How I track the books I read: digital + physical.

How I track the books I read: digital + physical.

There are readers who lovingly record every book they read; there are readers who do so begrudgingly, if at all.

I fall firmly into the latter category. I would much rather be reading than writing down what I’ve been reading (or worse, typing it into an online database).

Despite that, I’ve come to see the benefits of sacrificing a bit of reading time in order to record what I’m reading. I started recording my books—books I want to read, books I’m currently reading, books I’ve completed—in Goodreads a few years ago and haven’t looked back.

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I don’t share a lot of information in Goodreads: I give each book a star rating and (usually) post a short review. But even that tiny bit of information preserves my reading habits better than my unreliable memory.

I regularly sort through my books on Goodreads: when someone asks me to recommend a good book I’ve read recently, when I want to see if I’ve been skewing lately towards fiction or nonfiction, when I’m compiling a list of recent favorites. (It’s not a perfect system: I forgot to include a terrific book on my Best of 2014 list because I forgot to enter it in Goodreads!)

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I’m grateful to have the information, and I only wish I had more years of data to sift through.

I love using Goodreads because the information is easy to access and sort—by year, rating, title, author.

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I’ll continue to use Goodreads this year, but in 2015 I’m trying something I haven’t done in years: I’m using an actual paper reading journal to track my reading habits.

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I like being able to jot notes about what I’m reading without having to keep an electronic device handy. I like the idea of browsing actual physical pages to see what I’ve been reading lately at a glance, and of jotting freehand notes in the margins.

And the particular journal I chose for the year—a $6 7″ x 5″ hardcover from Potter Style—has fun extras that I’m looking forward to using. In addition to holding two-page spreads for the books I’m reading, the journal has pages for my literary superlatives, places to record my favorite quotes, and “reading trees” that resemble mind maps.

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The journal has blank pages to record books I want to read, and detailed lists of Man Booker Prize winners, National Book Award winners, The Modern Library’s 100 best novels, Oprah’s Book Club picks, and more.

If I’m lacking inspiration, my own reading journal provides plenty of of places to find it.

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Lots of readers create their own book journals from blank notebooks, but I know from experience that I’m much more likely to actually use the journal if it’s pre-filled and ready for me to write in. I need all the help I can get.

I get a ton of questions about how I keep track of what I’m reading and what I want to read in the future. Readers, we want to know: do you keep a reading journal? How do you track what you’re reading? 

How I Track

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147 comments

  1. Laura says:

    i love Goodreads, too. I’ve probably added more TBR books thanks to this blog and the readers’ comments than from anywhere else. I will always give a star rating, but I rarely write a review. I don’t want to take the time away from reading!

  2. Beth says:

    These are fascinating comments and I am going to need to come back and read them all later, when I have more time. So many comments on this post already!

    Here’s my story. When I started tracking my books, I was closing a chapter on my life of education (college, and then working at the university) and beginning the next: motherhood. I planned to stay at home while my husband finished his degree and went into college. While I truly wanted to be a mother, I’ve always felt like learning was a part of me — and reading a variety of books (both for pleasure and for learning) was something I wanted to do.

    I know you’ve talked about this in regard to fitness trackers and whatnot, and Gretchen Rubin says it in her books — the simple act of recording your progress on a goal makes you more apt to actually do it. I decided I’d write short little reviews on each book I’ve read, plus some stats: the date I’d finished it and the number of pages in each book. Because I was tracking the books, I could see if I was meeting my goal to keep my mind sharp through reading, and I became a more well-rounded reader than I ever had been in the past.

    I started tracking my books in January 2005 on a php forum that my husband and I ran for our family (you know, before the days of Facebook for all … we are tech nerds!), then I switched over to my personal blog six months after that and have been recording book reviews there for almost ten years. (I do have ten years’ worth of data now, though! It is so interesting to me to see the ebb and flow of my yearly page counts.)

    I joined Goodreads in 2007 (I think) and spent several hours copying-and-pasting my reading data over there. It really is my book brain now; I don’t write extensively about the book, but I do write a few sentences (or paragraphs) for each book I read. I love when others give reviews on Goodreads, because then I can see what all my friends have to say about a certain book all in one place.

