I don’t believe in unnecessary self-imposed pressure. This mentality has served me especially well through this ongoing pandemic, as I’ve been able to temper expectations with desires and motivation in ways that I would have otherwise beat myself up about. I don’t care about Goodreads reading goals, nor do I set an expectation for the kinds of books I’ll be reading in any given year. I don’t find myself rushing come December to meet a number or feeling upset when I notice the seasonal ups and downs in my book consumption. One of the big reasons, besides offloading pressure, is that I regularly audit my reading life, taking stock in what’s working, what’s not, and trends which emerge annually. I’m able through this process to better ferret out what books are going to be up my alley from the piles around my home, as well as discover what new places I’d like to work toward taking my reading life.
Given that we only get to read somewhere around 2500 books in our lives, taking stock in what’s working and what’s not is hugely beneficial. Certainly, auditing your life should happen year round, but there’s something about the closing of a year and promise of a new one that makes the opportunity feel fresh and maybe even urgent.
But how to audit your reading life?
Much like a financial audit, auditing your reading life means taking stock of the highs and lows of your reading within a given time frame. In this instance, we’ll look at the year as a whole. Auditing can be as simple or as complex as you’d prefer, and it can be done by journaling or opening up a couple of Google Docs and Sheets and going to town digitally. The process can be as analytics-driven as you’d prefer, as much as it can be as emotional and feelings-driven as you prefer (and it may be beneficial to even dig around in these book journaling prompts to go deeper into the best reading experiences you’ve had to find fodder for the audit).
This guide for how to audit your reading life will offer ideas for diving into your reading world, with notes for where there are opportunities to journal or rate your book life over the past year with the idea this is an adaptable framework, suitable for using any time of year or in any way that best serves you. There are no one-size-fits-all guidelines here, just as there’s no one-size reading life. Consider this a jumping off point, wherein you can delve into making your reading life not just reflective of you now, but a helpful tool for navigating your bookish future.
How To Audit Your Reading Life
Collect All Your Reading Logs, Tools, and Notes
Whatever you use to record your reading, be it a spreadsheet, Goodreads, Litsy, Instagram, paper, or any other medium (or multiple mediums!), pull it all together in one central place.
Have you kept consistent records across these tools? Has one been more effective for you than another through whatever measure you choose to use as “effect?” Starting with the recording tools themselves will give you powerful insight in how you record your reading life, how you focus it — be it for yourself entirely or on social media in a more sharing capacity — helps you get a sense of what does or doesn’t matter to you.
Since before high school, I kept a paper list of every single book I read. But a few years ago, that slipped away in favor of Book Riot’s reading log, as well as Goodreads. I miss the tactile aspect of recording on paper, as well as the fact it’s a log I’ve kept for over 25 years. I’ll make it a priority, then, to update that log, as I have all of the books since I dropped off listed in other places, so I can return to utilizing it in my reading life. While it’s private to me now, I can see the value in that log for sharing with my kid as she grows up and wonders what books I was reading at her age.
This is your opportunity to determine whether you’ll continue to use tools like Goodreads, as well as your chance to consider whether or not it’s the time to try a new app or website. If you do, give yourself a timeframe in which to play around and discover what appeals about that tool and whether or not it’ll serve you in the way you hope it can. For example: if you want to try out The StoryGraph, decide you’ll give it a month as as trial. Spend time getting to know the features and trying out the tools within it. At the end of that month, assess what did and did not work. Again: feel free to journal this or assign a numeric value on a scale which makes sense to you and either choose to stick with the tool or ditch it in favor of another one which might better align with your needs.
There’s no right or wrong here. It’s 100% about what you want and need, so don’t feel pressured to like something or dislike something if it does/doesn’t serve you.
Assess Your Reading
Now that you’ve looked at the ways you’re logging your reading, it’s time to look at what you’re reading. Break down the books you’ve read into as many categories as you think of that might serve you. Start simple with fiction and nonfiction. Maybe then you want to look at all of the age ranges of the books you’ve read — so, adult books, children’s books, middle grade books, young adult books. Maybe you break down genres, too, exploring your fantasy reads, historical reads, romance reads, and so forth. Perhaps you look at format: audio, comic, print, digital. Get as granular as you’d like.
If you’re a visual person, you can categorize any or all of these individually or in overlapping ways and create charts — maybe visually seeing that you read 50% adult nonfiction this year gives it a greater impact for you than the number itself.
