Right around the start of the year, everyone started asking, what’s the best way to keep track of what books you’ve read? Preparing already, no doubt, for their 2014 In Review posts.
I’d been wondering, too. A lot of the options either seemed to be too minimal, or biased only towards physical media (scan-the-barcode apps overrun this market) or — heaven forbid — far too focused on social features and other nonsense. I hummed and hawed.
But what, really, did I need? Too often I find myself swayed by pretty things, trying to cram my needs into whatever feature set is granted by the pig with the nicest shade of lipstick. What’s the point of keeping track of what you read, anyway? I considered, and came up with a few things.
I’ve tried journalling almost every year since I was quite young. I always get a nice notebook and a cool pen and write half an entry then give up. It feels like a waste of time to be writing something no one will ever read, and not much fun. Keeping track of what books I’ve read, however, is a kind of journalling that I can actually manage to do, and enjoy. It’s much more subtle, but I think you can read between the lines in a list of what books someone read. For example, last year I went through a long period where I was too stressed to read anything other than big gulps of the Wheel of Time series (the corn chips of high fantasy).
I knew I wanted the list to be shareable and exportable into a easily manipulated format. Not just for my future self, but also because I know how much I enjoy seeing other people’s similar lists. Reading this post by Patrick Rhone got me thinking along these lines and prompted me to share some of my favorite books from 2013 in my review post. If you’re anything like me you’re always on the lookout for books to try. The iBooks/Amazon store is a daunting place — and I never trust the recommendations. I’d rather someone whose opinion I already trust tell me what they liked. So it made sense to make my list available to others — to return the favor.
I also wanted to be able to return to series that I hadn’t finished, and authors who I’d like to read more of.
Of course, it’s really most helpful because I read enough that I quickly lose track of what I’ve read already. I’ve gotten a few pages into a few books and realized I only finished reading them months ago (too short a distance for all but the absolute favorites).
With these things in mind I researched a lot of different apps and web services. I found them all wanting. I was beginning to despair when I came across this post by Jamie Rubin, wherein he details his plain-text method of tracking books read. Not only that, he has made it available in a nice format for anyone who visits his site.
I was immediately taken by the idea. I still use text files a lot for notes (though not for writing) and it’s easy for me to add a line to a text file in my Dropbox, using a combination of TextExpander and whatever editor is nearest. Not only that, I thought I could improve on the system a little.
First, I’ve started my list in CSV format, which should make it very amenable to manipulation and sorting in future. I haven’t made the distinction between ebooks and regular books, because it seems less and less relevant. It does, however, allow for three categories: exceptional, re-read, and audiobook.
Second, I’ve put together a hack to display this file on any webpage in an attractive, sortable manner. You can use it yourself, if you like. In fact, I’d really love if you did, and let me know. I’m always on the lookout for new books to read!
My Books Read list is available at crateofpenguins.com/read.