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The Power Reader's Guide to Reading Logs & Trackers
What do power readers have to say about their preferred methods of tracking and logging? Book Riot's director of content asks for a friend...
I have an embarrassing confession to make.
I am a professional in the world of books. I am a cohost on a podcast about books. I am a writer and an editor. I am known as The Reader among family and friends. You might even call me a Power Reader…
And I do not track my reading.
It’s taken me a while to get to a place where I’m not forever comparing myself to other readers, worrying about how many books I’ve read, whether I’ve read this or that buzzy book, whether I can engage in conversation about the literary canon, and on and on. If there’s one thing I haven’t come to terms with, however, it’s my seeming aversion to any system that might help me track my reading.
Okay, maybe “aversion” is too strong a word. What’s really happening here is that I’ve tried numerous tracking systems and they just don’t stick. I get really excited about them, tell myself, “This year’s gonna be different,” track a handful of titles, and then slowly but surely procrastinate about adding books to the list until another year has gone by and I have to consult my Libro.fm shelves, physical shelves, Libby, and various eBook apps to figure out what the hell I read.
I want to get to the bottom of why certain tracking systems work for some people. I want to know how other people who could be described as Power Readers interact with reading logs, reading journals, reading spreadsheets, and other tools for tracking finished books, TBR books, etc.
So I asked the Book Riot staff and contributors, and some power readers of Instagram (our Instagram followers), to share their thoughts, feelings, and preferences about the process in the hopes of learning something new that might guide me and others like me toward figuring out how to take a real crack at this tracking thing.
When I got the results of my staff survey on reading logs and trackers, I had a good chuckle courtesy of Chief of Staff Rebecca Schinsky’s response to the request to share any strong opinions about these tools:
“I think my only strong opinion about this is that I'm consistently surprised by how strong other people's feelings are about reading tracking!”
I laugh because I’ve now spent no small amount of time trying to figure out why I’m deep enough in my feels about this practice to fall down this particular rabbit hole.
There was a time in my life when it didn’t even occur to me to track my reading—when my only tracking system to speak of was my English curriculum and summer reading lists. Nowadays I find it helpful to track my reading for the purposes of my work — to be better able to draw upon my catalog of books read for podcasting, specifically. Also, when people know you work in books, they tend to come to you for recommendations that fulfill specific desires. But I’m an outlier.
Plenty of people who track their reading are people who do not work in books. You’ve got your power readers who need to know how many books they’ve read in a year; your conscientious readers who want to make sure they’re reading inclusively; your journalers who want to record quotes, imagery, and reflections in addition to tracking — there are countless avenues for various types of readers to explore. So many that entering the world of reading logs and tracking systems can feel overwhelming, especially if you don’t already know what you want to get out of the practice.
That is the point of this exercise. I’m seeking to examine a selection of tracking systems for adult readers, why they speak to the people who found them useful, what people are looking for in tracking systems in general, and why they bother to track at all. I’m doing this in the name of getting closer to an answer about what might speak to people like me — the ever-searching uncertain folks who aspire to be better about tracking their reading, but have struggled to make a practice of it and don’t know if they should bother.
One note before we get into the heart of it. You may have noticed that I specified reading tracking systems for adult readers. There’s a whole world of tracking systems for kids, both mandatory through school and optional or supplemental through literacy programs. In the interest of making an already meaty subject more digestible, I’m not going to attempt to cover that sector of reading logs and tracking. That’s not to say younger readers never touch the tools I’ll cover here.
So, Why Do People Track Reading?
My resistance to tracking reading has foiled me many times over, and I look at it similarly to how I look at journaling. I do not have a great memory, and I know that I could gain a great deal in self reflection and personal insight by journaling, but I don’t make time for it. When it comes to tracking, I similarly anticipate learning something about myself through the books I read and enjoyed. For instance, I know I got over a two-year reading slump through horror novels, but I absolutely see myself forgetting that this one genre helped me out next time I’m slumping. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg — there are, as mentioned, work-related gains to cataloging my reads, and personal gains for being better equipped to recommend books I’ve read, and who knows what else I’ll learn about my reading habits by looking back at my experiences.
When I put the question, “Why track?” on Instagram through a poll, one of the most popular answers was a variation on getting to know oneself and one’s reading habits better through the practice.
Book Riot Contributor PN Hinton spoke to how we track so many aspects of our lives in order to better ourselves, writing in to the survey, and Editor Kelly Jensen put it succinctly: “I don't log for the social connection and I don't care about stars. I use this for ME.”
Still some do it for the pure love of stats, some to make sure they’re reading diversely, and some to keep track of where they are in various series — to share a few write-in answers. Our most popular answer, however, was keeping track of reading goals and accomplishments.
