Our Reading Lives

Book Journal, Goodreads, or Both? On Keeping Reading Records

I recently decided to conduct a poll among my friends, in order to check whether they keep reading records. Some of them told me that they have lists, others that they keep no records. Many of the ones who do maintain records told me that they do it digitally, mostly on Goodreads.

I have kept a book journal for over 11 years now. I am not sure how I started. At one point in my middle school career, I decided to begin keeping a tally of how many books I read. In the years since, my tally has diminished. My journal, however, has traveled with me from dorm to dorm, school to school, country to country.

writing journaling journal feature

I opened a Goodreads account at the same time that I started keeping my journal. Interestingly, while my “journaling” has remained steady during the last decade, my Goodreads use has experienced a gradual decrease. After I conducted my poll, I started to wonder—why is it that while the majority of the world has moved to keeping digital records, my journal has remained a constant in my life? I decided to draw a list of pros and cons, and things began to make more sense.

To me, reading is a private experience. Sure, it can be shared with others through discussion or recommendations, but ultimately, I make my choices, read them, and thus form my opinions alone before discussing them with others. When I finish a book and record it, it feels like a personal achievement, and adding the title to the tally—a reward.

My book journal, in a similar capacity to a personal journal or diary, is a record of my life. It can tell a lot about a particular period of it. How much I read and what I read reflects on me at the time. For example, in my freshman year of high school, I read about 40 books, most of which were either fantasy or YA. Last year, I read 20, and they were a variation between biography, memoir, and general fiction. This is all neatly outlined on a single page in ink. What I have made of those books is also there, but it is the only rating that they receive.

Goodreads, by comparison, is a communal experience. The way I have always understood it is that the website’s aim is to allow the readers themselves to share their  opinions of books with the community. With its digital lists, it is also helpful, because it is a record of books that one reds, books one wishes to read, and books one is currently reading. It allows one’s friends to cross-reference and share their updates so their friends can perhaps draw inspiration. It also is a platform on which to follow and connect with the writers themselves. The possibilities are endless, and because it is digital and so user-friendly, the website is a really convenient tool.

Yet for me, this is also a double-edged sword. Over time, the want-to-read and currently-reading lists became a weight. At one point, I noticed that peer reviews would influence my decision of whether I should read a book. I would spend less and less time paying attention to what my friends were reading. My sole focus became the reviews of the books I was interested in.

That answered my question. These days, Goodreads has become another log for me, the digital equivalent of my journal, no more and no less. Ultimately, the way one keeps a record of their reading is a personal choice. Readers are diverse, and their habits even more so. I found what works for me—what does for you?