Why to Track The Books You Read

Why to Track the Books You Read via GoodreadsIn the comments for a recent post about using Goodreads, Elizabeth asked why should you keep track of the books you read.

I’ve got to admit, the question floored me a bit. Why should you? Why wouldn’t you want to?

I started recording the books I’d finished in a basic Word document – alphabetical by author, then the title of the book. Soon I added the date I finished the book, and a little bit later I added a rating.

I have never once regretted keeping these records; if anything I wish I’d started sooner.

But what’s the advantage? Well, I started it because at the time I was reading a lot of mystery series, and I found it hard to remember where I was in each series – had I read book #3, or was it #4 I just finished? You’d think it’d be simple to remember if I read a book or not, but I found that with series fiction, so much of it stayed the same that the snippets of plot information I could find on the book’s cover wasn’t enough to always help. Then add in familiarity based on detailed reviews or discussions (I was part of an online mystery book club at the time), or even preview chapters included in the previous book and it all resulted in it being way more brain power than I wanted to expend when a few moments of record-keeping could avoid it.

Since I’ve been tracking my reading for so long (since 1999) I’ve found other, unexpected advantages:

  • It’s really easy to set reading goals. Do I want to read more of a certain type of book? It’s clear where my current reading has been lacking. Do I want to read more? Easy to know what, exactly, is “more.”
  • It’s much easier to recommend books. I am terrible at thinking of readalikes off the top of my head. My memory is not good, and I read so many books that the particulars are often hard to remember. By keeping track, I don’t have to remember.
  • I love being able to see how my reading has evolved over time. I love seeing how I’ve gone on reading jags, obsessing over particular topics. I love seeing how changes in my life have been reflected in my reading choices. I love being reminded of what’s made me think, made me cry, made me change.
  • Keeping track of what I’ve read makes obvious my literary quirks. Makes clear my guilty reading pleasures. Makes clear when my interests have changed or I’ve flirted with a new hobby.
  • I’m a stats-nerd, and I love being able to see metrics on my reading. What portion of fiction books do I read verses nonfiction? What was the longest book I read in 2008? Did I read more biographies this year than last? Is any of this information life-saving? No, but it’s fun for me. ๐Ÿ™‚

This doesn’t even touch on the benefits of using Goodreads (or something similar; I keep saying Goodreads because it’s what I use, but there are other options) to keep track of books I want to read. That list can be sorted, and it’s been easy to add a separate shelf to track the books that my library offers as ebooks; when I want to borrow a book on my Kindle it’s easy to look at that shelf and find one.

And, I love love love that Goodreads has an “export” option. I semi-regularly export my data, just as a precautionary measure. If they were to close their site, I haven’t lost all the data I entered, and it’s in a standard format.

I’ll admit, it took a bit of time initially to get all of my data entered, but now the time to maintain it is minimal. If you’re not as ridiculous as me about entering a backlog of data, just entering books as you read them shouldn’t take long. It’s maybe 30 seconds to open the app, type in the ISBN and mark it as read. Add another 30 seconds if I want to add it to particular shelves or include the date that I finished it. So not a big deal, and so worth the effort.


  1. I have kept a written record of the books I read in a journal for at least 12 years. Like you, I read a number of mystery series and have trouble keeping up with where I am in the series for the reasons you mentioned. Like you said, it is so much easier to recommend books when you have a list.
    I have recently finished two of the books you recommended in your 31-day series – 84, Charing Cross Road and I Have Lived a Thousand Years. Loved both of them!

    • I’m not sure when I might have started keeping the list if the need to keep track of where I was in various mystery series hadn’t given me such a big motivation.

      Thanks for letting me know that you enjoyed the two books!

  2. I found an idea some years ago, about listing what books you read in a year. So I did that two or three years. That gave me a record of my books so I could go back to find authors that I liked. I read a lot of books and the years pass by quickly, it is hard to remember what you have read and who wrote it.

    Then I stumbled on the idea of keeping a journal, writing a few sentences about the book, a short book report, if you will. I have been doing that for two years now. When you go back to read those few sentences, it is amazing how much of the book comes back to you.

    One of the reasons I started to track the books I read was because I was in a rut, reading too much fiction, too much of it disappointingly light. I challenged myself to read more nonfiction, I particularly enjoy biographies and history. Also wanted to read (or re-read) more of the classics. I guess you could say I was using my book list as an accountability partner.

    This has been quite a satisfying project.

    Thanks for your great blog!

    • I wish I’d been doing that; my list only included my ratings and very very occasionally a comment, but I think it’d have been helpful if I’d tried writing something brief for them.

      Your phrase about using the book list as an accountability partner is a great way to put it – it works so well in that way.

      What are some of your favorite biographies and history books? If it’s not already obvious, those are some of my favorite types. ๐Ÿ™‚

  3. I am really thinking about starting to record my books (at least what I’m reading) in January. As you can see, I’ve been on Goodreads for a bit, but hardly done much with it. That’s partly because – if I start recording things now – what happens with all the stuff I’ve read up until now? Yes, I know, that’s an all-or-nothing mindset that isn’t particularly helpful. ๐Ÿ™‚
    Also, do you use a phone app? Because it takes me more than 30 seconds to find the book on Goodreads on their regular website. Just wondering….

    • Also, thanks for responding to my comment ๐Ÿ™‚ I’ve been eager to hear your thoughts on this.

      • Thanks for asking the question – it’s not something I’ve thought about the why before, so I appreciated the prompt to articulate my reasons for doing it.

    • I so understand that all-or-nothing mindset.

      I have the GoodReads app for my iPod, and I use it about half of the time. It’s quicker for me to enter the date read via the computer than the app, but either way entering the ISBN makes it fast to find it for me. I’m not sure if I’m searching in a different place/way than you’ve been able to?

  4. Just saw this on Twitter, and I’m so glad to find your blog. I LOVE keeping track of my reads and never really thought why it “speaks” to me so much. You articulated all the benefits perfectly.

    Thanks! Nina

  5. I started tracking my readings about 4 years ago – on a FB application called Visual Bookshelf. I got hooked pretty much immediately, because I had a visual picture of what I’m reading, but also because I could see what other friends are reading. I actually made a few very good friends because of that – friends with a far bigger library than mine at that point, who were generous enough to lend me loads of great titles. So there’s that advantage to tracking your books online, where others can read them, wehre you can check out other people’s collections.
    Unfortunately, Visual Bookshelf didn’t last long, but they did suggest all their users to transfer all their data to Goodreads, and as I was using both at the same time for a while, it was a fairly easy move. Goodreads has grown since, in quality and also in popularity – it’s even more fun now, because more of my friends have joined. I realised I really like stalking people’s reading ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Missed this comment originally somehow – sorry about that!

      That’s nice that Visual Bookshelf gave a suggestion for an alternate resource, and that it was a fairly easy move for you. I know what you mean about stalking people’s reading – I love that too! I’ve gotten new ideas, and been reminded of books I’ve been meaning to read. So much fun!

  6. I’ve been recording book lists for ages, both for myself and long read alouds for the kids. I just started Goodreads recently, and am planning to slowly add my other lists there as well. I had never heard about the export capabilities of Goodreads, but I’m going to look into that.

    • I probably wouldn’t have used Goodreads if it didn’t offer the export capability. Don’t like feeling like my info is stuck in a form I can’t hold for myself. Do I hope to use Goodreads forever and never need it? Yes. Am I that trusting that it will be usable forever? No way.

  7. Great! I learned a lot, thank you for sharing this great post!


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