BookendsSunday Salon

On Book Journals

sundaysalonI’m really bad at keeping track of what I’m reading. I have a spreadsheet where I list all my TBR titles and cross them off as I read. I also have my lists on Goodreads. But what I don’t have is any way to know what I was reading, say this time last year – although I post reviews on this site, they often take weeks to materialise  so are not a good indicator. As for thoughts on the book I’m reading at a particular time, the only notes I make are in the form of scribbles on post it notes.

Book journaling may be the answer. I’ve certainly seen many bloggers mention they keep a journal. But I’m not really sure what this involves and what you put in a journal. Some people seem to use it to list what they are reading, others includes quotes that they think significant and others paste in clippings from articles.

I’m interested in this but am not sure where to begin.  Looking on line for some suggestions I found only some rather basic tips. Most of the sources seem to be geared to students/school pupils rather than adult readers. Some key points that are frequently mentioned are:

  • Buy a durable book – avoid those that have coil bindings since the pages will come apart
  • Write your book entry as you read
  • Finish your entry as soon as you’re done reading
  • Always date your entries
  • Include page numbers with any quotes

Those all sound reasonable but don’t really tell me about the scope of a journal, why people find them useful. How is a journal different to a diary?

Before I go off in search of a beautiful book (but not mega expensive Moleskin version) I thought I’d ask if any of you keep a journal. And if so when/how do you use it? If you have a blog as well as Goodreads/LibraryThing accounts how do they work in conjunction with the journal.

Any pointers would be appreciated.


What do you need to know about me? 1. I'm from Wales which is one of the countries in the UK and must never be confused with England. 2. My life has always revolved around the written and spoken word. I worked as a journalist for nine years then in international corporate communications 3. My tastes in books are eclectic. I love realism and hate science fiction and science fantasy. 4. I am trying to broaden my reading horizons geographically by reading more books in translation

27 thoughts on “On Book Journals

  • A great selection of ideas. Thank you all very much. I think I’m just going to start and see how it evolves. Like the ideas of a Moleskin, a commonplace book with reflections, a list of books / authors to explore/ recommendations.

  • I always make sure to mark the date I finished reading a book on Goodreads, so far that seems the best way for me to keep track. I do have a “day book” which is where I try to keep interesting quotations, references and ideas and so on, but that works better for me if I am researching a particular subject… I find it hard enough to scrape some time together to read, never mind spend time writing up my reading habits in a journal!

  • buriedinprint

    I replaced my coil-bound-school-notebook reading journal with a spreadsheet about 8 years ago and last summer finished reentering all the previous years’ months/books so that I could more easily search to see when I’d first read a book or an author throughout my reading life (I didn’t track much before university).

    For me, the spreadsheet works beautifully because I find patterns and rereading very interesting (and I often forget where I am with specific series that I’ve temporarily abandoned), but I do sometimes take paper-and-pen notes with certain books even still. Sometimes in fancy Moleskins and sometimes just on random sheets which I drop into a folder that I haven’t figured out what to do with yet.

    Very interesting to see how others manage this, and I look forward to seeing what you come up with as a trial system for yourself!

  • I review every book I read on my blog, so I don’t keep a journal as well, apart from making a few notes while I read which I incorporate into my review later on. I have a separate page on my blog where I list the books I read month by month – I’ve been doing this since 2009 – and I also use Goodreads to record the exact dates I started and finished reading each book. In the past I’ve had a few attempts at starting a commonplace book like the one Kazen mentions above, but could never get into the habit of writing in it regularly. I call my monthly summary post on my blog a ‘commonplace book’ because I use it to highlight some favourite quotes from my month’s reading, but it’s entirely online and I don’t keep a handwritten version.

    I hope you can find a journaling method that works for you!

  • My blog is my book journal. I also have a simple database I created that I put the books I read in with a link to my blog post, the dates when I read it and a few easy bibliographic notes. This makes it easier at the end of the year to sort through what I’ve read, fiction, nonfiction, etc. Also I can do searches for authors and book titles easier than on my blog and it also includes books I read before I began blogging. I think when it comes to this sort of thing everyone has to figure out for herself what she wants, what she has time for, what works and what doesn’t. It is definitely a process!

  • How about treating it more like a commonplace book? wikipedia and this article provide some background, but it’s basically a notebook to gather quotes and reflections from all your reading. I use mine to copy out favorite passages, organize thoughts for a review, agree with the author (or rail at them as need be). What I like most is that it doesn’t have to be super organized – it’s interesting to have a line from a novel rub up against notes from biography I was reading at the same time. Overplanning tends to kill things for me, so this system works well for me. You have a lot of wonderful collected knowledge here – let us know what you decide to do!

  • I use A6 size notebooks to keep my book journal, and have since 1997 (ooh, an anniversary post will come up next year, then!). I write down a review of the book I’ve read, as soon as possible after I finish reading it. I almost always write the written review first, then my online one.

    I used to write a few lines, now a review will last a page or two. At the top goes author, book title, date acquired (if I know). I write the month in at the start of a month, and I keep stats at the end of the month – books read / fiction read / non-fiction read / DNFs for that month and the yearly total so far.

    I write in fountain pen in coloured ink. I am on about Book 14 now, and just treated myself to a Leuchtturm1917 journal for my next one (the current one’s pages are too rough and the ink is spreading so I will finish it at the end of the year).

    I am more honest in my written journal and longer and less honest in my online reviews. Not dishonest, but I will smooth things out and I moan about writing and editing more in the written book (I try to present more positively online for any clients who might come across it.

    I have been trying to do a spreadsheet for years listing all of the books read, the date acquired and month read, to allow me to look up reviews in the books that never made it onto the blog (which I stated on LiveJournal in 2005). I did have a card index, by author, but that was hard to keep up with, too, and when it had filled four boxes, it seemed to be enough.