    I love to poke around on Goodreads, seeing what people have on their shelves. I think I like reading ABOUT books almost more than reading them, which I know is completely wrong! But that’s one of the reasons I like your blog (and your comments section!) so much!

    • liz n. says:

      Many reasons. For someone who blogs about books, journaling is a useful reference tool. If you belong to a book club, you might keep a book journal as part of book discussions. Some people simply like to keep a record of what they’ve read. I journal partly because I like to write, and I like to write about my books. I also use my journals as references for book recommendations. It’s a neat part of your personal history.

      • MamaMouse93 says:

        I keep a database so I know what I’ve read by each author, plus I know which books I’ve missed, plus which books I own. I REALLY hate buying what I THOUGHT was a new book because they’ve put new art on the cover. I have over 2,000 books in my personal library, it’s hard to remember which ones I own already. In addition I go thrift ingredients, and having access on my Google drive account insures I don’t purchase duplicates (unless they are specifically for someone else).

        This works for movies and video games, too!

  3. ailikate says:

    So my one problem with Goodreads, and the reason I abandoned it, was that it does not let you mark a book as “did not finish” or something similar. I start a lot of books and am not at all shy about dropping one that isn’t working for me and on Goodreads I either had to leave it in currently reading (discouraging, when I have in fact given it up), put it in read (feels dishonest) or delete it altogether (annoying if I come across it again and don’t realize that I’ve already given it a shot). I’m trying to find a system that will get around this, but haven’t come up with one yet.

    • Katie says:

      I’m so glad you brought this up! It’s one of the reasons I almost abandoned Goodreads altogether last year, until I discovered this feature:

      You can add a new shelf (call it “unfinished” or “abandoned” or whatever,) then click on “edit” next to your Bookshelves. It takes you to a page where you manage all your shelves. All you have to do is check the “exclusive” box next to your “unfinished” shelf — this means your unfinished, to-read, currently-reading, and read shelves are all mutually exclusive, & creates another option besides read, currently-reading, and to-read.

      I hope this makes sense & hope that helps!

  4. Dasa says:

    I did not use to keep a reading journal. However now, when I am reading Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina I really think that it would be great to have some notes written down, commenting on some aspects of this masterpiece.

  5. Melodee says:

    I’ve kept track of my reading in some form or another for many years: some years it’s a paper journal with commentary, some years it has just been a list of titles on a note in my phone. Anyway, on New Year’s Day my mom and I must have spent a full hour talking about and looking at our reading lists from the last couple years. She asked for a recommendation, and I just flipped through my book journal and found one I had written a review for – went and grabbed it off my shelf – she read it, and returned it a week later. I would never have thought to recommend that one if I hadn’t been looking at my records. 🙂

    I have never used Goodreads, but seeing all the positive comments I think I may need to check it out!

  6. Jennifer H says:

    I find it awesome that you have 122 comments and you just posted this yesterday. Samuel came in while I was reading this and I told him about goodreads and showed him my account and now he wants his own goodreads account! Start ’em young!

  7. Ariel says:

    I use goodreads, but I rarely remember to keep up with it as I’m reading a book and more tend to go back through to add an entire series when I remember it. This year, though, I’m trying to put at least all of my challenge books on goodreads. I semi-recently discovered their iPhone app, and I like being able to update my progress and see the percentage I’ve read, but they only let you do that for one most recent Currently Reading book at a time (at least, as far as I can tell)!

  8. Roslyn says:

    For many years I have recorded what I have read – usually a one or two sentence synopsis and a score out of 10. Only takes a couple of minutes.

