by Brittney Reed-Saltz
It’s a dilemma familiar to many avid readers: You’re browsing the stacks at your local library, searching for a new book to read. It feels like you’ve read everything, and you teeter at the brink of despair, when finally, a title catches your eye. You read the blurb, and it sounds like something you would love! You proceed with excitement to the circulation desk and check the book out. Back home, you settle in for a night of literary escape. You read the first few pages, and immediately you’re sucked in… Until you realize that things sound familiar. Too familiar. You’ve already read this book.
Despair! Angst! Worse… Nothing to read! Nooo!
During the years that I’ve worked in libraries, I’ve frequently encountered patrons stuck in this dreaded cycle. And I get it. When you read multiple books each week, it can be hard to remember what you’ve read.
That’s why I’m such a proponent of keeping track of every book that you read. I’ve been doing it for years, and here are some of the ways I’ve accomplished this task.
The Pen-and-Paper Method
This is exactly what it sounds like: you write down the books you read. Looseleaf paper, notepads, fancy notebooks, it’s all up to you. The same goes for any other information you want to include: dates started and finished, genre, markers of diversity, inclusion in book challenges, etc.
You can expand this idea way beyond a simple list. Bullet journals have been a big thing for awhile now, and there are so many articles and ideas on Pinterest for finding your own bookish bojo bliss. Keep it simple, or go as wild as you like… After all, this could be a great excuse to buy multicolored pens and whimsical washi tape.
The Social Method
Maybe pen and paper isn’t your style. You don’t want to keep track of a bunch of lists or have to remember to bring your journal with you when you’re out and about. If you want an easy and portable way to track your reading, book-oriented social media sites are the way to go.
Goodreads lets you create custom shelves, set goals, and share reviews with friends, and it is probably the most popular site to track your reading. The mobile app even lets you scan barcodes to quickly look up books and add them to your shelves! There is no end to the book recommendations that you’ll get on Goodreads, so expect your Want to Read shelf to overflow almost immediately.
LibraryThing is another option that allows you to catalog your personal library with as much specificity as you want. However, the site is only free for the first 200 books you enter; after that, you’ll need to pay a subscription fee or buy a lifetime membership.
Another fun option is Riffle, which allows you to create and share curated lists of books. If you’re the kind of person who loves recommending books to your friends, you can have a lot of fun coming up with your own custom reading lists. Riffle is also great for discovering new books or finding your next read when you’re craving a specific type of story.
The Privately Techy Method
Maybe sharing everything you read with the general public–or even just your friends–doesn’t appeal to you, but you like the ease and portability of a digital option. In that case, try a reading spreadsheet! With Google Sheets, you can have your list right on your phone. You can also customize your spreadsheet as much as you would like. It’s easy to track genres, page counts, audiobook lengths, and more. If the idea of an over-the-top spreadsheet is appealing, but you doubt your prowess, never fear. Book Riot has one that you can copy to your own Google Drive and use for free.
So, which one do I use?
I have dabbled in each of these methods, and have experienced firsthand the pros and cons of each. When I first started tracking my reading in middle school, I made a simple pen-and-paper list. That evolved into a Word Perfect doc (hey, it was the early 2000s) that I kept for each school year and summer, printing them off for record-keeping. Sometime around the end of college I discovered Goodreads, and I used it off and on for several years before I decided that I wanted a more private way to track my books.
That’s when I started my Google Sheet reading log. I adore being able to track genres, color-code my reading by months, and easily sort my data. (It’s possible that I even make charts at the end of each month. And by “it’s possible,” I mean that I definitely do.)
Sometimes I still miss the social aspect of Goodreads, though, which is why I’m on it nearly every day, and why I still periodically review books there. Sometimes I just really need to talk to other people about a book that I’ve loved–or one that made me facepalm myself unconscious–and besides, I love making disastrously long lists of books that it will take me years to get through.
Ultimately, every reader has their own interests and needs, and there is not one method that will work for everyone. If you’re new to tracking your reading, try out different options and see which one feels natural to you and best fits your lifestyle.
Track your reading carefully and consistently, and you’ll free yourself from accidental re-reads forever!