What do you write in your reading journal, if you keep one?
May 7, 2005 3:45 PM   Subscribe

If you keep a journal based on what you read, how do you do it, what do you put in it, do you use a standard format, what do your entries consist of, etc? Newly inspired by the cool reading journal in the latest Levenger catalogue, I want to start one of my own, rather than just making and losing random notes as I have always done. I am not particularly interested in **buying** a reading journal, from Levenger or anyone else, but I do want to start keeping one, either in one of my blank Moleskins or in a loose-leaf folder or something. So I'd appreciate hearing about any cool tricks or formats or whatever that you use. If, for example. you were going to make a journal entry based on reading Love's Labors' Lost, what would you put in it? Thanks, Lustra
posted by lustra to Writing & Language (12 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
I don't keep a reading journal now, but I have been considering doing one over the last few weeks. I think for my purposes that using 3x5 cards may be best. I already use a 3x5 system anyway for organizing the rest of my life, this after 4 years of being disappointed by the limitations of electronic organizers.

Anyway, from the levenger page, these fields look useful: Title, Author, Area of Interest, Date Discovered, How Discovered; Date Acquired, Date Begun, Date Finished, Castaway (!); Notes As I Go, Review Notes, Led Me To These Other Books, Led Me To These Other Interests; Recommended To, Buy This For, Given To/Disposal.

The above would be useful for current and future books. However, I would need something similar for books I have already read.
posted by mischief at 4:04 PM on May 7, 2005 [1 favorite]

I keep a reading journal for 'professional' reasons (since I'm a literature grad student), and this usually has two parts:

1. Notes as I go--which I take in a Levenger Circa notebook (!). I take these notes and I put them in alphabetical order in one HUGE notebook.

2. At the end of each book I'll write myself a little summary with reactions, etc.

I don't find that knowing how I got a book, when I bought it, etc., is very useful or rewarding.... It's must more fun to sit down and have Deep Thoughts about the book which I can return to again and again. That's part of the reason I alphabetize the notes, rather than keeping them in chronological order--it's great to be able to go back to them and add, change, revise, and so on, and to see my notes for one book by an author, read years ago, next to newer notes on another book by the same author.

(On a similar note, I've wanted to turn my reading journal into a blog for quite a while now--but haven't invested the time or mental effort to do so yet. That might be another cool idea.)
posted by josh at 4:28 PM on May 7, 2005

I keep one online that is helpful for me because I read a lot but have a crappy memory for names and titles. Mine has standard bib information, the date I finished it, a +/0/- rating, and usually a paragraph or two about the book, shortish. I usually mention where I got the book, what it's loosely about [though no plot summaries generally] and whether I liked it, or thought the author pulled off what they seemed like they were trying to accomplish. Mine seems like the opposite of josh's, I want to know what I was reading last Fall, or last week, not what my Deep Thoughts were. For some reason I can conjure those, but have no heads for the more prosaic parts of my reading. We've been thinking of turning the little app we made for the little booklist into a WordPress plugin one of these days....
posted by jessamyn at 4:42 PM on May 7, 2005

I use a Moleskin notebook. My notes are pretty haphazard, because I use it to jot down titles while browsing in the bookstore as well as jotting down notes on a book I'm reading.

I think the smaller size is good (3x5 cards are also great; I use those when making notes for research purposes. But I don't tend to carry those around with me. I keep those at my desk.) I love the Moleskins because they are literally pocket-sized.

What are your reasons for keeping a reading journal? If it's just for pleasure, I'd jot down my impressions as I was reading the book (page number, verse line, what have you) as well as a summary when you've finished it. Keep some extra space after the summary so you can come back to it.

I like mischief's notes from the levenger page. I always write down in which town I bought the book, too. I started doing that after I bought a used book that had come from an English bookstore in Japan. OF course, the vast majority of my notes say "Seattle" but once in a while I can jot down "bought in Minneapolis" or "bought in Uppsala, Sweden".
posted by luneray at 4:46 PM on May 7, 2005

I keep an online book journal, mostly to remind me of what I've read. I write somewhere between a sentence and a couple paragraphs of impressions after I finish the book and track who recommended it to me, when I noticed, acquired, began, and finished it.

I find it rewarding to track the recommenders because it reminds me that I might discuss it with them when I finish it (and books have been known to sit unread on my shelf for years, so I can't just count on myself to remember). It's also good for keeping track of who I should ask "Read anything interesting lately?"
posted by aneel at 4:51 PM on May 7, 2005

Hey aneel, that's pretty cool--is there a piece of software you use to generate that? (I've already got Jessamyn's oddbook up-and-running, it's awesome--but I'm curious.)
posted by josh at 6:54 PM on May 7, 2005

I just use del.icio.us. I link to a review rather than to amazon, and there is scope for adding my own comments but I'm a bit lazy that way.
posted by dhruva at 1:22 AM on May 8, 2005

I use a program called Pocket Library which has both a windows and palm version which sync. It gives me all the basic information on books I have read, or own, or wish to own. It is really handy to have that info available all the time.

When it comes to notes I usually scribble all over books and even glue in type written notes, charts and diagrams. For most books I have notebooks divided with thirty dividers and a title page. That works well if I have only a few pages of notes. Some books, though, I have hundreds of pages of notes and they have their own notebooks.

I have used computer generated 3 x 5 cards, but have found that standard pages in a word processor are easier and more practical.

Sometimes I change systems just because I am bored doing it one way or another!
posted by phewbertie at 3:32 AM on May 8, 2005

I had to teach myself how to use Access for work a few years ago, so for practice I built a database to keep track of books I read. Like some others who have posted, I really use it as an organizational database rather than a journal, but I do have a "comments" section where I can write what I thought of the book.

Other than that, it's mostly basic book information: author, title, ISBN, publishing information. Since I borrow almost all my books from the library, I also keep track of whether it's a book I own, and if not, whether I want to buy it.

The nice thing about the Access database is that it's extremely searchable, and I can print out a quick list of any books I want but don't own yet which I then take on my used books hunts (though I do feel faintly odd about walking around in a used bookstore with a printed out book list in hand).

Then again, I've been an extreme slacker for about a year now and haven't kept up on entering books at all. Which is too bad, since I have a terrible memory for remembering which books I've read.
posted by bibbit at 10:04 AM on May 8, 2005

I've been meaning to get the Delicious Library to keep track of my books and DVDs, and you can now search using Spotlight on OS X. It has room for descriptions. Maybe overkill, but if you're trying to keep track of everything, as well as write descriptions, it might work for you.
posted by fionab at 10:36 AM on May 8, 2005

Many thanks to all. Very interesting and useful responses. I'm off like a madman to start my journal. Hooah!

posted by lustra at 12:45 PM on May 8, 2005

I found this at the 43 Folders site:
buy a pad of 4x6 lined post-it notes and slap a couple inside the cover for note-taking. You can always remove them, add more, move the notes to a computer, etc.
posted by yclipse at 1:29 PM on May 8, 2005 [1 favorite]

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