Do You Keep a Record of the Books You Read?

Brain D. Buckley wrote a post today where he talked about keeping a spreadsheet to record the books he reads. Pop on over and have a read.

No, really. I’ll wait.

He posed the question: Do you keep a list of what you read?

I typed out a response, and then realised that my comment was longer than his original post. Since that would no doubt be considered Really Bad Form <TM>, I figured I should post my thoughts on my own blog instead.


When I was 13, I read the most amazing book I’d ever come across. Now, I know that sounds a bit obvious – who’s read a lot of amazing books at 13, right? But I’d moved into adult fiction when I was about 11, and read an awful lot of spy thriller novels before moving on to fantasy, sci-fi, and the like. But when I was 13, I read THE book. The one that stands out in your head as the first truly awe-inspiring piece of prose that you can remember falling into.

It was a huge book, and I’d chosen it from the SF/F section of the library specifically because it was the biggest book there. It made me laugh, it made me cry, and it made me question what it meant to be human. It touched some deep, hidden, part of my soul that I hadn’t even known existed.  And when I got to the end of the book, I lay in bed and cried for over an hour. Not because it was a sad ending, but because the journey was over.

A year later, I wanted to re-read that book, but I had no idea what it was called. That was back in the “olden days” before the internet and all the whizz-bang gadgets that the kids have these days. I had no idea how to find out the name of the book, so I did the next best thing — I started keeping a list of every book I read, so I’d never have the same problem again.

For the next three years (ages 14, 15 and 16) I did exactly that. I read, on average, 120 books a year. (I didn’t include re-reads or books I read for school.) Then, when I was 17, we moved house and my carefully compiled lists  got lost in the move.

You have no idea how pissed I was. I still am. I’d love to look back at those lists now and see what I was reading back then. (Other than a lot of David Eddings, Douglas Adams and Marion Zimmer Bradley, I mean. Those I remember.) And somehow losing those lists drained me of the enthusiasm to keep recording the books I was reading. Every year, I regret not doing it. You’d think that being older, I’d be wise enough to just do it.

Maybe I should go start a spreadsheet.

(Oh, and a couple of months ago I found out what the name of that book was that made such an impression: Swan Song by Robert McCammon. I’m 2/3 through re-reading it at the moment, and I’m pleased to say that it’s every bit as amazing and disturbing as I remember.)

Do you keep a record of the books you read? Do you think it’s a good idea or a waste of time?


Filed under Reading

37 responses to “Do You Keep a Record of the Books You Read?

  1. I don’t think it’s a waste of time either. It only takes a second for you to do it, and it’s helpful if you are ever asked to give book recommendations as well ^_^

  2. I started keeping a list about a year ago and I love it. It helps me keep track of what books I OWN too, since I have separate columns for ‘own’ and ‘read’. I’m meticulous about organizing my books and I like to be able to find them easily. xD Since I’m fairly hopeless in Excel though, my boyfriend was kind enough to set me up with an awesome spreadsheet. I think everyone should keep a record. It’s a good thing to have.

  3. That is just so eerie…when I started reading your post, I jokingly said to myself, “She must be talking about ‘Swan Song,'” since that was also my must-read book when I was a teenager. Truly an amazing book, better than “The Stand” in some ways. Great post (and for the record, I do keep track of what I read.) 🙂

  4. Like you, I always wished I could go back and see what my younger self had read, and when. Like you, I always figured it was too late now; and then I’d regret it yet again later. Breaking the cycle is definitely worth it, if you’re into that sort of thing. Although, man, I’d be pissed too if I lost three years’ worth of records.

    By the way:
    “Not because it was a sad ending, but because the journey was over.” That’s exactly the same way I felt when I finished reading my own favorite book.

    • Right. I think you’ve inspired me to start that list again. Thanks!

      (Much of the credit goes to your description of adding a finished book as being similar to going up a level in a RPG. Now, if only adding another book to the list let me go and rework out all my stats a’la Rolemaster, it would be even better.)

  5. I wish I had kept a list, because by now I’ve forgotten the plots and could enjoy the good ones all over again!

  6. In my family, we didn’t keep lists, we just accumulated more and more books. If you wanted to remember something, you could just search through the shelves and stacks until you found it. 🙂

    • I wish I’d grown up in a household like that. 🙂 As it was, it took me hours of wheedling to convince my Mum to take me to the library every 2 weeks. (“But you checked out a dozen books! You couldn’t possibly have read them all yet!”)

      • My father got me a library card at the age of three, and he and I used to go together. Including into the stacks (the library had open stacks), which was kind of creepy at that age. All metal shelves, rather than nice wooden shelves and carpets like the regular part of the library. But still, that’s where the books were. Later, when I was in school, my father would give me reading lists over the summer. I think I had to write book reports.

      • That sounds awesome. And what a great setting for a spooky library story…

  7. This is a fabulous idea, really… As a lover of spreadsheets… why didn’t I think of it?

    • In fact… I can see all kinds of extras! Book, Author, Genre, Pagecount, Wordcount, % completed (if not completed)…

      Plus extra tabs for books on my to-read list as well… and simply moving them from “to read” to “already read”… and maybe it all links to a master list of all books I’m aware of with a marker as “read or “not yet read” and maybe number of times read… and… I’ll stop now.

