted to read Kerouac’s On The Road, which I liked in college but really didn’t care for now–didn’t have the patience for it.

  2. I made it through Upstream but it wasn’t an easy ride. I think I like her better as a poet.

  3. I’m also an avid reader who doesn’t keep track of what she reads. It’s usually not a problem until someone asks me for good book recommendations and my mind draws a blank. It would be handy to have a list then. For now, I just have to go look at my bookshelves, because I keep any book I like well enough to read more than once.

    • That’s a good system! In my case, I get a lot of books from the library (I simply can’t own all the books I want to read) so I needed a backup because I always draw a blank too!

  4. Why not rank what you’ve read? Might be useful for the rest of us. I’m liking Flower Moon, BTW.

  5. I’m a Goodreads drop out, too. Too much work! I have started jotting down titles and authors names in a daytimer type of calendar mostly in case I want to recommend a book to a friend. My brain no longer retains this kind of info so if I write it down I can flip thru the daytimer to find what I couldn’t remember.

    • That’s essentially what I do, but on my phone. That way, I have my want-to-read list handy at the bookstore oe library or book group. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

  6. Keeping a book journal? I can see it can have its purposes depending on your ambitions. Instead of a book journal, I use authors to lay breadcrumbs to the next delicious read. Often authors will list what books they love and recommend — either in a blog post, an interview or on the book cover itself. I have found the most enjoyable books this way. Almost as good as a recommendation from a good friend. ; )

    P.S. Four books a month! I’m lucky if I get through one book in four weeks!

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