Once you’ve looked at the types of books you’ve read, if you’re someone who records when you’ve read a book, take a peek at when you were reading. Break down the numbers — did you read more books than average in February, despite it being the shortest month? Maybe you read very few books in the summer, as you were unable to focus or were spending time outside or simply didn’t feel like reading. Again: looking at the raw data can be helpful, as can journaling what you’re seeing or thinking. Over the course of a few reading audits, you’ll see patterns and those patterns can be helpful. Maybe you don’t set up expectations for yourself during certain seasons, or you experiment with different formats during times of your year when sitting with a print book isn’t working.
Identify common themes and trends in what you’ve read. Did you pick up a lot of enemies-to-lovers romance books during a couple of weeks? Were you listening to a ton of audiobooks about a specific period of history or about a single topic relating to self-development? What was going on during those periods and what did that reading offer you? Looking at that can help you think about what might be valuable to your reading life in similar future periods. In other words, when you discover you can pull yourself from a reading slump with a middle grade fantasy comic book, the next time a slump arises, you’ll have a place to begin working through it. (This is not foolproof, of course, as reading slumps are what they are, but having a place to start is often the biggest hurdle for beginning).
Part of assessing your reading can include where you procured your books, too. Did you rely on the library? Or did you purchase a ton of books? If you purchased, where did your money go? Again: numbers here are good enough, but feel free to also dive into what you like about what you see and what you’d maybe like to change about what you see. I’m a big believer in not using “failed” or “messed up” for actions you’ve done in the past in situations like this; rather, you can simply say that you’d love to get back to using your local library, as opposed to thinking about it in the negative (“I failed to use my library much,” for example).
Your reading life audit is not about judgement but instead about observation.
Determine Your Reading Life Values
Now that you’ve got some raw data and maybe some narrative around it, this is where things get much more about tapping into your feelings. What is it you love about your reading life? What makes your reading life a vital part of your life as a whole? When you look at your raw data, as well as how you’re collecting it, you have a world of opportunity to see what’s bringing meaning. Maybe it’s exploring as many genres as possible, as much as it could be about getting to know the ins and outs of a single genre deeply.
From there, go broader. What were some of the best reading experiences you’ve had in the last year (or two or three)? Were they opportunities to read beneath a big tree in the park with your favorite snacks and maybe a friend or two? Did you get a lot of joy from traveling to an author event or attending a series of virtual events for one or many different authors? Did you love checking your favorite book website daily for new posts?
Maybe you donated money for a literacy cause or shared a meaningful book-related post on your social media. Perhaps you got to be a guest reader for a child’s classroom one afternoon or spent a few hours visiting all of the Little Free Libraries in your neighborhood. Or maybe, you read the kinds of books you’ve never read before, expanding into more books in translation or ebooks.
Whatever brought you joy in a bookish way, write it down. As always, this can be as deep and lengthy as you wish or it can be a simple list (I have a yoga teacher who had us practice a “gratitude rampage” and the point was taking 3–5 minutes to just jot down everything we could think of we were grateful for in that time frame without getting caught up on how big or small it was, and that is an easy way to think of this exercise, too!).
Once you’ve noted or expanded upon all of the things that brought you reading life satisfaction, now you’ll take the time to suss out what values you hold when it comes to reading — and, indeed, many of these will apply more widely to your whole life. Take a look at your list and try to define the things with one or two words related to a value; this is for you, remember, so no need for perfection or accuracy.
Take, for example, finding joy in attending an in-person author event. You might put “community” as your value here, as you loved the community aspect of coming together to celebrate an author’s new book. The same could be applied to virtual events, too, and, perhaps, in addition to “community,” you find “accessibility” or “digital citizenship” as values for virtual events, too.
In looking at the types of books you most enjoyed, perhaps “growth” or “inclusivity” or “global citizenship” are values you assign to reading more books outside your typical genres or more books in translation or more books set outside the Western world. Maybe if you read a pile of canonical classics, you value “historical engagement,” or in returning to beloved favorite authors or series, you value “comfort.” Visiting the library might signal “community engagement,” as much as checking out your neighborhood’s Little Free Libraries — or the Little Free Libraries in the towns where you travel.
Loved reading to your child’s classroom? Donating to literacy causes? Then “volunteering” and “philanthropy” might be values you note.
Don’t assign judgment to these values. Instead, note commonalities. Chances are, you’ll see a lot of similar values emerge and seeing them allows you then to consider what might serve you best in the next year of your reading life.