  9. Denisa Dellinger says:

    Well I guess it’s official! People who read on a regular basis, heck not regular but “inhales” books like to keep records on those books. Before I even thought about computers or even owned one, I began journaling about which books I read and what I liked about them. I once saw a beautiful little journal for books at Barnes and Nobel that had Jane Austen on the cover. Jane Austen! Man I getting that! I thought but when I looked inside, I was sorely disappointed, no space to write what I wanted to say, how did I like it, my analysis of each character that was unique, what was it about, I needed as many pages as I needed, so I went ahead and bought a pretty colored small spiral bound notebook to record my treasures in. I recorded the date I started it and the ending date, it was amazing how quickly I finished the book or how long it took. I used to start one right after I finished one at that time. Then as I put the books away that I had read I began to think of how would I know what books I truly owned and who were the authors and when were they written. I hated to just box up read books without some kind of record, because I went “booking” all the time an bought all kinds of books. I didn’t want a repeat of one I had read or had so I got little index cards and index card holders and began to catalogue them in alphabetical order. Am I crazy or what? I dare not get rid of them because they are my old friends and they are collectables, cheap as they were.
    With Goodreads, I have gone through all the books in the genres I have read and like and listed the ones I have read in the whole of my life and listed the ones I want to read so I will always have a source from where to go. I don’t read as much as I have in the past because of the purchase of my computer, I am reading on here most of the time and it has taken the place of just watching tv. But there are so many book and so little time! I simply must return to my passion.

  10. Kayris says:

    Hardcore goodreads user here. I love the reading challenge and also the recommendations. I’ve discovered some really great books through the recommendations feature that I probably wouldn’t have found otherwise.

    I was keeping track of my daughter’s chapter books too. But now both kids have kindles so I think I’m going to set them up with their own accounts. They are both competitive (like me) and would enjoy the challenge.

    I usually rate the books I read but only write reviews for the books I feel strongly about, so books with written reviews are almost all 4/5 star or 1 star, because I feel compelled to share how much I loved or hated a book.

  11. Sue says:

    I’ve kept a list of titles, and usually authors since my freshman year in high school. That was 1968! It’s just a spiral notebook and it’s been recopied a time or 2. I didn’t get them all, but surely most. I’m at around 3100 now. The only thing I wish I had done was record the rereads. I was a BIG rereader in my younger days.
    I have jumped on the good reads bandwagon now ~ but still love my tattered list.

    • Denisa Dellinger says:

      Laura,
      I just watched your youtube post on your book journals. I think it is so neat how you set the journals up. I like that you have goals, I haven’t been so good with goals lately but they do help keep us on track in whatever we want to do whether it is reading or things we have to accomplish. If you list your goals, it is easier to get them done because you can break them up and it does not feel like a total fail if you just get three things done in a list of say…7. Great ideas!

  12. Cathy says:

    Hi Anne–just discovered your blog! Your paper journal sounds interesting, and I’m wondering–do you know approx. how many books the “books read” section holds?

      • Cathy says:

        Thanks, Anne, for your reply! The journal you described sounds like it would be fun to keep, and I wanted to know if it held a substantial number of books read. I have to tell you that I am so impressed that you are as active as you are in the comments section!

  13. Audrey says:

    I use Pinterest. I keep a separate board for each year. Been doing this since 2012 and I LOVE being able to look back. Sometimes, if I don’t remember a book, seeing the cover triggers it for me. I do like your journal though and I wonder if I’d actually take the time to keep up with it.

  14. Kate says:

    After reading this post a couple of weeks ago, I decided to start using a reading journal (in addition to goodreads, which I’m obsessed with). I’m an avid reader so I’ve actually been able to get a lot of use of the journal in this amount of time and I’m hooked! I tend to just use goodreads to track what I want to read, what I have read and/or abandoned, and give it a star rating/categorization. I don’t like to add comments or reviews for the most part. But the reading journal lets me write down key points and thoughts and quotes and I love that it’s just for me! Thanks for posting this, Anne – you have enhanced my reading life!

  15. Beth says:

    I am reading and saving up posts to eventually start my own book reviews blog and I ordered a copy of the journal you posted to keep topics in mind for my reading/posting. I have a blank journal that I use as well, but I think it will help me further organize my thinking. I have loved Goodreads for years, although it is sad to see how much my reading has reduced since I went back to work after having my boy (it didn’t drop off during maternity leave because I did a lot of one handed reading on my phone whilst nursing). Thanks for the tip to help organize my thoughts for my own blog when I am ready to start it. As usual, I love your blog.

  16. Kari says:

    Joined Goodreads a while ago but never did anything much with it. In fact, besides books for homeschooling, I haven’t been reading much for me. Enter 2015. I’m making a real effort to read grown-up books for me that don’t always include child-rearing or educational info. Now I’m obsessed with Goodreads – particularlly reading other people’s to-read and read lists for new ideas! (in related news, just friend requested you! 😉 )

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