  • Reading thru some of the comments I need to add that I don’t copy down quotes, or note page numbers. I write a review of the entire book and my reactions to it. So my approach is not time consuming – maybe 15 minutes, at the most. What is time consuming is converting the journal entries into blog posts, or tidying the material into acceptable data for Goodreads.

  • My Book Journal is invaluable, plus it serves as an Aide Memoir when I log my books monthly onto Goodreads. The journal also provides me basic fodder for blog posts. The tip to write up your book a.s.a.p. is crucial. Sometimes I write only one or two lines. Additionally I keep my draft Best Reads of the Year longlist in the back of the notebook. I prune the list down to manageable length before blogging it. Works for me!

  • I don’t keep a book journal but I do have a spreadsheet for each year which contains the book title and author along with the start reading date and end reading date and of course I review every book I finish so I have something to refer to that way – as my book habit takes up so much time already in organisation and admin work I have resisted the journal so far….

  • I write in pencil in all my books. I always write notes and thoughts in the margins because I need to note down what I am thinking otherwise I lose my train of thought. I also have a small quotes notebook in which I write favorite passages from the books I love. It’s too much work for me to take notes in a separate notebook.

  • Jonathan

    I don’t usually take extensive notes when reading as it would just take too much time but if I’m planning to write a review then I may take basic notes such as certain passages, page numbers etc. I try to take advantage of as many of GoodReads’s functions as possible such as shelving books into categories, marking start & finish dates, TBR pile, saving quotations and so on.

    A few years ago I had the idea of keeping notes so that I had a summary of each book I read but I abandoned that very quickly as it was so tedious.

    Reading on a kindle has its advantages in that you can add as many notes as you want, although trawling through notes on a kindle can be a bit laborious.

  • Also, forgot to say that I *do* keep a spreadsheet to record what I read and when I finished it – just as a little aide memoire because otherwise I completely lose track. I also record incoming books there – I don’t look at that page often, because it’s a bit scary….

  • I used to keep brief notes, but frankly like Kim my blog acts as my reading journal. I *do* jot things down that occur while I’m reading but they’re usually on scraps of paper not in a nice journal. If I had more time, I would, but I struggle to keep any sort of written journal at the moment – though I do love paper things (notebooks, stationery and the like) so the temptation is there. Go on – get yourself a moleskine!!

  • Yep, I’m with kimbofo, my blog replaced my journal. I couldn’t possibly keep up with a journal and my blog. I do have a database (though you could make it a spreadsheet) of books I’ve read because, while I do post pretty promptly on what I read, the database gives me a form I can manipulate any time I want to analyse what I’ve read – I can sort on author, rating (I never rate on my blog but I have a little personal system to help with end of year reporting), year published etc. This record now goes back to 1996 though the first few years aren’t perfect I think. I’m rigorous now.

    The thing is I am trying to get more and more into electronic record keeping. I don’t want more notebooks/diaries/journals hanging around. I now use my iPad or phone for all note taking (so I no longer carry a little notebook in my handbag) etc etc.

    However, I know others approach things differently so I will be interested in following what you do.

    • You;ve highlighted one of my concerns – will I have enough time and energy to maintain both. Im dreadful at embarking on something with wild enthusiasm only to realise pretty darn fast that I have over stretched myself.

  • I like the idea of a journal…but my handwriting is a bit messy. lol.

    I do have one blog with pages dedicated to the books I purchase, the review books I receive, and the books I read. I link the titles to the reviews. So they are divided up into years and months of the year. I can then look back and see what I’ve read last year at this time, or the year before. (It’s my Curl up and Read blog).

    Unfortunately, I removed some early pages (2010-2013), and now mine only go back to 2014. I don’t know why I did that, but I was thinking the blog was getting crowded with stuff…since I do post reviews, etc., on Goodreads. I can go there, put in a title, and see what I wrote about it, and when.

    I suspect there is no perfect way. Hope you find what works for you!

    • I’ll have to have a look at those pages to see if that might be the answer Laurel. Thanks for sharing your tips

  • How interesting… I regard my blog as my journal, as I simply don’t have time/energy to keep a handwritten journal too. I use GoodReads to keep lists of what I read when. (I ditched the Excel spread sheet years ago when I realised I could simply use GoodReads in the same way; I didn’t even have to type in the book titles, I could just scan the barcode. Did I mention I was lazy?) I do admire anyone who keeps a written journal, but it just doesn’t work for me.

    • Ive seen some articles which say the journal could be book form or on line. No hard and fast rules. I think I am exploring the idea of doing something more than just keep a list of what I read when which as you say I can do on Goodreads. But then what holds me back is whether I would have enough energy to keep it going

  • I use those “expensive Moleskine thingys” actually. A number of different colours for different books or styles. Translated literature in the yellow book, poetry in the purple, classics in the green & ny new pink for Arno Schmidt.

    All of the above that you mention I do – I do have Goodreads but use it sparingly. Paper and pen for me.

    Blog at

    Although I’m not as organised with a TBR pile as you, I simply have books everywhere.

    • Blimey that is being super organised – a different journal for different projects/genres. Do you keep notes as you read each day or as and when the mood takes you?
      I’d love to have Moleskins but would be so afraid that my writing would not be up to the standard required!

      • I write every day, I have an orange one for general interesting observations, so carry that the book I’m reading and the colour appropriate to the book.

        For your concern re not being up to standard, a nice pen is required too, that way you can write rubbish nicely (I have a Waterman).

  • Good topic – I’ve been thinking about the same thing. I have a TBR spreadsheet and know what I’ve read via Goodreads but I would like a way of recording why I chose particular books etc


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