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« All This Heavenly Glory by Elizabeth Crane National Book Critics Circle Awards »

Feature Wed Jan 17 2007

Keeping a Reading Journal

A reading journal is one of the best ways to track your reading habits and actively engage with the materials you read. This article will give you some tips on starting a reading journal, although no one "right" way exists to track the books, journals or articles you read — it can be as structured or as informal as you like. Do what appeals to you, and what you'll be able to stick to doing. But if you are serious about learning and getting the most out of what you read, a reading journal can be a valuable source of notes, thoughts and analysis you can return to again and again.

The first consideration is the format of your journal. Should you choose a paper journal, electronic document or online log?

With a paper journal, all you need is a basic notebook or memo pad. Smaller format blank books and journals work well because they are lightweight and easy to throw into a bag and carry around. Some companies make fancy journals specifically meant for recording the books you read. If this appeals to you, and you have money to burn, check out the ultra-swanky Bookography Journal from Levenger, which has pre-formatted pages with lots of bells and whistles. More affordable book journals include the Book Lust journal, based on the popular books by Nancy Pearl, and the What I Read mini journal from Potter Style. But, really, any old notebook will do.

If you don't like the idea of a paper journal, you might consider keeping track of your reading using an electronic format. Your reading log might be as simple as a text file list of the books you've completed. Or, it can be as complicated as a home-grown database created using applications such as Microsoft Access or Filemaker.

Finally, if you would like to share your reading journal with the world, start a book blog or check out one of the literary social networking services reviewed here a few weeks ago.

What do the GB Book Club moderators do? Veronica Bond and I are both long-time bloggers, so we both keep reading blogs. Veronica writes personalized, full-length reviews of the books she reads on her book blog, Veronica's Book Lounge, while I barely manage a full paragraph for most of my summaries at Rabbit Girl Reads. You might take a completely different approach.

After you decide on a format, what should you include in your reading journal? At the very least, you can keep a list of the titles and authors of the books read, plus the date (month/year) they were completed. But, you also might consider any of the following:

1. Characters: Who are the major characters in the book? What are they like? What roles do they play in the story?

2. Plot: What happens? Write a brief summary of the story.

3. Style: How would you describe the author's writing style? How does it affect the book?

4. Point of View: Who's telling the story? Why do you think the author chose a particular point of view?

5. Setting: Where and when does the book take place?

6. Themes: What is the book really about?

7. Copy favorite quotes from the book.

8. Record notes about the book itself. Did you buy it? Borrow it? Where/when? Was it a gift? From whom?

9. Why did you want to read the book? Did it meet your expectations? Why or why not?

Other uses for your reading journal include keeping a list of books you want to read or a list of favorite bookstores. Just leave a few blank pages in the front or back of a paper journal, a separate text file on your computer or an open post on your blog.

Keeping a reading journal is a worthwhile exercise that becomes more rewarding with age. Every year, you can look back and examine your changing interests and moods through the books you read. You can remember the summer you finally broke down and read all the Harry Potter books, or the year you vowed to read only literary prize winners. And, you can go back and re-read books and track how your feelings about a book have changed over time.

These are just a few ideas to get you started. You might have lots more. If you already keep some sort of reading journal and have tips to share, please post them in the comments.

 
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