Our Reading Lives

Out With the Spreadsheets! On Simplifying My Reading Tracking

Patricia Thang

Senior Contributor

Patricia Thang is an educator located in Los Angeles. Though a native Angeleno through and through, her heart also belongs to Tokyo, where much of her family is from. Besides books, she is an enthusiastic devourer of many things, including podcasts, television, and J-pop. She realizes there’s not enough time in the world to consume all of that content, but she’s trying anyway. Other endeavors to which she has dedicated herself include cuddling her dogs until they’re annoyed and taste-testing every vegan ice cream she can find. Twitter: @aintnopthang

The other day, I made a comment during a meeting at work about enjoying a particularly convoluted spreadsheet we have to use. My coworkers thought I was being sarcastic and laughed at my “joke,” and I had to stop and explain that I was actually very serious.

I love spreadsheets. I (clearly) use them at my day job, I use them to keep track of things I do here at Book Riot, and I even use them just for fun. Data and organization are my love language, and charts and tables are my Disneyland. Needless to say, I have spent years tracking my reading with not just one, but numerous spreadsheets, constantly finding more reasons to build yet more new ones looking at this or that particular subset of data or information.

Some time back, I wrote about how difficult reading had become for me following immense trauma. And sadly, a year and half after writing that, and nearly four years after the deterioration of my reading itself, things have not gotten much better. On top of that, all those spreadsheets that gave me so much excitement and joy have sat bare on my computer, an empty reminder of unfulfilled anticipation and unaccomplished goals. Every day I didn’t read, all those blank cells and unused formulas nagged at me, and for the first time, spreadsheets didn’t seem so great anymore.

So I’m doing the unthinkable.

For the past few months, I’ve completely ditched all the meticulous data tracking and spreadsheets I had built up and been using for years. Instead, all I’m doing is physically writing down what I read with pen in a notebook. Just the title, page numbers I read, and the date on which I read it. And that’s all. No data analysis, no statistics, nothing but a minimal log of when I read.

In this same notebook, I’ve also been writing down things like movies I watch, television shows I’m following, and other media I might be consuming. So even if I’m not reading for days or weeks at a time, as is my new norm, I’m still able to avoid having that dreaded blankness staring back at me. And the best part of it all is that I didn’t spend hours of my free time setting up something I don’t even get to use and enjoy in the end, the way I did with my complex series of spreadsheets. Which then means I don’t feel guilty about how all that time I committed was ultimately unfruitful.

At first I thought that maybe I had found the answer. That I had unknowingly been putting some weird pressure on myself by making up all these spreadsheets and making myself believe that was somehow making my reading life worthwhile. I wish I could say that this was the key, that I magically unlocked my ability to read again by getting rid of the detailed tracking, but things continue to be mostly the same: slow going and frustrating at times. However, all’s not completely hopeless. Because I’m not thinking about statistics or what any of it means, there definitely has been a small weight off my shoulders. Obviously the issue of my reading is quite complex, and though it’s not necessarily the answer, eliminating the spreadsheets has been able to eliminate a small part of the problem.

I’m not worried anymore about collecting the information to fill out each and every row and column in my spreadsheets, about summing up an impressive page count of my year’s reading, about being able to chart a consistent reading schedule for the year. Right now, I’m reading what I want to read, when I want to read it, for as long (or as little) as I can handle at a given time. And for me, that’s all reading should be. I need to learn to enjoy it again first before trying to look at it through my analytical lens once more, if at all.

So for all my fellow spreadsheet wizards out there: in this new year, be a little easier on yourselves. As I already mentioned, the issue of my reading specifically is certainly complex, but it was also absolutely exacerbated by me burning out from committing to all that data chasing and desperately trying to create “good” (whatever the hell that means) results. So from here on out, I want to continue to keep things as simple as possible, and resolve to make 2023 the year of just enjoying reading again. If any of this resonates with you, join me! All you need is a notebook — and I know we all have a bunch of pretty ones we’ve never used lying around! — a pen, and your wonderful, book-loving self.