How and Why to Keep a Reading Journal

How and Why to Keep a Reading Journal

I am a reading addict. I love reading books, listening to books, thinking about books, browsing bookshelves in stores and libraries, and sorting through online lists of books to read.

I have so many books labeled “To Read” on GoodReads that I’m pretty sure I’ll never get through them all. But here’s hoping!

In an effort to read more broadly a few years ago, I began participating in the PopSugar Reading Challenge. Each year the list has new 50 book categories.

The categories range from specific genres to very broad descriptions like “a book with a blue cover.”

How and Why to Keep a Reading Journal

This challenge has helped me find a reason to read a lot of those “To Read” books and made me read books I may not have normally chosen, which has been both good and bad.

It turns out there are some genres I just don’t like. LitRPG? No, thanks.

But how do I keep track of everything I’ve read? How do I remember what I liked or didn’t like or if I abandoned a book that wasn’t engaging me?

The answer is simple: I keep a reading journal.

What is a reading journal?

A reading journal is just a way to keep track of books: books you’ve read, books you want to read, books recommended by others, any books at all.

It can be a notebook dedicated just for this purpose. It can be a portion of your existing journal or bullet journal (my favorite method). It can be a list in the back of your planner or in the Notes on your phone.

There are many methods for keeping a reading journal. It all depends on what exactly you want to keep track of and how detailed you want to be.

It can be whatever and wherever you need it to be.

How and Why to Keep a Reading Journal

My reading journal

My reading journal takes on a couple of different forms, both in my bullet journal and digitally.

First, I have a journal page with a full list of categories for my reading challenge. I leave room beside or beneath the category to add in which book I read for that category and when.

Along with a 1-5 star rating for how much I enjoyed it. This takes up two full pages in my bullet journal.

On another page, I have a bar graph where I track the number of books I read in different genres. I try to read a mix of contemporary and classic fiction, but I also enjoy YA and sci-fi from time to time.

I also include space for romance novels, a guilty pleasure, and nonfiction, a recently discovered love.

I also have a page that I fill throughout the year with quotes from books that I find especially interesting or meaningful. Admittedly, this is a lot harder now that I’m listening to more audiobooks, but with paper books or eBooks, it’s nice to stop for a moment and reflect on the words.

How and Why to Keep a Reading Journal

In addition to my yearly reading challenge, I have a couple of digital book lists created by other people that I’ve been working my way through slowly and checking off as I go.

If one of these books happens to match a reading challenge category, I consider it a double win.

Some of my favorites have been from the list of independent reading options assigned in my AP English class 15 years ago.

Keeping a dedicated reading journal

If you’re not into bullet journals or planners, you can also keep a journal dedicated only to your reading.

So what do you need? And how do you organize it?

First, you want this to be something you’ll enjoy and not a chore, so start with supplies that make you happy. You could buy a premade reading journal, but then you don’t get to organize it the way you want it. Where’s the fun in that?

Starting a brand new reading journal is an opportunity to choose a beautiful new notebook and some colorful pens or markers. Maybe even buy yourself some cute stickers and washi tape to decorate the journal. Be still my nerdy, school supply-loving heart.

How and Why to Keep a Reading Journal

Inside, you’ll want to give yourself a couple of pages to use as a table of contents. You don’t have to plan out everything that will go into the journal from the beginning; just leave yourself space and fill it in as you add to the journal.

The first few pages are a good place to write down your reading goals. Do you want to read a specific number of books this year? Do you have particular books you want to read? Do you want to complete a reading challenge?

If you want to get cute and creative, you could make a book bingo board for the year. Or if you’re a little bit artistic, you could draw a bookshelf that you add books to as you read. (Just let Pinterest and Instagram be your inspiration!)

As you read throughout the year, give each book you read its own page (or two). On that page, you’ll want to label it with the title and author, of course, but what else should you include? Consider any and all of the following:

  • Date started
  • Date finished (or abandoned)
  • The format you read (paper, eBook, audiobook)
  • Genre
  • A picture of the cover
  • A rating
  • A review
  • Quotes from the book
  • Page count
  • General thoughts, comments, questions generated by the book
  • What made you read it in the first place (Did someone recommend it?)
  • A short summary
  • Thoughts about characters
  • Strengths and weaknesses
  • Tips for your own writing
  • Images, drawings, and art related to or inspired by the book
How and Why to Keep a Reading Journal

You might also include pages for lists of authors you like and want to revisit, books you want to reread, recommendations from other book lovers, books you loved this year, books you hated this year, and books you couldn’t even finish.

If you like charts and graphs, there are a few different ways to track your reading data. I have a bar graph that shows how many books I’ve read in each genre.

You could also track the number of pages you read each month, or how many books. Later, you can use this data to compare one year to the next.

As you add pages in your journal, make sure you add them into the table of contents so you can find it later.

Why keep a reading journal?

One thing I love about keeping a reading journal is having that tangible evidence of what I’ve accomplished. I love the feeling of checking off a box on my Reading Challenge list.

A reading journal can also help you to be super prepared for your next book club meeting.

Or it can just help you make reading a priority in your life. It allows you time to focus on what you’re reading, why you’re reading it, and why reading is important to you.

How and Why to Keep a Reading Journal

And if you’re like me, you sometimes lose track of the books you want to read, the books you’ve already read, and the books you started but never finished for one reason or another.

It’s annoying to check out an eBook from the library only to discover that you’d already started it, gotten 30% of the way through it, and gave up.

A reading journal can help with all of these problems.

Do you want to make notes for yourself for a future writing project? Do it!

Do you want to write book reviews for yourself or to share with a friend? Add that in!

Do you want to dedicate a page to quotes from the book you found moving or especially profound or beautiful? Do that too!

There’s no wrong answer.

Tips for keeping a reading journal

As mentioned, there are many different ways you can keep track of your reading. But if you truly want to make reading and tracking a priority, there are a few things you can do to make it work for you.

How and Why to Keep a Reading Journal
  • Much like reading a book, you have to dedicate time and space to the keeping of a journal. If you intend to keep detailed records of your reading, you don’t want to rush through and you don’t want to put it off until later. You don’t want to forget that amazing line you just read!
  • Keep your reading journal near your book or your e-reader, so that it’s always nearby when you need it.
  • Track all the books you read. Include books you abandon or don’t like, not just the ones you love.
  • Every now and then, take some time to review what you’ve read and what you thought about those books. You might uncover some preferences or patterns in your reading that you hadn’t thought about before.
  • Share your accomplishments and reviews with your book-loving friends. As an English teacher and just a book lover, I get asked for book recommendations a lot. I don’t even have to think about it! I have easily accessible lists in my notebook and on my phone.

Whatever you want to include in your journal, it’s totally up to you! What are some of your reading journal tips?

About the Author

Katie read about 100 books every year, thanks to ebooks and audiobooks. She enjoys a variety of genres and will read almost anything. When not reading, she is an English teacher near Cincinnati, Ohio.

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