How and why to keep a reading or book journal

When I was a teenager I discovered an old notebook of my grandmother's in which she had written down the title of every book she had read as a teenager in her gorgeous, florid handwriting.

Seeing her notebook inspired me, and shortly afterwards I bought a small notebook from our local dollar store and started keeping a reading journal of my own.  I have recorded 715 books that I read for pleasure since October 30, 1999 (which is weird, as I just realized that my daughter was born exactly 15 years later!).

I didn't realize when I started how much that little reading journal would influence my life. It has become a bibliography or road map tracking my personality, my worries, my likes, my dislikes and my fascinations.

Why you should keep a reading journal: 

1. To remember what you've read.

 Sometimes I'll remember a story I read, but won't remember the title.  Or I'll want to recommend a book that I loved three years ago... It's handy to be able to open my notebook, flip to the relevant page, and find the title and author.

2. To track your changing personality and reading taste.

 Certain books speak to us at certain times in our lives.  When I look back at the books I was reading a year ago, three years ago or 10 years ago I can see exactly who I was at that time and how those books nourished my personal quests.

3. To keep track of how much you've read.

If you're like me, you are a competitive reader.  Each year I want to read more than the year before.  The goal isn't always more books, but to read with more discernment.  One year I read all of Shakespeare (except for the history plays).  Other years I have had other challenges for myself.  Keeping a reading journal keeps me accountable for my reading goals.

4. To record your impressions of a book.

 My reading journal started out as a simple bibliography (Title, Author, Date Read), and hasn't expanded beyond that.  However, I also keep a "Commonplace Book" where I collect quotes and passages that inspire me.  This is like an extension of my reading journal.

5. It makes you a better reader and a better writer.

 When you keep a book journal you are practising conscientious reading.  You're reading with purpose, and giving focused attention to something invariably makes you better at it.

How to keep a reading journal:

1. Selecting a container.

The decision here is digital vs paper. When I started the digital world wasn't nearly as advanced as it is now.  I bought a little notebook from our local dollar store and started recording the books as simple bibliography entries. As that's how I started, I don't think I'm going to change my system.  You could get a slightly larger notebook and include your favourite quotes, if you wanted.

I know that Moleskine does a special reading journal notebook, which might be a nice option.

If you want to go digital, you could open a word document, or even use one of the reading log websites such as goodreads or librarything.  The thing with goodreads that frustrated me is that you can't record books twice, which means you can never record when you've re-read a book. (My husband always teases me about how often I re-read books.)

2. Decide how much or how little you want to record.

This is completely up to you. Do you want to write a book review and collect quotes for each book? Or do you simply want to record the title, author and date you read it?  Those three entries are the absolute minimum.  You could also record how you acquired the book or who recommended it to you (bookstore, library, borrowed from friend, found on the train seat, etc). And you could have a system for rating the book.  I usually put a small dot beside titles I really enjoyed.

If you do decide to copy quotes, make sure you write down the page numbers for each one, or you'll never be able to find the original again (I've learned from my mistakes).

3. Number the books.  

Your first entry will be # 1.  Then number each subsequent entry so that you can keep track of how many books you've read since you started.  I've read 715 books for pleasure since Oct, 1999.  I didn't include the innumerable books I had to read for academic papers and research, as all those books would have been recorded in the various research bibliographies appended to my essays and dissertations.

4. Record the book when you've finished it.

If you don't, you'll lose track.

5. Keep a page or two at the back to record books you want to read.

Whenever someone recommends a book, or I read a book review that sounds interesting, I write the title of the book down in the last pages of my reading journal.  That way I'm never stuck for something to read when I have no books on my bedside table.

Have you every kept a reading journal?  Do you have any tips?