I started tracking the books I read in 1996. I was 24 years old, and given that I am not quite 45 at the time of this writing, it means I’ve been tracking what I read for nearly half my life.
Over the years, the form my list has taken has changed, but it has always been available online. There were versions that were in a database, with different front ends. But it became too much to manage, and a few years back I moved it to a simple text file, which I keep in GitHub, where anyone can view it.
As of this writing, there are 661 books on my list. I no longer track the length of the books. I tend to read more longer books than shorter ones. 661 books in 21+ years seems like a lot to me. But then I see other people’s lists and my list pales in comparison.
I enjoy browsing other people’s lists of books that they have read, especially when they are home-grown lists, not lists contained in a service like Goodreads. Despite my love for reading, sites like Goodreads and LibraryThing never caught on with me. The trouble is, there are so few people out there publishing home-grown list of what they’ve read.
The one I’ve followed the longest is What I Have Read Since 1974, maintained by Eric Leuliette. His list currently contains 2,808 books that he has read since 1974.
Another list that has always impressed me is the list of books that Art Garfunkel has read since 1968. His list, through 2016, contains 1,246 books, nearly double what I have on my list.
Just as I was inspired to keep a list of books I’ve read by seeing other people’s lists, a few people have been inspired by mine. I recently came across the list of books that Heather Wardell has read, for example.
I have a few simple rules for keeping track of what I read. These rules have evolved over the 20+ years I’ve kept my list in one form or another. They work well for me, and I present them here in case anyone finds them useful:
- I keep the list in plain text. Plain text isn’t going away, doesn’t require special software, and is easy to maintain. As I mention, I host my plain text file on GitHub so that I can share it with anyone.
- I include one book per line. This makes it easy to get a count of how many books you’ve read. In GitHub, the file shows line numbers, which makes it even easier.
- I only include books I’ve finished. Books I am currently reading don’t appear on the list until I’ve finished them. Books I don’t finish, no matter how far along I got, don’t get onto the list.
- I keep track of the title, the author, and the date I finished reading the book. I don’t worry about fiction or nonfiction, or the classification of the book. I can look that stuff up if I want.
- I do like to know the medium I read the book in. An e-book gets a + after the title; an audiobook gets an @ after the title. A paper book gets no special adornment.
- I don’t rate the books. I don’t find rating useful. That said, a book which struck me, and which I would definitely recommend to others gets an * after the title.
- I sometimes re-read books. Those titles will appear on the list more than once, but subsequent readings are marked with an ^.
I like keeping my list, and I like to watch it grow. In many ways the list acts as a kind of autobiography for me. For reasons I can’t explain, I can look at a title on the list, and remember very well where I was when I read that book.
Do you have a home-spun reading list (i.e. one that is not maintained in Goodreads, LibraryThing, etc.)? I’d love to see it! Drop the link in the comments.