When I do a values assessment, I like to pick three to five that most resonate with me and post them somewhere I can see them every day. It’s not just a reminder of what’s important but it’s also a permission slip to let go of the things that don’t, in favor of doing more with what does. By no means do you need to limit yourself, but having a list of values that’s easy to reference will help you in your audit for the future, as well as for the next step of the audit.
Set Some Goals
This step is one of the final ones, and it’s the one wherein you can choose to make a plan or, if plans stress you out, you can simply set goals for a particular timeframe (i.e., in the next year, you’ll work to do these things). Goals are tangible, measurable things, unlike your values, but your values are what inform your goals.
Referring to your values, what did you achieve in the previous year that you’d like to do again in the new one? Perhaps you’ll add more time to peruse local bookshops when you travel (making it tangible by adding time to your itinerary to do so, with the names/addresses of shops where you’re going) or you’ll make more reading dates with a bookish friend throughout the year (set a number here so it’s tangible, such as one reading date per season). If you found yourself wanting to read more diversely, this is where your values will make something intangible less-so: name exactly what you value about reading diversely and name a goal accordingly. An example could be that you value seeing the perspectives of Native and Indigenous peoples’ land upon which you’re settled. Your goal would be to read books by local Native and Indigenous writers, as well as those who may not have been local to you. Choose a number that is meaningful and memorable — a good example would be one book fitting this goal each season or one book fitting this goal each month.
When I began to really audit my reading, I realized how easy it is to aim for half my reading to be books by people of color. That’s literally every other book I pick up. I don’t have a number goal of titles but instead, a percentage of the titles I read.
Taking the above example further, if you’ve identified a value in Native and Indigenous reading and you also identify a value in community engagement or philanthropy, now is your opportunity to find out what Native and Indigenous authors are local, hosting public events (in person or online), or what nonprofits aid the literacy programs within these groups. Once you find something that resonates, your goal would be to donate money or time, again, setting up a number that is realistic for you ($50 donations twice a year or attending a reading each season, for example). You could also make it a goal to purchase a certain number of books each year from a Native and Indigenous owned bookstore.
A lot of readers may find this a space to make a specific book count goal, and that’s perfectly fine. But remember your goal setting for your reading life can be as broad as you’d like and as realistically doable for you. You want to set yourself up for success without feeling like you’re pushing yourself too hard or turning your reading life into work. Maybe you set a single goal as straightforward as learning how to request books through your library’s online catalog. This might align perfectly with your values of “community engagement” or “digital citizenship.” If it’s a goal, it’s a goal, no matter how “big” or “small” it may seem.
Dream here, however you want to, and use your values to steer you in new, exciting, or comforting directions.
Your goals, despite being tangible, are part of a living document. This means they can change and shift as your life changes and shifts. It’s here when the final principle of auditing your reading life becomes most handy.
Determine Future Audit Timeframes
Last, but certainly not least, decide how often you want to audit your reading life. Knowing whether you want to assess your reading life monthly or quarterly, biannually or annually, can help you get a realistic timeframe for your goals. If you audit monthly, you might set smaller goals, whereas if you audit annually, your goals might be bigger and more long term (you can, of course, do longer term goals with shorter audit time frames, but you’ll likely want to look at those longer goals in specified intervals, too).
You do not need all of your auditing to happen simultaneously, and you don’t need to explore all of these facets of your reading life all at once. You can, for example, audit your reading every month while you audit your record keeping twice a year. Maybe you sit down and explore your reading values annually and then follow that with an annual goal setting session.
Whatever works for you is what works for you, and there’s always space to adjust. You can audit how you audit your reading life, just as you can audit you record keeping or goal setting. If it works, identify why; if it doesn’t, try something new.
Be kind to yourself, no matter what your goals, your assessments, or your audits reveal about your reading life. It belongs to you and no one else, and trying to compare yourself with what you believe other readers do is not adding anything to your own experiences. Look objectively, then allow yourself space to journal or write through what you’re thinking, with an eye toward self-generosity and compassion — you aren’t a failure for not meeting a goal or deciding that a goal no longer serves you at this time. Reframe this instead as an opportunity to align your life as it is with what you want and can do, as opposed to what you think you should want and achieve.
Maybe it’s even worthwhile to skip goal setting or planning all together and instead lean into your values. Maybe the novelty of experience and understanding where those experiences meet your values is all you need to find satisfaction and joy in your reading life.
Be open to change and be open to experiences, just as much as you’re able to open to what you’ll discover by auditing your reading life. Just like auditing your finances or other aspects of your life, by spending time assessing your current situation, you’ll be able to navigate the future with a clearer understanding of what matters most to you and how you can prioritize those things as you move through your daily life.