Even the most modest bibliophile has contemplated keeping a reading journal. It can be as simple as a log of books read or as vast as to include research, thoughts, and opinions on the book. Writing in a reading journal can help you identify what you love about a book, making it more likely that you will read what you enjoy in the future. It might also encourage you to read something in another genre, when you realize all you’ve read is fantasy this year. And if you decide to write more than a few lines in your reading journal your writing skills will improve along with your grasp of more challenging books.
The best motivator to keep a reading journal is a book that you truly love. You can buy a reading journal with preprinted pages with blanks to include the title of the book and some other brief thoughts. Although these can be convenient, often they are very limiting because of such formatting. Consider the problems if you would like to write several paragraphs on the many meanings of the title of A.S. Byatt’s novel, Possession, instead of the ten lines the book allows. However, if you are usually brief with your notes, or would prefer a simple log of your reading habits, a preprinted journal could be an excellent solution.
A more flexible journal will be a book with blank pages. A regular blank journal can be an excellent choice and offers many options. Look for something that is a size that you are comfortable writing in. Also consider whether you would prefer lined or blank pages, and what type of cover will best protect your notes. Another option to consider for your reading journal is a loose-leaf binder. With this format you have the most flexibility of any option, and if you would like it to be more permanent in the future, you can always have your notes bound.
Another thing to consider before buying a reading journal is portability. If you regularly read away from home, you might like to bring your reading journal with you to record any thoughts. You could also make notes within the book and save your writing until after the book is finished. A popular option for making notes if you do not want to mark in the book is the use of corner bookmarks. Simply seal an envelope and cut it diagonally corner to corner. Put the corner over the pages you wish to reference, and write your notes on the envelope. Later you can collect these notes for an entry about the book. Try not to use Post-it Notes in a book; the adhesive damages the book over time.
Decide what you want each entry to include. Title, author, and date read are most common, but don’t limit yourself to those basics of information. Consider including background on the book, such as how it was received, awards, and historical references. Include information about yourself if you find a particular book really resonating with you. For example, if you read a book that chronicles the demise of a relationship while breaking up with your own partner, your impressions of the book may be heightened.
If you are trying to get the most benefit out of your reading time write down words that are unfamiliar. Later you can look them up and include their definitions. Also try identifying the major themes within your favorite book. Many authors imbue their stories with more than a good plot and great characters. Learn to look for these hidden meanings and enrich your reading pleasure. If you are unsure where to start, look online. Many popular books have discussion questions to be used with a book group on the publisher’s website. Look at these questions and pick one or two that are the most interesting to answer. A well-written question can have you considering possibilities that you would have missed.
You might also want to include books that you would like to read in the future. Along with the title and author, note why you want to read the book. If you notice a friend consistently recommending books that you love, pay more attention to the books that person is picking up. Conversely, if you have read several books recommended by a literary critic that you hated, you might better spend your time reading a different column.
Regardless what you would like to include in the pages of your journal, take the time to look back a reread what you wrote. You may be surprised that a book you hated two years ago may be a book you are interested in reading again. A well kept reading journal should highlight the growth in your ability to understand difficult pieces of literature, or even the nuances of your favorite pieces of genre fiction. It should also give you the same type of pleasure as any other journal- the ability to remember the important things that shaped your life.