I first talked about wanting to keep a reading journal in a post about my 2017 reading goals. I’m here now about 3 months later to update you on how that has been going and to allow you a peek inside my journal in the hopes it gets you inspired to start one of your own! Obviously, there are many ways that you might go about keeping a reading journal; this is just the one I’ve chosen. If you think it’ll work for you, great! If not, hopefully you’re inspired to play around until you figure out what works for you. Let’s take a look!
Why a Reading Journal?
When I initially discussed the intention to keep a reading journal this year, I mentioned that it was a way for me to connect with what I was reading on a deeper level. That is the short answer for why I’ve decided to do this and why I’ve decided to keep doing it. I’ll get into what that means for me a bit more when I talk about my journal process. Journaling is also a great way to increase memory retention. How many of us have read books we barely recall the general plot to, let alone the finer points? It can be so easy to forget! Writing things down, even if you don’t go back and read them later, improves your ability to remember things. You’ve probably already discovered this for yourself at some point. It’s totally true with reading too! One thing I always feel bad about after reading a book I really liked is not being able to find all those quotes that really spoke to me. Don’t let this happen to you again! Guess what? You can write those down too! You may not remember them verbatim, but you’ll know where to look to find them again.
In an ideal world, I’d have a pen and paper out at all times when I’m reading so that I can quick jot down thoughts, quotes, page numbers and other notes as I go. Unfortunately, that’s just not practical for me and even if I have the tools on hand, pausing to make notations can be disruptive to the flow of what I’m reading. I still haven’t worked out the ideal solution here, but for now what’s been working is to take a snapshot on my phone of a passage that I know I want to return to. If necessary, I might type a line or two of my own thoughts in my phone’s notes or even record a quick voice memo as well. As impractical as it is to always have my journal at hand, I definitely always have my phone nearby. This allows me to capture a reminder in just a couple of seconds and then I’m right back to reading. Later, I can return to the photos or notes that I’ve taken once I’m at a good stopping point or have my journal handy.
Typically, I don’t sit down with my reading journal until after I’m finished with the book. That way I’ve got a complete look at what I want to do, say or examine in my journal. I get out all my photos and see if I can recreate the moment with those passages. I’ll make a note of any quotes I want to copy down into the journal. Some books (say it’s a collection of essays) are easier to break up and think or write about in separate pieces.
Now, I like to keep my reading journal as neat and nice as possible. So long as I’m not really scratching notes directly into the notebook anyway, I may as well take the time to make it worth hanging onto. I like to decorate my journal entries with the occasional quote or drawing. Some turn out better than others, but that’s the way it goes. It’s still a fun way for me to connect with what I’m reading and brings a little bit of color and excitement to the otherwise drab interior. Okay, so “excitement” may be somewhat of a stretch, but you get the idea. They make me happy to look at and that’s all that matters!
Usually, I’ll make a little heading out of the book’s title and decorate it with markers and a related doodle. I don’t get too meticulous with other details, such as the author’s name, publication date or the dates I read it, but these are things you might consider including in your own journal. Goodreads keeps track of all of that for me, so I don’t find it necessary. Mostly, I want to move right on to the meat of why I’m there: writing down thoughts on what I’ve just read.
What I Write About
I like to distinguish what I’m doing in my journal from, say, writing a review. But sometimes there really isn’t much of a difference. Let me explain what I mean. When I think of a review, I tend to think of a reviewer passing some sort of judgement on what they’ve read and either recommending it or not to other readers. Reviews, of course, can be and usually are more complicated than a simple thumb’s up or down. But, either way, what I’m getting at is rarely focused on whether or not anyone else is going to read this book ever again. That isn’t the connection I’m driving at in my journal. Sometimes, my own personal feelings on whether I thought the book was “good” or “bad” never really enter into my journal entries. What I AM concerned with is what I think the book, its characters, its plot and any other elements of it are saying. What was the point of what I just read? If it was entertaining, great, but what more can I find there? What work is this book getting done? What does this book have to say about friendship, betrayal, class, dreams, gender, the human condition or life in general? These are the questions I’m getting at when I talk about connecting with a book.
What You Should Write About
You might find that my process brings back too many bad memories of homework for your taste, and that’s just fine! You might enjoy writing out a list of the quotes that meant something to you, instead. Or maybe you’d prefer writing more of a review or recommendation. No need to worry about spoiler warnings in your own journal. Maybe simply keeping a list of what you read and when is all you need. This is your journal; it’s completely up to you! I think it would be really neat to see a reading journal that’s done completely in drawing or painting. No writing at all! Or what if, for each book, you wrote a letter from one of the characters to another? Use your imagination. Try a couple of different entries out and see what fits. Find a new way to connect with what you’re reading. If you find yourself feeling stuck, don’t put too much pressure on yourself, but rather do what interests you or comes naturally. Keep it fun so you keep coming back to it.
Do you keep a reading journal? What has worked for you?
Happy reading AND writing!