My New and Improved (and Automated!) Reading List

A stacked date list plot of the number of books I've read by year since 1996

Late last year, I set 3 goals for myself for 2023: (1) consolidate the apps that I use; (2) simplify; and (3) automate repetitive tasks.

One repetitive task I’ve been dealing with for decades is maintaining and publishing my reading list. I started keeping my reading list back in 1996 in order to track a goal that I’d set for myself: to read one book per week. Initially, the reading list was in a text file. That was followed by Excel, HTML on an early website, a SQL database, more HTML, a plain text file on GitHub, and most recently, a markdown file that I host through Obsidian Publish.

None of my “routine” tasks have proved more time-consuming than maintaining this list. Frequently, I update in one place, and then have to make similar updates in other places to keep everything in sync. If I could automate this, it would be a huge win. Recently, this is just what I have done.

I created an Excel spreadsheet which is now my canonical master reading list. This is the only place I make updates. I wrote a Wolfram Language script that generates my reading list markdown file as well as a new reading stats page from the spreadsheet. I then simply publish the changes in Obsidian Publish, and presto! A single process for doing it all!

You can see the results on my reading list site. In addition to automatically generating the list, my script also produces the new Reading Stats page, which has all kinds of charts and visualizes of my reading over the decades, with more in the works. I no longer have to do this manually myself, and it has proven a big timesaver already.

To cap things off, I wrote a new About the List page, which gives the history of my reading list and provides an FAQ. Eventually, I’m looking to automate this further by having Wolfram Language detect when my reading list file is updated and automatically produce the updated files, and publish them.

I’m pleased with this new process since it saves measurable amounts of time (considering how much I read and, therefore, how frequently I’m updating my list), which means more time for other things. Like writing more here on the blog.

Written on 6 May 2023.

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