    • You know, that’s exactly what I’m wondering. If anyone was going to have a spreadsheet dedicated to lists of books, I’d have put money on it being you.

      (I give you two days to have implemented one. 🙂 )

      • Almost done with a rudimentary implemenation. Filling it out with all the details of books I remember reading, however, is another matter. That part will take a while.

        After thinking about it, though… I realized that maybe a database would actually be a superior method of dealing with the list. However… not everyone has access to Access, as it were, but almost everyone has Excel. Just in case I decide to share it…

  8. Hi, Jo. I am an inveterate (some might say obsessive) record keeper, and I have lists of books read going back to the beginning of 1976 on my computer. That’s several years before I even had a computer; before 1984 I typed the list. (There were yeatrs back then when I read several books a week–now I’m lucky to finish one. Where did all that time go?) I also have notebooks of mini book reviews (mostly science fiction) covering 1978 through 1994 (in the bottom of a file cabinet), and I note the books I’ve read in various other places (can you say “overkill”?). Somewhere I have a notebook in which I analyzed about a hundred romance novels when I got interested in the genre. But I no longer try to keep a list of all the books I own. Life is too short for some things.

    • I’m so jealous. I really am. Those lists would be fascinating to look back on now. Not only to see what you were reading, but the book reviews would tell you so much about yourself in those days as well — what mattered to you, how you thought and felt, how different things affected you.

      All too often when you go back and re-read a book that you read 10 years ago, you’re disappointed to find that it doesn’t live up to the memory of it you’ve built up in your own head. It would be great to be able to read, not only the book again, but also your own impressions of it the first time around.

  9. I do not keep a list. But! It’s a great idea. I get thoughts in my head, characters, quotes, plots…and have no idea where they came from, because I have no list. I’m going to do this. Soon. Not today, but soon.

  10. I do not keep a record … this post makes me wish I had. My Aunt Agnes did this years ago, in the back of her diary from the mid to late 30s. I have that diary, and it’s interesting to go back over what she read 80 years ago. She also kept track of movies – she was at the opening of Gone With the Wind!

  11. Hi! I’m Ava, Ms. Jo. Linked to you via Bridget. I have a list before, I didn’t keep it though. When I got pregnant with my 2nd baby, I started listing again the books I’ve read. I know I have kept the notebook list somewhere. Great post! *searching for Swan Song now* wink *

  12. I never thought to keep a list of everything I’ve read but I’ve often wished I had – especially great children’s books. There must be so many I read from the library.

    There are some authors whose names you can’t forget – I worshipped Enid Blyton and Joan Aiken in equal measure as a child, and will never forget reading my first Douglas Adams at my then boyfriend’s insistence! I didn’t regret it. if you read enough, there’s bound to be some who slip the memory net though! You must have been SO mad to lose yours! Start another one now – I’m thinking of using my blog for mine!

    • I know what you mean about children’s books. I struggle to remember the ones I want to share with my boys. Although I DID remember how much I loved Sesame Street’s “The Monster at the End of the Book”.

      (How funny, I read Douglas Adams at a boyfriend’s insistence, too. Don’t remember much about the boy, but remember everything about the books!)

      • LOL about the boyfriends! Thought I’d send you a link to my post about this as you and Brian have really inspired me to do more with my blog in this way (not sure how exactly yet, but have a few ideas). I also have to give you full credit for helping me generate more comments on this post than any other. Yay! Oh and you get a link to this post too :0)

      • I’m subscribed to your blog through my Reader, so read your post first thing this morning. 🙂 Thanks for the shout-out, and good luck with the new ideas. I can’t wait to see them!

  13. Hey there! Found you by way of “Twinisms” – love Bridget! Anyhoo, 120 books a year is a sh*tload of books. Last year, my goal was 100 and a year and half later, I think I’m up to 22. Yeah, I am making the L-sign with my hand to my forehead (3D nonetheless).

    By the way, do you happen to remember any phrases, character names or odd incidents in that great-big-list-inspiring book?

    • Hi, welcome! (I love Bridget, too.) I could never read 120 books in a year now. As a teenager, I had much more time on my hands. I’ll be lucky to hit 40 books this year unless I get a move on. Mind you, maybe once I’ve got a list again, I’ll have more incentive to read and finish more.

      I recently came across that big-list-inspiring book in an odd place, and am in the middle of re-reading it. It was Swan Song by Robert McCammon. It’s amazing how much of the story I’d forgotten, but how many details I remembered. And as I’m reading it now, I keep thinking that there’s no way I’d let a 13 year old read this book… How our viewpoints change. 🙂

  14. Pingback: Do you keep a record of books you’ve read? | Mayfair Mum

  15. Chris

    I used to keep a record but now I use Shelfari and you can choose your book cover, add tags, connect with others who reading the same time as you – I don’t know why this site isn’t more popular but I love it!

  16. neil

    I have just started keeping a list of books I’ve read and wish I started ages ago. I can totally relate to your comments about certain books making a massive impact on you especially sci-fi and fantasy books 🙂

    • Thanks for commenting. Even a couple of years down the track, I love looking back at my list of books and feeling that happy glow of remembering how I felt after reading my favourites.

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