These days I own more journals than any other type of physical books. Since moving to Finland and divesting myself of nearly everything I own, I’ve moved to reading ebooks on a tablet. That’s not exactly a cutting edge move, and I know I’m only a few years behind the curve. I continue to write in journals because I love the physicality of pen on paper, the ability to doodle, and the raw power of not having to worry about wifi access or battery life. A journal only does one thing, and it offers no distractions outside of itself.
Over time I’ve moved from having a one-size-fits-all journal to capture everything to different journals for specific purposes. I have one that’s just for self-work and reflection, one for lists, one for raw ideas and data capture, and so on. In upcoming posts I’ll cover each of these but today I want to tell you about the value of a reading journal.
In the front of the book are a few pages listing all of the ebooks that I’ve acquired that I haven’t read yet. I have a weakness for other peoples’ lists; when some blog publishes a list of an author’s favorite books, or essential reading on a topic of interest, I’m there. If they’re free books, they’re downloaded. If they’re on Project Gutenberg, I turn into a kid in a candy store. I write out these lists in the reading journal.
I’m also an incredible suck for “bundle” deals. Various websites now have these limited-time deals where you can get a whole bunch of books by a single author, or on a single topic, for a ridiculously low price. 5 books for 5 bucks, by a writer I like or a subject that fascinates me? I’m in.
My tablet ends up filled with all these books, and I’ve yet to find an ereader that allws me to organize a library in a way that’s meaningful to me. The reading journal does that for me. I make lists by topic, or by author, or by whatever makes sense to me, the way I’d arrange physical books on a shelf. Now I have a clear picture of what I have. As I finish one book and start looking for something else to read, I can consult the lists.
The larger the lists within the journal grow, the more cautious I become about acquiring new books. Buying books used to be a disease with me. In preparing for a move several years ago, I culled 33 boxes of books that I hadn’t read yet. 33 boxes. I sold them off, and made enough money to finance that whole move. With free and cheap ebooks, it’s easy to start falling into that trap. I know how fast I can read, and when I can see the list of unread books, I can gauge how many week, months, or years out I am from ever reading the whole list.
The most important part of the reading journal is this: When I start reading a book, I write the title and the author at the top of the page, and begin taking notes. It doesn’t matter if it’s a business book or a novel, I’m always making notes. Quotes, ideas that pop into my head, insights, everything. It’s not simply a book of lists. It’s a memoir of experiences in reading.
Keeping a journal allows me to read more mindfully. I helps me to remember what authors I liked, and why. It allows me to cross-reference things. It is arguably the most important journal I keep, because it helps me to grow personally and professionally.