Four creative ways to track your reading
Have you ever stood in a bookstore or the library, reading the back of a book, thinking it sounds familiar, but being unable to remember whether you’ve read it or not? Or have you bought a paperback and come home to discover that you already own it in hardcover? Or been asked for a book recommendation and your mind goes totally blank? If you answered yes to any of these, welcome to my life! Or I should say, welcome to my old life, before I discovered the wonders of tracking my books.
You’re probably in one of three camps: the “Of course I track my reading! How can I be expected to read unless I obsessively keep track of absolutely everything about my reading life?” camp, the “I just want to read, why would I keep track of anything? Doesn’t that ruin the fun of reading?” camp, or most likely, the third camp. The “It would be nice to remember what I read in the last months/years/decades but I don’t know what to use or what’s available or I start to track my reading and then forget and all of a sudden I’ve read a dozen books and forget it I’m throwing in the towel on this tracking thing” camp.
Keeping a reading log doesn’t have to be quite so dramatic, but there are some incredibly useful and fun reasons why you should think about tracking the books you read. If you have trouble remembering what you’ve read, even weeks or months after finishing them, having a record can jog your memory and prevent duplicate book buying if you can reference a list. Logging your books can be great to help you achieve goals, like reading more books or pages or diversifying your book intake, so you can keep track of your progress easily.
But where to begin? Unsurprisingly lots of people have opinions about the best method to keep track of their books. No matter which method (or methods) you pick, remember that if you don’t find it easy and convenient, you won’t do it. And if you need to try a few out to find what works for, you there’s nothing wrong with that. Tracking methods tend to fall into a few major categories, each with their own pros and cons, and hopefully you’ll find one to love.
Certainly the most common of the tracking methods, websites and mobile apps designed for tracking and cataloging your books -- both read and unread -- are a great out-of-the-box option, especially since most have some level of customization. And since there are quite a few to choose from, you can find one that fits all or most of your needs pretty easily. The most popular of these is Goodreads, which is owned by Amazon, meaning that it pulls in all the book info from Amazon’s robust databases, helpful if you don’t want to flip through your books to figure out page counts or publication date. You can create custom bookshelves to further sort your library, rate and write reviews of books, and take advantage of some of the social features by connecting with friends or in book groups dedicated to particular topics. And the Goodreads app has a scanner feature where you can scan the barcode of your books and it will automatically input your books into your personal bookshelf. Such a time saver if you’ve got a big personal library to upload. Goodreads also allows users to create a personal annual reading challenge, so you can log books as you read them and it will keep track of how close (or far) you are to reaching your goals. One downside to Goodreads is that there is not a good way to add data that you might want to track easily, like figuring out how many books by authors of color you read in a particular year. But for a basic tracker, it’s very robust and easy to jump into right away.
Some other great app options that you might consider include Libib, which has a lot of the same features as Goodreads but focuses much more on library cataloging rather than reviews or social (though those are still available); Bookling, which has a pretty basic logging function and goal setting but wins for incorporating alarms to remind you to read on a regular basis; Bookout, which incorporates badges, daily reading reminders, and monthly and yearly goals, as well as the ability to create infographics, perfect for developing a reading habit; Litsy, which is primarily for social interactions (think Instagram for books) with a very basic tracking feature as an added bonus; and Book Crawler, which is allows users to have the functionality of a database without having to build it themselves. There are plenty more websites and apps out there, but these are the ones I’ve used personally and like the best.
Pen & Paper
Not just for the super low-tech among us, the joy of physically writing down your books cannot be overstated and is a wonderful way to log your reading, even if you use it in combination with other options. Pen & paper tracking can take many forms, including a blank notebook like a Moleskine, a spread or chart in a physical calendar like a bullet journal or Passion Planner, or specialty journals designed as reading logs. If you’re feeling particularly creative, printables with a blank bookshelf or stencils to add a visual representation in your journal are a great way to see the books in one space. But journals are especially useful for readers who are looking for a bit more than just data from their tracking, like space to jot down memorable quotes, questions about the text, reflections upon finishing a book, and personal thoughts. For many people, keeping a written reading log is akin to keeping a diary and I know some readers who have years worth of reading notebooks that they refer back to, even if they also use a digital solution for the nitty gritty cataloging.
I know what you’re thinking. Oh. My. God. You’re kidding, right? You want me to build an Excel file for my booooooks? You crazy. Spreadsheets don’t have to be scary though. And they can be as basic or complicated as you want. But if you’re interested in keeping track of things like page count or ratio of print vs. digital vs. audiobooks or any number of pieces of data, taking the time to create a spreadsheet can have major payoffs. And if you want to be able to access it anywhere (like in a bookstore when you’re trying to remember what you own), Google Sheets is a good cloud-based option. Spreadsheets are customizable, without being overly technical. You don’t have to necessarily know how to use formulas or any of the other bells and whistles if you don’t want to, while still taking advantage of basic filtering options. And if you don’t want to start totally from scratch, the links here can give you a good starting point or search for templates online for a few more options.
Databases, et al.
For the truly ambitious, databases and other code-based solutions are the heavy lifters of the book tracking world. If you’ve got some time on your hands to do the initial work of setting up your database fields or the background framework, you can do some serious damage to all those pretty book stats. Do you want to keep track of all the things and spreadsheets aren’t quite doing the job? Try out some programs like Access, FileMaker, or Zotero to create a high-powered reading log. (I mention these three in particular because I’ve seen trackers built with them, but I’m sure there are lots of options if you have the know-how.) Access even provides instructions on how to start logging your library. And here’s some handy info on using Zotero for book tracking.
Personally, I’m a combo tracker. I use a spreadsheet I linked to above as well as Goodreads, because I love being able to see what my friends thought of a book before I decide to pick it up. Did I convince you to jump on the tracking train? Which method (or methods) will you try out? Any methods I missed?