A Primitive Book List: How I Keep Track of My Reading

So, in the five months I’ve been blogging, I haven’t become a world-renowned, gloriously successful book blogger.  I don’t have six billion followers, and I don’t have companies begging me for ad space.  (I can’t even get Google Adsense to approve my application.  Help? Anybody?)  But, I did get Freshly Pressed with this post, which gave me a much-needed boost of confidence!  And I now have over 500 followers, which makes blogging a conversation with a bunch of new friends.  I enjoy this interaction.  Despite my apparent lack of major success, I do have a detailed record of what I have been reading, and that to me is its own reward.  More generally, blogging is its own reward because of its record keeping value.

My blog has become a more detailed list of what I read.  I have been keeping track of my reading for the last eleven years.  When I worked as a secretary just out of college, I found myself mostly bored with the occasional correspondence to type or the few and far between phone calls to answer.  During one of the more dry spells, I decided that I would create a list of every book I had ever read.  I spent the next few weeks and months writing down the books I could remember.  I kept having flashbacks to childhood and summer trips to the library, where I usually found myself drawn to the Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys section.  There was also a strange Romance section for young adults that included ridiculously corny and dramatic tales of young women becoming lost in the woods or drawn into strange crime syndicates only to be rescued by the perfect boy next door.  (Sounds a lot like Nancy Drew.)  Anyhow, I don’t remember what any of these teen romances were called, and I have not seen them since.  They may be a relic of the 1960s.  (If you know what I’m talking about with that vague description, let me know.)  And no, I was not alive in the 1960s, but the library branch I visited in a small rural town would have kept these books to fill the shelves, which were pretty bare to begin with.  Money makes the world go round, right?

So, I typed up all of these books that flooded my memory.  I divided them into categories: Fiction, Short Story and Poem Collections, Short Stories, Poems, Non-Fiction, Children/Young Adult Books, and Essays.  (The single essays, short stories, and poems really pad the numbers at the end of my list.)  After each title, I listed the author, and then I have a column for the word “Yes” or “No.”  This is whether or not I would recommend the book.  Some books have Yes!!! and others have No.  I guess I could have done something more useful, like a five-star system or some sort of brief description, but I did not think of that at the time.

I later migrated to Visual Bookshelf on Facebook, but when that went kaput, I switched over to Goodreads.  I am enjoying Goodreads.  I still don’t give wordy reviews or descriptions, but it is a backup copy of my primitive list that I started all those years ago and which I still keep.  (I would love to connect with any of you on Goodreads, if you have an account.  Look for me as “Emily January Petersen,” my married name.)

At the end of each section on my book list, I have totals for how many books I have read.  At the end of the entire list, which now spans thirty-one pages, I have the grand total.  I have also kept track of my totals at the end of each year, which is fun because then I know how many books I have read in a year.  In 2011, I read 226 “books,” but that’s deceiving because I also included essays that I had read for teaching my classes (and many of those were from other years, before I decided to include the essays).  A more accurate count is probably from 2007, during which I read 76 books.  However, this was a year that I spent being a full-time, stay-at-home mother, and I had two hours each afternoon during nap time with which to read.  In 2008, I started a graduate teaching assistantship in my Master’s program, and that year I only read 44 books.

After the totals, I have a list of My Favorite Books.  This is really where my recommendations to others come from.  I mostly ignore the useless column of Yeses and Nos and go off of my favorites.  However, I usually find that my favorites don’t match up with others’ expectations of a good book.  I discuss that here, with my post called Depressing Books.

How do you keep track of the books you read?  How many books do you read each year?  And I’d love to connect with you on Goodreads!

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46 thoughts on “A Primitive Book List: How I Keep Track of My Reading

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  1. I LOVE Goodreads. I could never remember what I read or books people recommended to me. Now, I immediately go to Goodreads.com (or the APP) and add the book before I forget. I have added MANY books to Goodreads from your blog – thanks for that!! 🙂

  2. As a long time journal writer, I keep a list of the books (with a date when I finished the book) on the first page of every journal. I can go back to 1983, for example, and see what I read in April.This record has been very useful to me over the years as I think through suitable books for a new class I’m teaching, or I want to recommend a good read to someone who asks. It’s also interesting to see how my tastes change and develop. So good for you, Emily, that you’re documenting what you read. It’s a very worthwhile habit.

