While talking to librarians about their favourite reading lists and compiling my own, the topic of reading journals came up. I find mine indispensable, mostly for making notes on manuscripts that I'm reading - it could well be up to eight months later when the book is published and I'm talking about it as a Dewey pick. I like to jot down first impressions, the odd quote and comps to other writers or books that come immediately to mind. I've kept a reading journal for almost fifteen years now and they are an odd assortment of various sized notebooks and journals. I used to record the number of books I annually bought (and the amount I spent) but that got too scary and I've since stopped. Now I use a Moleskin Weekly Planner that has the week boxed out on the left hand side and a blank, lined page on the right for notes. I also record the plays and movies that I've seen along with key appointments and various bits of miscellany - and it all fits easily into my purse. My reading journal has evolved into a series of little black books of my social and cultural life for that year and it's fun to look back and leaf through them.
A couple of years ago, I put together some tips for starting your own reading diary for our now defunct READ magazine. Here they are in case anyone feels inspired come January.
1. Begin with a beautiful notebook or journal that inspires you to write in it. Many stationery stores carry specific reading journals. You can also use a diary or a blank notebook. It should be small and light enough to tuck into a purse or briefcase.
2. Give yourself lots of space for each entry, at least one page. Put the date you started the book and why you picked that particular book to read. Was it a suggestion from a friend? Did you read a good review? Did the cover catch your eye? Is this a book from your adolescence that you are re-reading?
3. Record where you are and what you are doing while reading the book. Perhaps you are on holiday at a friend’s cottage, or travelling between cities on a Eurorail pass. Maybe you are reading your latest book club pick or an assigned novel for school. How does the place and purpose affect your enjoyment (or not) of the book?
4. As you are reading, use your journal to write down favourite quotes or lines. Improve your vocabulary by jotting down words you had to look up in the dictionary, along with their definitions.
5. When you have finished, write your impressions of the book. Did it meet your expectations or completely surprise you? What will you remember the most? What didn’t you like about it? You can even start your own rating system and give the book so many “stars” out of ten.
6. You can also use a reading diary to keep a running list of books you want to read, which is handy for those impulsive stops at a bookstore or library. If bookstores, new or used, are a destination point when you travel, keep a list of addresses and telephone numbers handy. If you are a voracious book buyer, you might be interested in recording the amount of money you spend on books annually, always keeping in mind that book collecting is the least harmful of all addictions.
7. Most importantly, make sure that when the year is up, or the journal is full, you go back and re-read your entries. A reading diary can provide a fascinating snapshot of your life; what we choose to read reflects our changing moods, friendships, lifestyles and intellectual curiosities. If you like reading bestsellers or literary prize winners, it can also provide a historical capsule of cultural trends.
8. Every few years, go back and re-read a book from either your childhood or one of your previous reading diaries and note how much you — and thus surprisingly, the book — has changed.