For 2011, Starting a Reader’s Journal

by Jeff Abbott on January 5, 2011

One of the side effects of being a writer is that it changes your reading habits. For me, this change was twofold: writing meant I had less time to read (oh the pain), and writing changed how I read. I can still get lost in a great story, but part of my mind notices the craftsmanship and technique the author employs much more than before I was a writer. I tend to dissect much more as I read, and this is true of books that aren’t working for me as much as those that I enjoy.

Starting a couple of years ago, I’ve  kept a running list of books I’ve read, usually in my Filofax. I kept it in my planner because the list also includes books I’ve bought or been given, so I don’t accidentally re-buy while I’m at the store. I’d just mark off each book as it was read. The list is now several pages long.

I’m thinking of starting a reading journal, where I list each book I read and a few thoughts about the book and the craftsmanship in it, maybe with a few quotes. I might keep this in a digital form (such as a Word document, or in Tinderbox)  or I might just devote an entire notebook to it, maybe a page to each book. I could imagine recording what I particularly admired about the book, favorite lines, prompts to myself (look at how well Character A was developed, notice the structure used in the finale, that worked well. . ) and so on. I don’t think this would take much time to maintain and would pay big writerly dividends.

If you keep a reading journal, tell me about it in the comments. I’ll report back in a few weeks on how my own reader’s journal is going.

    { 6 comments… read them below or add one }

    Ieva January 5, 2011 at 10:28 am

    I have been keeping a reading journal in a Moleskine Passion Books notebook (basically because I’m too lazy to do it if there’s not beautiful stationery involved). Even though I don’t write much about the books from the viewpoint of “craftmanship” (unless I didn’t like the book and explain why), this journal has helped me a lot to make more conscious choices regarding my reading. A year ago, I read haphazardly, mostly making impulsive purchases, the way normal women shop for shoes. Right now, it’s 50/50 – at least half of the books I’ve read is a follow-up for author or genre I want to explore.

    I’d vote for longhand, and a physical notebook, but this is because for me, reading is not a “task”, it’s a reward, and the hand-written record feels more personal.

    Jeff Abbott January 5, 2011 at 10:45 am

    Absolutely, you could keep the journal and just write about whatever you liked/disliked/made an impression on you about the book. It doesn’t have to be about craftsmanship at all.†

    I am a paper person, but the only advantage of digital over longhand would be if I wanted to blog about a book; I’d already have my impressions transcribed in an easier form. I didn’t know about the Moleskine Books notebook, thanks for the tip! Here is a link for more information on this book-centered journal.

    Ieva January 5, 2011 at 11:22 am

    I’m thinking that if you are going to blog about a book that would be very different from what you’d write in your personal notes. Unless you are very polite and considerate in your personal notes and always make well-phrased and sound arguments.
    I am always impressed by writers’ comments on books, but I think that to make a solid, honest public note about a book, you’d spend as much time as writing a review. A review tends to take a couple of hours for me, probably less for a pro… but still more than scribbling notes like “compelling theme – cardboard characters except for Amy – plot fell apart in the middle – funny dialogue though” – useful for you, but horrible if seen by the self-googling author.

    Jeff Abbott January 5, 2011 at 12:06 pm

    I have blogged in the past (on Fridays) about books I enjoyed reading, but I don’t write full-blown reviews on this blog. I don’t write about books I don’t enjoy, either, because I would rather spend my time recommending a book than dissing it.

    But yes, I agree, what you would keep in a book journal could be quite different from what you would include in a full-blown review.

    shaun January 5, 2011 at 2:01 pm

    You could sign up to http://www.goodreads.com/
    you can list all your books here and add reviews..I have an app for my ipod touch and android phone that synch to it so I always have my book list with me.

    Melissa January 7, 2011 at 11:55 am

    Okay, you sucked me in…..very tempting titles to your blog posts…..bravo!!! I have kept a reading journal for the past 3 years, and I LOVE it. I can look back, but more importantly for me, I love to give books, and it helps me remember what I loved about the books I read, or what I needed to remember for perhaps better selecting them for others. I’ll look forward to hearing of your own pursuits. I remember making a list of some of your recs years ago at coffee together, and I still have it on my phone:). cuz you matter.

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