  3. I keep starting entering what I’m reading on Goodreads and then forgetting and having great gaps in the record. One of the reasons I’ve started to blog is because I’m hoping to change this but so far it hasn’t made much of a difference:)

  4. Another great post. Wish I was as organized as you! My system is to keep the books, and overtime, to slowly forget that I read some of them. Ha! With most books, the details may be gone, but I seem to remember the essence of the points made. None of this made easier by having a couple of memory altering strokes.

    Blogging my progress in re-learning to play guitar has helped the physical problems, but more importantly, the memory problems. Memorizing the licks/solos and songs is helping me recall all sorts of things, and assisting greatly in making and keeping new memories. The blogging forces me to learn and memorize something each week.

    1. Well, I admire you for working to regain your memory. I bet that’s tough. I do think that owning the books you read is a great way to keep track of them, though.

  5. This was a great post! I love reading too, and lately I’ve been too busy to keep track of them, but this inspired me to try out Goodreads. I’m also new to the blogging world, and enjoy exploring new sites and people. Great work 🙂

  6. Thanks for this post as it’s really helpful! I must check out Goodreads as I’ve not seen it yet. As for keeping records of what I have read, I started with a book journal last year but didn’t keep it up. I want to revist that. As for becoming famous through blogging – just keep at it. You’re building up a great following and this is a fab blog so I am sure you’ll get there, sooner rather than later!

    1. A book journal is a great idea! I have one that I got as a gift, but I have never used it. I have wanted to, but just can’t bring myself to write on its pretty pages.

  7. I never get to read so many books in a year. That is why I am not yet bored of reading. There is a special but quirky side of me which gets bored frequently, that is why, I aim at reading as and when the desire for reading springs up in me.
    This year I have read quite a no. of books, of course more than the last few years, mostly because of the series of books I am picking up for myself.
    Well, I really don’t like keeping a list of books I’ve read. I read them and then move ahead with the other one in hand.
    I am on goodreads but I am never regular, hoping to start keeping such a record, may be it would be of some help in the future. Well, it can be of great help even now because I have certainly forgotten some of the books I did read(even their titles).

  8. I’m enjoying your blog very much and like reading your observations about the books you read. I find the reviewing process quite helpful for streamlining my own thoughts about what I read, and this awareness makes me increasingly selective about what I choose to read. You mentioned issues with Google AdSense. My husband had problems with it at first, too. An automatic program looks at your blog to see if it contravenes any requirements, but if you get a refusal from the robot, you can reapply and a real person will look at it. This happened to my husband for his online comic and he was approved the second time around. He also has ads with Project Wonderful, and they’re not as difficult to get on with as Google AdSense. Good luck!

    1. Thank you! What nice compliments. And thank you for the ad advice. I haven’t been rejected, yet, but I just can’t get approved and it has been weeks. We’ll see if it eventually works out. Thanks!

      1. It’s supposed to take four to five days. If it’s been weeks, there’s a problem. My husband ran into this when he was applying to Google AdSense – I’ll ask him what to do to fix the situation and get back to you tomorrow.

          1. I talked to Chris about your situation today, and he said that 99% of the time, it’s a code issue. He said that wordpress isn’t a straightforward css site, so sometimes extra spaces, etc. get inserted where they shouldn’t be, and then the code doesn’t work. He’s willing to walk you through it if you need some help. Our email is cnbrun@sympatico.ca. Good luck!

  9. As a bookworm, I am surprised I have never created a book list! Your post has inspired me to do so! I will certainly try out Goodreads as a way to do that. By the way, I checked out your favorite books list, and I have to say that I love 100 Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. It is absolutely well-crafted.

  10. I just started keeping a spreadsheet of the books/texts I read, that way I can sort by title, author or genre as I see fit. I want to add detailed descriptions next to texts of involved argumentation because, as so much of what I (intead to) read is philosophy, understanding how the author comes to a conclusion is more important than the conclusion itself.

