Why Tracking Your Reading Is a Good Idea–And Some Ways to Do It

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!

 

Returning to Reading: How to Beat Reader’s Block and Get Back to What You Love

by Penny Hilton

College killed my desire to read. Every day I would have more pages to read than hours in the day; it felt like the professors reveled in our misery. The books and articles stacked up, and my stress got higher and higher. Eventually I stopped reading for every class; if I did, it was just to scrape by. I still made good grades, but I had lost all desire to read. Me, the only librarian who couldn’t read through a single book. After years of unending tension between my passion for literature and the soul-crushing weight of academic obligation, I graduated. It was finally over, and my first goal was to recover reading for pleasure.

I needed to reclaim what was a staple of my childhood, escaping into a good book and finding yourself along the way. Reading had been an integral part of my life since birth. As the young child of an avid reader there was a chair beside my bed instead of a table so that my parents could read to me every night from a comfortable position. I was able to read and comprehend books like Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire yet unable to spell my own name correctly inside the front cover. I spent most of my summers in high school reading and rereading my favorites. I developed a grand plan to love reading again and logically started with the first books I learned how to read–Harry Potter. Did it work? Not at all. Turns out when you become an adult, connecting with a book from your childhood is more about nostalgia and less about reading. I didn’t make it past the second book in the series.

I thought maybe I needed to go to an even easier reading level than juvenile fiction, so I read some adorable picture books that reminded me of what it felt like to read as a child, but I couldn’t just read easy books forever. I needed something engaging with which I could connect. My next step was graphic novels because they featured gorgeous artwork in addition to shorter stories. I picked up a few and made it through less than I checked out. I found myself spending more time looking at the art than reading the words. With this newest bust I was beginning to feel discouraged.

shambling guide

That’s when I found The Shambling Guide to New York City by Mur Lafferty,  a silly urban fantasy novel I never would have picked out before. The story follows a travel writer who finds herself thrust into the underground world of supernatural beings that coexist alongside humans. The prose was simple, and the story was easy to follow. I found all of its ridiculous plot points endearing and the protagonist relatable. I was hooked. I had found a novel I wanted to finish. After I did a victory dance around my apartment, I set out to carry this book with me everywhere I went just in case the desire to read hit me. And it did. I started reading this book on my lunch breaks, in waiting rooms, even while grocery shopping (a good reason to hit the in-store Starbucks). It started out sporadic, every couple of weeks or days, but eventually I developed a reading routine. It still takes me a few months to read an average sized novel, but I spend more time having quality reading experiences.

Once I finished The Shambling Guide I didn’t want to lose the momentum I had gained. To prevent this I took what I loved about The Shambling Guide and looked for that in other books–comical plots written with simple, direct diction. I created a Goodreads account (which I recommend to everyone looking for reading inspiration) and discovered a whole genre of irreverently comedic sci-fi and fantasy novels that have filled my reading list. Not only did I rediscover my love of reading, but I discovered a new reader within me. My advice to those of you like me who have developed reader’s block is to take the time to try things you never would have before. A new perspective may be all it takes to push past the block and get back to loving what you’re reading.

A Season in the Life of a Mood Reader

By Brittney Reed-Saltz

I am a mood reader, which is the literary embodiment of that Robert Burns poem about the best laid plans of mice and men. Even if I make a nicely-organized TBR list, those plans go oft awry.

Being a mood reader means that it might take me years–literal years–to get around to a book that has been recommended to me or that has been gathering dust on my shelf, but I don’t think it’s an entirely bad thing. My fickle nature leads to plenty of fun detours and pit stops that I wouldn’t get to enjoy if my attention span were more linear.

Often I find that these detours turn into pleasant little journeys, when a book contains a reference to something else that I then simply must read. Spring is a fertile time for these excursions, which is appropriate. What better time to explore and discover new things than when the earth is waking up and starting over fresh?

In Spring 2017, I had a thrilling season of mood reading, when connections abounded and every book that I finished pointed me in another direction. It all started when I read Bird by Bird: Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott. That put me in mind of another book about writing that I had originally read in college: A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf. mood read 1

Revisiting Woolf’s analysis of women’s place in the world and the obstacles they must overcome to write reminded me of how much I enjoyed Woolf’s writing in college. It also made me think about all the Woolf novels I had yet to read. So I went on a little trip through some of her work and life, reading a biography, devouring To the Lighthouse and Orlando.

From Orlando, I became curious about its inspiration, Woolf’s lover Vita Sackville-West. So I read one of her novels, All Passion Spent, and whiled away some violet-scented hours with Virginia and Vita’s collected correspondence.

All Passion Spent features a French housekeeper and long passages of French, which I mood read 2had to translate with help from Monsieur Google because I do not speak the language. That planted the subconscious urge in my mind to take a detour, this time to France. I read two fun advice books, Polish Your Poise With Madame Chic by Jennifer L. Scott and the tongue-in-cheek delight How to Be Parisian Wherever You Are: Love, Style, and Bad Habits by Anne Berest, Audrey Diwan, Caroline de Maigret, and Sophie Mas.

Well, can you spend any time reading glamorous French books without taking an existential turn? I couldn’t. I ended up reading Sarah Bakewell’s illuminating study of the existentialist movement, At the Existentialist Café. mood read 3

Bakewell’s discussions of Albert Camus reminded me of reading his novel The Stranger in high school. I realized that I remembered almost nothing about it, so I made it my next project. And then, I couldn’t get enough of Camus! I fell in love with him through A Happy Death, The Fall, The Plague, and a good chunk of the essay collection Resistance, Rebellion, and Death.

I had time for a couple more French-related interludes before my mood turned. Although Samuel Beckett was Irish, he spent most of his adult life in Paris, where his play Waiting for Godot premiered. I read it sitting on my back porch one night, wondering why I hadn’t mood read 4read it before. And American essayist David Sedaris made for witty company through Me Talk Pretty One Day, never more so than when he was recounting his faltering attempts to communicate in French.

(What happened after that? A complete departure into horror novels that lasted all summer.)

As the daffodils and pear trees bloom and the equinox approaches, I wonder what moody reading detours this Spring has in store for me. I know that no matter what catches my attention, my library will indulge my quirks and save my wallet with every book I discover.