Reading unlocks ideas and worlds
Reading is my ticket to access wisdom, insights, experiences, and cultures I could never acquire otherwise. It thrills me to immerse myself in another time, another country, or another world without ever leaving my chair. My heart swells with hope and inspiration when I read motivational literature or when the characters I’ve come to love overcome obstacles, find true love or solve a mystery. Yes, I do love a happy ending!
In an attempt to read more and increase my reading comprehension, I’ve tried speed-reading, listening to audiobooks, and subscribing to book summaries. They all have benefits, but nothing has enhanced my reading pleasure or enriched my reading experience more than keeping a reading journal.
Reading list vs reading journal
Just keeping a dated list of the books you’ve read and a few sentences about them has tremendous value. I hate to admit how quickly I can forget titles and authors when someone asks, “What have you been reading lately?” and writing them down helps me remember. My husband and I both keep lists like this, and I refer to his list when I’m shopping for a book and want to make sure he hasn’t already read it. If you’ve never tracked your reading before, keeping a reading list in a journal or notebook is a great way to start. Don’t count on Goodreads. It’s a terrific tool, and I use it myself, but I don’t rely on it as my only record. The site could disappear along with all my precious records.
A reading journal starts with a reading list but can be expanded depending on your preferences. My journaling has evolved and currently consists of recording the title, author, publication date, the date I finished the book, and my rating based on five stars. Then I write fairly extensive reviews that include both critique and takeaways. A breezy novel will have a short entry in my journal, while a thought-provoking nonfiction book may have several pages. [2021 update: I now also include who recommended the book, what format I read (print, Kindle, Audible) and how many print pages it is, even if I read it on Kindle.]
In recent years, depending on the book, I use my journal to make notes while I’m reading and not just after I’m finished. I jot down quotes, ideas, words and phrases I love, or just observations. I may jot down the pronunciation of the author’s name or make a list of vocabulary words I have to look up. I’ve been amazed at how much it helps me pull value from the book, remember it more vividly, and talk about it more intelligently with friends or in a book discussion.
Key benefits of keeping a reading journal:
- It helps you keep track of what you’ve read and when you’ve read it. Librarians have told me that patrons want them to pull records of what they’ve checked out in the past because they don’t remember whether they’ve read a certain book or not.
- It ensures you capture the ideas and inspiration that pop up while you’re reading. I’ve found this to be a fabulous creativity enhancer and a source for ideas I can implement in my own writing or life.
- It helps you record your thoughts and feelings and enables you to process the content more thoroughly and accurately. I am always chagrined to realize how much—and how quickly—I can forget if I don’t record my impressions right away. Even a week or two later, when I’m deep into another book, these valuable insights may have slipped away.
- Your reading journal can become a life journal. When I go back to read my old reading journals, it often brings to mind what was going on in my life at the time and perhaps why—or why not—a book resonated with me. The details for each book can capture other interesting tidbits. You might include such information as who gave you the book (or where it came from), the time period in which the book was set, where you read it (home, beach, while traveling, etc.), and when you started and finished it.
- It gives you a place to write down other reading-related information such as titles of books recommended by others, books you’ve read about and want to try, or books you’ve loaned to friends. I’d suggest keeping a few pages in the back of your journal for these kinds of notations.
- The notes in your reading journal will help you write a much more polished and erudite book review if you’re so inclined.
- If you record your favorite quotes, some may become touchstones in the future or worthy of sharing.
- You can capture questions or topics about which you want to do further reading or research.
- You’ll get a sense of satisfaction from knowing how much you’ve read and how much you’ve benefitted from it.
- A reading journal keeps old friends alive. Books often become as beloved as a friend. They’ve given me pleasure, experience, solace, and wisdom for which I’m grateful. My reading journal ensures that they won’t be forgotten.
Reading journals offer special benefit for writers
Good writers are almost always avid readers. We writers learn from studying the elements of the books we read and from paying attention to what we like and don’t like. I keep a “swipe file” of words, phrases, and sentences that impress me with their tone, vividness, or power. If you’re a writer, a reading journal is a marvelous tool for capturing best practices, ideas, and techniques.
What kind of reading journal should you use?
You might enjoy the structure provided by a dedicated reading journal, but I found myself constrained by the space allowed. Sometimes I wanted to write more and sometimes less. This Book Lover’s Journal on Amazon is an example of this kind of reading journal.
I started out with spiral-bound notebooks and still use Clairefontaine notebooks for lots of other journaling, but for my reading journal, I now enjoy the sensuous pleasure of using a fountain pen in a bound notebook with quality paper. My current favorite is the Leuchtturm 1917 notebook, available in lots of great colors and with a choice of lined or dotted pages. Rhodia also makes notebooks with quality paper, but they don’t have as much color selection.*
Reading journals are yours alone
Don’t think of a reading journal as another thing you ought to do! There’s no right or wrong way to keep one, and the information you choose to include can be as little or as much as gives you pleasure or value. But if you’re an avid reader and want to ensure that you’re getting the most out of the time you spend reading, give the reading journal a try.
Book lovers might enjoy other Heartspoken posts about reading and book reviews:
- “Reading is the Ultimate Ahhhhhhh…”
- Heartspoken’s Reading Room
- Elizabeth’s personal reading spreadsheet
- Posts about books and book reviews on Heartspoken
[2021 update: So many readers ask me what I’m reading, so I’ve started a list available HERE or from my website on the “My Reading Room” page. I’ve also created a Heartspoken Bookshop. When you purchase books here, you support my blog as well as independent booksellers. ]
* The links in this post are Amazon affiliate links. Click the links below to learn more or order a journal or notebook from Amazon. When you use my links, you’ll still get Amazon’s best price and I’ll get a small commission that helps me defray the cost of this blog. Thank you!