  11. That’s a great idea. I read so much and often forget what I’ve read, and I often wish I’d started a list many years ago. Sometimes I think about doing it, only to feel overwhelmed by how many books I’d never remember. Now I’m inspired to start! I know nothing about Goodreads, so maybe I’ll check that out.

  12. Emily, my method is no where near as creative or organized. I write the title and author and date completed for each book I finish in a “Book Lover’s Journal” — which is designed for more extensive notes and reviews and which I don’t do — and then at the end of the year, I line out the list and total up my reads. My average per year is right around 35 titles, give or take.

    I do like keeping track because I see I am not stagnating and it helps me remember titles ( I have a less than stellar memory) when I want to recommend a book to a friend. The best is I can see where my head was at and often what was going on in my inner life based on the books I chose over the course of a particular year, and in that way my reading lists become a bookmark for life’s phases.

    Congrats on the success of your blog!

    1. Thank you! I like your format. I wish I had done more of that and keeping track of dates over the last decade or so. It also would have been nice if I had journaled, because, like you, I forget.

  13. I find Goodreads an excellent tool as well for ‘bookmarking’. I still feel confused as to what it means to ‘have read’ something as I can generally only provide a brief summary and show how I appropriate (or perhaps misappropriate) the author’s views. Is reading application? or memory? or merely a checklist?

    The combination of blogging and Goodreads helps me process my reading a little more actively, but I’m left to wonder still what proves ‘useful’ over a longer period of time. I’d invite your thoughts on this matter. Cheers on a clear, well-worded, and thoughtful post.

    1. The definition of having read something is always up for debate. My husband often asks why I read so many books when I honestly don’t remember some of them. I guess to escape and for enjoyment. As to Goodreads, I use it as a checklist. But I still have my word file on my computer as well. To me, the reviews aren’t why I use Goodreads. So I’ll go with checklist!

  14. I can’t imagine keeping a list of all the books I have read – it would have gone the way of all the other lists I have made for groceries and “things to do today…” though in theory it is a wonderful idea!
    I often average a book a day and am prone to forget the names of authors and titles of books even my favorites, though they stories are clearly planted in my head. When shopping for new ones, I read the first page and can tell if I have read it before. That is how I keep my list – in my head by first pages.

    1. I am seriously impressed that you can keep track of them in your head! And wow, a book a day! You need to be writing them down (and please share your secret for having so much time to read!). I am totally jealous. 🙂

      1. Oh, I’d lose the list, Emily. I don’t watch TV, read the paper, but since I have started blogging, I haven’t been reading much. We are all readers in the family so 5-6 hours of reading time or more a day isn’t unusual for a work day. More when I stayed home with the kids, less when I was in grad school. At least my children grew up with a great love of books, stories and passion for reading!

  15. I just love goodreads (I just clicked to start following your reviews!), great way to keep track of the books I have read, and to see what others think of them. Wish I had started keeping track earlier, because I’m certain I’ve forgotten some books, and once, I actually picked up a book and thought I hadn’t read it, but turns out I started reading it, and then stopped cause I had no idea how it ended!

  16. Oh my gosh I’m so jealous. I’ve been keeping track (on and off) for the last few years. I try to always put them into Goodreads which has helped!
    I’m a bit of a sporadic blogger (got a stack 6 high on the coffee table waiting to be reviewed) so I try to at least put them into Goodreads. Giving myself an annual goal on GR helps. One of the things I love about GR is that you can make your own shelves EG favourite books, years etc.

    1. Goodreads is pretty darn great! I’ve noticed one of my connections there updates books he’s read, but forgotten about, when his friends mark them as read. It reminds him.

  17. I have been writing down all the books I’ve read since I was 14. That is almost 20 years worth of books! I have inherited the female family members’ tendency towards lists, thinking that we have to keep track of things to keep track of who we are. You are impressive to remember all the books you’ve read for the past 11 years, I don’t think I’ll remember it! But boring jobs have driven me to similar extremes at times!

    1. I’ve slacked a little on this since using Goodreads, but I make sure to transfer those titles to my list when I get a few minutes. Good for you for keeping track as well. It is fun!

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