I can come to your library, book club meeting, or conference to talk about how to help your readers find their next good read. Click here for more information.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Monday Discussion: Keeing Track of Your Reading

One of my 10 Rules of Basic RA Service is "write down adjectives about what you read; plot you can find."

I follow my own rule by writing about what I read here on this blog using the What I'm Reading tag.

There are many reasons to write down what you read.  The first is quite simply so you can remember something about the book later.  I say write down adjectives because you really can find the plot easily these days.  However, the details about the pacing, storyline, characters, tone, mood, style and language are very difficult to recall unless you write them down somewhere.

Who should do this?  I think anyone who is an avid reader should be recording their thoughts about what they read.  Otherwise, you will never remember why you liked or disliked a book.  It will help you to also remember an author you may want to go back to some day.

For librarians, I have to say bluntly, why read anything at all of you are not going to record the appeal of the book?  How can you use your reading to help patrons if you have nothing to refer back to.  The best way I can explain this is through an actual patron transaction I had at the desk last week

A patron came by to show me the audio book she had just checked out.  It was American Creation: Triumphs and Tragedies in the Founding of the Republic by Joseph Ellis.  She asked me if I'd read it.  I knew I had read it; actually, I remembered listening to it, but besides knowing a bit about Ellis as a writer, I could not remember any details about the book.  But no fear, I searched this blog for "American Creation Ellis" and here is what I found:
 On a completely different note, I also read American Creation: Triumphs, Tragedies, at the Founding of the Republic by Joseph Ellis. Here, Revolutionary Era historian Ellis focuses on six situations during the crucial years of the Revolutionary Era and looks at them in isolation from start to finish. What I most enjoyed here was that each situation got a full treatment. For example, the discussion about how Washington and Company dealt with the Native American question had its own chance to be told without forcing it to fit into the larger narrative of the times. This history book reads more like a book of essays or even short stories. Ellis introduces each piece and lets the reader know who the main players will be. I also enjoyed how Ellis is not afraid to point out where these Revolutionary heroes failed.

Overall I enjoyed the book; it also helped that I read it over the Fourth of July holiday. However, I was getting a bit bored of it by the end. Those who are interested in the Revolutionary Era could try other books by Ellis, but I would also suggest David McCullough's John Adams or 1776 as must reads. There is also Ron Chernow's Alexander Hamilton or Founding Mothers by Cokie Roberts . For a fiction option, Howard Fast's April Morning is worth a look.
You can see that there is very little plot in this review.  I wrote down what I needed to most remember about the book.  In this case, how it reads more like separate essays or even short stories.  I also noted how Ellis points out the failures in our national heroes.  These are key issues which may steer a potential reader toward or away from this book.  I would not have remembered this level of details without writing down the adjectives about what I am reading.  In other words, I would have been no help to this particular patron if I hadn't written something down, somewhere.

Obviously, if I had not read the book, I would have had to use other resources to find her some information, but in this case I had read it.  What's the use of reading it, if I can't recall anything about the book when someone asks about it 2.5 years later.

But not everyone out there is going to have a blog to record their reading.  A simple notebook with the title, author and a few phrases would work, but that is not search-able.  I highly recommend using a free online service like Shelfari (here is a link to my shelf),  LibraryThing, or  goodreads.  You can keep track of what you ARE reading, what you HAVE read and what you WANT to read all in one place.  And the best part is that you can access it anywhere you have Internet access.  My lists and thoughts about these books literally follows me wherever I go.

So for today's Monday discussion, I want to know if you keep track of your reading, and if so, what do you write down?   Where do you keep the information and how do you recall it?

For the full Monday Discussion Archive click here.


Jackie, BPL Youth Services said...

I agree...I have to keep a record of what I've read since I try to read about a book-a-day. There is absolutely no way I would remember without some sort of jog to my memory.

I use Goodreads for books I've read whether I own them or not. For my Goodreads account, I have an extensive list of tags (more than any non-librarian would ever want)...since this helps me in my readers' advisory role when finding books for youth at the library.

I use Librarything for books that I own, but not necessarily those that I have read yet. This gives me a handle on my purchases so I don't duplicate them :-).

I'm not a huge fan of Shelfari. It doesn't suit my needs as well as the others, yet I do have an account on that one, too. I started that one when the kids at the district where I used to work created groups to discuss books.

I find these tools immensely helpful in my work and love reading other reviews.

Look for me on Goodreads!

Alissa W said...

This is an excellent point. I encourage all our reference staff members to have an account on goodreads and refer to it while at the desk. I recently started writing a book column for our local paper and find that when I go back into goodreads, I haven't shared enough of the appeal in my review. I'm working to do better at that. Thanks for the reminder of why it's important!

John BPL RA said...

I must confess that when it comes to books I own, I keep notes on the blank pages at the end of the book! Sometimes I even write on the actual text pages. I know this is not very respectful to books but it is a great way to record your thoughts and useful info on what you have read. In my defense, I use pencil and NEVER write in library books.

Laurie C said...

To your advice I would add, "...and do it right away."
I intend to jot down a few notes on every book I read, but often put it off because I don't have time or I'm eager to get on to the next book, and then I forget what I was going to write down.

Chris M said...

I use a thumb drive with an Excel file. I have tried Goodreads but can't seem to remember to update it, yet I am consistent about updating the Excel file. I keep track of title, author, and include a short blurb regarding my thoughts about the book. It's usually enough to jog my memory for more details, and it comes in handy.

Cari said...

I write the info in a notebook that I keep with all my books. I am a member of Shelfari and Goodreads, my library has an internal way to keep track of items, and soon we'll be able to keep track of them using Bibliocommons (our new catalog). But I'm not consistent about updating any of those, probably because there are so many of them!