Keeping track of the books I've read...

by Amanda Fleet

I read quite a lot. Not as much as many people, but in an average year, I read between 50 and 60 books, and it's becoming increasingly necessary to keep track of what I've read. Yes, I know. There are apps that can do that, but I'm not much of an app person. The only reading app I ever really used was Goodreads and that was so awful an experience I abandoned it a long time ago.

I'm sure some whippersnappers reading this will be convinced of their memory's power and think that they would never forget what they've read. Hm. I was like that once. And then I got old, and 50 books a year quickly became 1000 books over a couple of decades. My memory is dulling at precisely the time it's also getting full!

What I'm currently using is a notebook to record my reading. (Anyone surprised? No. Thought not.) It's a fairly straightforward A5, lined notebook (Nero sells lots - choose your favourite!) and I record a variety of things for each book I've read: title, author, genre, dates over which I read the book, stars out of 5 (or... the dreaded DNF for those few books that I abandon), summary of the plot, a short review. For fun, in the back of my diary, I also have a graphic of a set of bookshelves with blank book-spines. I write in the books read, and colour-code the spines according to the stars out of 5 the book was awarded.

I used to keep this kind of information in an A5 Filofax, with the data on individual sheets. This had the advantage of being able to sort entries by author surname, but had the disadvantage that one Filofax became two, and now both of those are bursting at the seams. Notebooks are a more efficient way of keeping the pages together, not least because the entry for a book is normally only one side of A5 or less. I also quite like to see the 'trends' in my reading. After lock-down started, my reading tastes changed markedly at times to include things I would never normally have read.

Of course, the disadvantage of using a notebook is that if I want to look up a review, the notebook is sorted chronologically, not by author (or title). I have a reasonable idea of when I may have read a book, but to save me leafing through large tracts of notebook to find what I'm after, I keep a running log in a spreadsheet (including the page number of the review) which I can sort however I wish. Once a notebook is full, I can print off an index and paste it in the back, for quick reference.

Of course, none of this manages to stop me from buying (and then reading) a book I've read before. I love browsing second-hand books, whether that's in the book section of a charity shop (when they're open) or a slice of heaven like Barter Books in Alnwick. I don't carry a list of my books around with me, and as a consequence have been known to come away with a pile of books that suddenly seem familiar once I'm about halfway through reading them!

If I'm buying online, it's fairly easy to check that I don't already have the book, but I've read a lot more books than I have on my shelves! Even with my reading logs, I miss things. Why? I've been reading for many more years than I've been keeping a log. Ah, the foibles of age. The books read in the very years that I thought my memory was invincible, are the exact books that I've forgotten I've read.

So to all those readers out there... do you keep a log of what you've read? If not, how do you feel when you realise you're accidentally reading something you've read before?

And if you do keep a log, do you do that digitally or in analogue form?