Contributor Susie Dumond wrote:
“I like a spreadsheet format because I use a log to keep track of data about what I read more than as a way to remember specific details and vibes of what I read. With a spreadsheet tracker, I can see if I'm reading as diversely as I aspire to read and notice interesting trends about when I read what genres or formats.”
This gave me a moment of introspection, because I am not someone who reads with goals in mind, so perhaps this is why goals-focused tools never worked for me. Note to self!
Whatever the reason for tracking, there was one work horse to which the vast majority of respondents turned.
I only reluctantly rated books, hated giving stars, and failed miserably at the Goodreads Challenge the one time I tried it.
So, What Are These Tools?
For the last few years, Contributor Tirzah Price has designed a reading log. It’s popular among our readers and writers, and it’s one of myriad tracking systems out there. You’ve got the behemoth that is Goodreads and the beloved relative newcomer The StoryGraph, and then you’ve got your bullet journals, your spreadsheets, and endless online and physical tracking systems designed to meet the various and varied needs of readers everywhere.
Given the choice between Goodreads, The StoryGraph, Book Riot’s reading log, and Bookly, Goodreads got 64% of the vote and The StoryGraph came in second with 29% of the vote. Goodreads also came out on top with 64% of the vote in a poll of our readers back in 2015. That poll offered a different set of options, but I think it’s safe to say that Goodreads, which was founded almost two decades ago, remains a solid favorite.
Goodreads was the first tracking system I used. I joined when I started writing for Book Riot, in fact. I had the foresight to see that it might be helpful to have a record of what I’d read to refer to when writing about my bookish experiences and recommendations as a contributor. One day, soon after signing up, I spent a ridiculous amount of time trying to record every book I’d read (from my earliest days of reading), and then vaguely remembered to throw a few titles at it a handful of times every year. I only reluctantly rated books, hated giving stars, and failed miserably at the Goodreads Challenge the one time I tried it.
It may not work for me, but it has 120 million members. It’s working for someone. Popular as it may be, some of the Goodreads members I polled found it necessary to incorporate other tracking tools into their practice to complement or supplement the platform.
Book Riot Contributor Melissa Baron, wrote:
“Goodreads works for me because it is so easy to update and categorize my reading. My reading journal helps me also easily store and reference favorite quotes, and provides are more visual way of seeing what I’m reading throughout the year.”
In fact, 64% of the surveyed staff and contributors use more than one tool to track their reading. This brings me to my next realization — between the question of why people track and what is essential in a reading log or tracker, I recognized just how diverse the approaches, needs, and wants of readers are when it comes to these tools. Through both, I learned that SO MANY people use their own very personalized systems: self-created tools and combos designed to meet this level of uniqueness.
There’s nothing wrong with a system that works for you, because that’s what it comes down to when you’re looking for that unicorn of a reading log — that it works for you.
You Do You Boo Boo
Sometimes I forget that I don’t always have to rely on what’s out there. There are limitations to my ability to create, sure, but the thing that most often gets in the way of forging my own path is the assumption that I have to shape my own needs around what others have deemed important. That goes for reading trackers. Even with my sieve-like memory, I can look back and see all of the times I decided I needed to track this or that reading habit or stat because it was pre-existing on a spreadsheet or platform. It took me so long to realize I could just click that “Read” button in Goodreads without leaving stars, a review, or categorizing a book.
Moreover, I can create a system to suit my needs as countless readers have done and will continue to do.
Book Riot Contributor Grace Lapointe, who types “notes, quotes, and page numbers into a [private] Word Document” wrote about coming up with a solution that works for her:
“My disability also makes physical organization difficult, so writing in planners by hand or post it notes don't work for me either. I'm very organized when typing on a computer and have done this since I was a preteen.”
I read anecdote upon anecdote about readers coming up with their own solutions or combination of solutions and making the experience work for them. I read bashful Instagram responses where readers admitted to using their Notes app to track reading. If you’re one of those people, based on my polls, you are by no means alone! There’s nothing wrong with a system that works for you, because that’s what it comes down to when you’re looking for that unicorn of a reading log — that it works for you.
Hell, I can keep a piece of paper taped to my desk and call that a reading tracker… and that’s exactly what I’ve done. Because the readers are right — so much of what I read in the responses centered around this one fact: it’s personal.
What I need most right now is a tool so simple and so in my face that I actually use it. What’s simpler than a piece of paper with some months on it? What’s more in my face than the desk I sit at for many hours almost every day?
Director of Editorial Operations Jenn Northington put it nicely with her own strong opinion about tracking:
“It has to work for you. I don't believe there's one true solution that everyone should use, and I don't believe everyone is interested in tracking the same things in their log. Customize, customize, customize!”