How To Keep A Reading Journal

Previously, I wrote an article, 9 Reasons to Keep A Reading Journal. This is a follow-up to that post.  In this post, we will look at specifics of how you go about doing it. 

First, let’s start with a caveat: this is not the only way to keep a reading journal. As I repeatedly mention on Kaizen Journaling, there is no one way to keep any journal. The right way is what works for you. 

However, it doesn’t mean that you can’t learn from others. If you are a beginner, other people’s methods will get you started. Even if you have kept reading journals before, by looking into how other people do it, or by reading articles such as this, you may learn something new. Journaling is a process of continuous improvement, and as such, it should constantly evolve.

First, determine why you want to keep a reading journal. Your why will affect your how. 

How To Keep A Reading Journal

  1. Selecting A Journal
    First obvious question is e-journal or paper journal? While I’m always an advocate for keeping journals by hand, when it comes to reading journals, it is a matter of WHY you want to keep it.If you are keeping a reading journal for personal reasons, to keep track of what you’ve read, or simply to scribble your impressions, then hand-written journal will work.However, if you are keeping a reading journal for research purpose, for a dissertation or for a writing project, then it may be more efficient to keep an electronic reading journal. An electronic reading journal will allow you to easily list sources, which you can use for bibliography. You can also keep track of any links, if you read relevant material on websites. You can also rearrange your notes, in whatever way you need them. By topic, by themes etc.If you decide to keep a paper journal, you can buy a simple notebook (such as regular school books, or supermarket brand notebooks that you can buy for less than a pound), or you can go for better quality (moleskine, rhodia, paperblank). You could also keep a loose-leaf folder, which will allow you to rearrange your entries. You can also buy ready-made reading journals which come with a template (usually, author, title, date, summary etc.)
  2. The Basics
    There are some basic rules of a reading journal, which are useful to follow, no matter what your purpose. Always date your entries. It’s common sense really, but so many people don’t do it. If you are making an effort to keep a record of your reading, when you look back at it, you will want to know when you wrote it. Your impressions are so often affected by everything that’s going on in your life at any given moment. By simply writing down a date, you will be able to reflect back so much more easily. Always write the title and author of the book. While you may think that you will always remember what you were talking about, trust me, you won’t. Save yourself a hassle and a puzzle, and just write down the title and author of the book with every entry you make.
  3. Page Numbers on Quotes
    This is optional. If you are keeping a reading journal for casual purposes, then you don’t need to be fastidious about it.However, if you are keeping a reading journal for professional/academic reasons, and will need to provide sources for any quotes used, then keeping track of page numbers next to your comments will make things easier. It will also save you from having to copy exact and complete quotes. You can simply look them up when you need them, by looking up the page number (assuming you either underlined the quote in the book, or wrote a partial quote in your journal which will tell you what you need to look up.)
  4. Write as you read.
    While you are reading, stop and pause when you come across passages or even lines that make an impression on you. Write down your  thoughts about it. Our impressions often change by the time we finish a book, because by the end, we have all the answers (most of the time).To keep an insightful reading journal, record your insights as they happen.For example, when you begin a book, here are some questions you can ask yourself:Was the book easy to get into?
    If not, what made you keep going?
    Who was the first character you met?
    What did you think of them?

    Then as you continue reading, whenever something strikes you – in a positive or negative way – stop and write about it. You don’t have to write an essay, a mere sentence, or sometimes even a few words or phrases are enough to capture your thought process.

  5. Write your impressions at the end
    After you have finished reading the whole book, write about your overall impression. You can give it a numerical score if you wish.Did you hate it, love it, or did it evoke a more medium response?
    What appealed to you about this book? About the characters?
    What didn’t work for you?
    Did you find anything relatable? Situation or characters?
  6. Technical aspects
    How did you find the language? Were there too many glaring grammatical errors?
    How many points-of-view the writer used? Did it work for you?
    Did the story feel too contrived, or were you swept away in the fictional world?
    How was the use of literary devices such as metaphors and similes?
  7. The book’s impact on you
    Some books change us, or affect us profoundly. They touch us so deeply that just closing the book at the end leaves you stunned. Whether it’s by making you question things, including your own beliefs, or whether by opening a new door you never knew existed, some books have the power to change a life. They have the power to change you. Did this book have that power?
  8. Write whenever you want
    Don’t restrict yourself by too many rules. Write whenever you want. If you skip a day, or a whole book, don’t worry about it. Sometimes you will just want to read for pleasure and nothing else. That’s perfectly okay. Make the reading journal work for you, don’t let it become a chore.

If you have never kept a reading journal before, I hope these two posts have inspired you to give it a try.