I call it my book diary, though my notebooks say "Book Log" on the covers. They're nothing fancy, but keeping a book log is the best thing I've ever done for myself as a writer. It's become a useful tool, allowing me to be more intentional in what I read, to help me think more critically about what I'm reading, and, in some instances, to write the first draft of a review. In 2013, the first year I kept a book diary, I wrote my own VIDA count. My count wasn't great that year, so the next year I set out to read more books by women and people of color. I did a better. I did better in 2015 too. In 2016, I've pushed myself to read more prose, too.
I try to write down my notes as soon after finishing a book as I can to make sure my thoughts are fresh. The first book I recorded, on January 5th, 2013, was Fellowship of the Ring, which I had read for the first time. At the top of the page, I wrote the number 1 to count books. Under that, I wrote the title, author, page count, genre, and the date I finished reading it. With the next entry (Darcie Dennigan's excellent Madame X) I also recorded the publisher and publication year. That format has remained more or less the same ever since. Occasional notes that also get recorded:
- Whether I am reviewing the book
- Who lent it or recommended it (including the library)
- Whether it's part of a series
- The translator's name if the book is translated
- Whether it was a re-read
- Whether I read it out loud (my partner and I read books together this way)
Here's a fairly typical entry. Some things to note:
- These are first draft thoughts that I use to begin articulating how I feel about a particular book
- I rarely write things like "in my opinion," but that's what these are
- Since the book log is not meant to be public, I'm free to write whatever I want without necessarily worrying what others will think (or defending my opinion)
- I sometimes learn a lot from books I don't like. Marianne Moore's work in particular opened up some possibilities for my current manuscript (as you'll see noted)
- I try to note connections between other writers, if I see them, as a way of mapping influence and relating the books I read to a larger conversation
- My grammar and spelling are occasionally atrocious
As I mentioned, I also use my book log to make some notes toward a review, if I'm writing one.
As an example, here's my entry for Sasha Steensen's House of Deer.
And here is the final review posted on Hazel & Wren.
In the past, my first draft for a review was a mess—points that didn't connect to one another, unfinished thoughts, poor structure, and everything else that comes with first drafts. Once I started my book diary, my first draft was more coherent and revisions became less tedious, meaning I could focus on expanding on my points, making my review more nuanced (I hope).
At bare minimum, keeping a record of what books I read allows me to see where my blind spots are and bring in different and diverse types of books. All of which means I'm reading more broadly, which will (I hope) add nuance and depth to my own work. I look forward to revisiting some of my favorites from my book log and comparing how my thoughts have changed. I also look forward to being able to look back on many years worth of reading. I'm so glad my friend asked me about my favorite books I'd read in 2012 or I'd never have this record.