[As part of our website launch celebration, we're reprinting some of our favorite columns from the past year on homeschoollifemag.com. Enjoy!]
I’ve always been a bit envious of my friends who have something concrete to show for the hours they spend on their favorite pastimes. My friends who knit end up with scarves and cute hats. My friends who run have a collection of t-shirts from various 5ks and 10ks. As a reader, I have never had much to show for the hours spent curled up with a book, ignoring chores, friends and family, and the great outdoors.
But a few years ago I decided to combine my love of reading with my love of lists, and everything changed. First, I started keeping a book journal. I’ve never had the discipline to keep a daily journal of what’s going on in my life, but this came easier. I picked out a cute notebook and began writing down the title, author, and date read for each book, eventually adding a rating system. (It is very satisfying, after an especially infuriating read, to mark down that 1-star-out-of-5 next to the title. Take that, you terrible author who wasted my time with your badly-written morally-corrupt sexist-racist mind-numbingly-derivative unfunny-when-you-think-you’re-funny novel! Consider yourself rated!) I also try to write down what I loved or hated, which is a fairly good substitute for the conversations I’m dying to have about a particular book on those occasions when I don’t have a book club handy. My great-grandkids may not be able to learn much about life in the long-ago 2010s by reading my journals, but they’ll at least know what I thought of the latest Neil Gaiman (4 stars out of 5).
As the stack of notebooks began to accumulate on my bedside table, I decided that I wanted an easy way to rank and sort my have-read list. LibraryThing and Goodreads are two good online options to catalog book collections and maintain various book lists — I use LibraryThing and, every so often, I update my online have-read list with the latest entries from my book journal. Here’s where it really gets fun. Once the books are entered and tagged with various categories (of my own choosing), I can sort them in all kinds of ways. I can tell you that my fiction to nonfiction ratio is about 2:1. I can tell you that my most prolific reading year (since beginning this system) was 2009 (some of my favorite kids/YA fiction that year: Garth Nix’s Keys to the Kingdom series, Ottoline and the Yellow Cat by Chris Riddell), and my least prolific was 2012 (faves of that year included The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne Valente and Ottoline Goes to School by Chris Riddell).
Using LibraryThing’s Stats/Memes section, I can see that my reading is nearly evenly split between male (51%) and female authors (49%) and that I favor living authors (68%) over dead ones (32%). My favorite thing to do, though, is to page through LibraryThing’s list of book awards and honors (updated by members of the online community). For each award — and there are hundreds here — the books are listed with the ones I’ve already read helpfully checked off, so I can see at a glance that of the 1001 Books to Read Before You Die, I’ve got 150 down, 1164 to go. (Since there have been different editions of the 1,001 list, the total number of books included is 1,314, which hardly seems fair.) Seeing the books I’ve read listed by award also helps me find awards that I was previously unfamiliar with, but which seem to do a great job picking books that I’ve loved. The Alex award, given by the ALA to books written for adults that have special appeal for young adults, is an example — after finding that it included several long-time favorites (To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis, The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde, and The Book of Lost Things by John Connolly, just to name a few), I knew I would be returning to find books to add to my to-read list.
I’m not going to tell you how many books are on my to-read list. Suffice to say that even if I don’t add any more books from now on, I’ve got a solid decade (maybe two) of good reading in my future. My to-read list is something to look forward to, something to help me manage my disappointment about all the wonderful books that I can’t quite get to at the moment, that I’ll forget about (in the midst of homeschooling and planning dinner and picking the kids up from dance class) if I don’t keep track somewhere. And while it’s not exactly a scarf or a t-shirt, when I check something off the to-read list, or rank all the fiction I’ve read in 2014, or add another full notebook to the bedside stack, I have a sense of accomplishment in building a lasting record of my reading life.
So in 2015, as you’re considering your reading resolutions (I’ll be trying to break the 2009 record), think about starting your own life-list of books read — or helping your kids start theirs, so they can watch the notebooks stack up, concrete evidence of hours well-spent ignoring chores, friends and family, and the great outdoors. Happy reading!