Do You Keep a Reading Journal?

Gloria's book journal
Gloria’s book journal

One of the unexpected pleasures of Books on the Table has been reconnecting with old friends. I recently heard from Gloria, who worked at Lake Forest Book Store for several years and then moved to Door County, Wisconsin. Gloria, who had a rewarding career as a nurse, turned to bookselling later in life.  Her first job was at Borders back in the days when applicants had to take a difficult test to prove their “bookworthiness”.  In response to “10 Books I’d Save in a Fire (or a Flood)”, Gloria commented:

When I was a child my family home had two devastating fires (one electrical/smoking related and the other set by a sibling playing with matches). No one was ever hurt but many treasured possessions like books and photos were lost. Then as a young mother, I lost my children’s baby pictures to a cold-hearted burglar. So . . . my mind is prepared and my old childhood books are already gone. (After reading two of my current recommendations, Ru and A Constellation of Vital Phenomena, I place my losses in the perspective where they belong.) What I would save now are these little ‘What I Read’ journals. For the last several years I write a short synopsis of everything I read; include the date, my reaction, little tidbits like “bought off the table at LFBS(!)” or “read during January 2014 deep freeze”. As I get older I sometimes don’t remember what I had for dinner last night….these journals refresh my memory of all the many great, and occasional not so great, books I’ve read. I know people who’ve done this much of their lives. Lucky them!

Gloria has met many other book lovers in Door County, including one who has little boxes filled with index cards with information about books she’s read, and one who has a list of all the books she’s read going back to high school. That’s impressive — although when I was in high school, I did have a little journal full of “meaningful” quotes from poems and songs. I would be embarrassed to read that now, especially when I recall that one of those quotes was from the Grateful Dead: “What a long, strange trip it’s been”.

My collection of book journals -- not a word has been written in any of them.
My collection of book journals — not a word has been written in any of them.

I’ve never kept a book journal. I have a collection of  lovely blank books that I bought with the intention of keeping track of the books I’ve read (and want to read)  but those books are still empty. Every time I bought a beautiful hardbound journal, I thought that would be the one that would inspire me to record my reading. Now, I’m trying to remember to list my books  on the “Recently Read” and “In My Stacks” pages of Books on the Table, but I’m not even doing very well with that. I wish I’d kept a journal of all the books I’ve read, starting in childhood. This year, I’m going to keep track of the books I’ve read, and I’m going to keep a list of books I plan to read. It’s certainly an easier resolution to keep than losing 10 pounds or working out every day!

Apparently, even successful authors have difficulty remembering to use their reading journals. While procrastinating this morning, I found a post called “The Reading Resolution” on the Jungle Red Writers (“smart and sassy crime fiction writers”) blog. Deborah Crombie says:

I have attempted, on numerous occasions, to keep track of WHAT I read. I have a book journal, with, well, maybe three pages filled out.  I’ve put books in my personal journal, occasionally. (And don’t ask how long it’s been since I made an entry in that!)  I’ve made notes on what I’m reading now and again in my calendar.

Deborah’s fellow author, Julia Spencer-Fleming, admits to the same problem:

What I DO want to try in 2014 is keeping a book journal. I get so frustrated when someone asks me, “what are you reading?” or we do

The pristine pages of one of my book journals.
The pristine pages of one of my book journals.

one of our book recommendation posts here on JRW, because half the time, I can’t recall the name or author of the great book I devoured just last month!

Does anyone have any suggestions for a really good-looking book journal to make it easier for me?

I’m sorry, Julia, but I have some very good-looking journals and they haven’t made it any easier for me . . . good luck!

To read “The Reading Resolution” blog post, click Jungle Red Writers. Contributors to the blog are Deborah Crombie, Julia Spencer-Fleming, Hallie Ephron, and several other mystery/suspense novelists.


Online Book Roundtable

9781616203160Would you like to participate in a book club that has no meetings . . . no expectations . . . no rules? Welcome to the Online Book Roundtable! I’m not calling it a book club, because the word “club” implies that there are members, requirements, and an organizational structure. The Roundtable will have none of those pesky things. What we’ll do is choose a book each month, and as we read, we’ll comment on the book online (using the “comments” section of Books on the Table). The comment section does NOT require you to provide your name or email address. If you don’t want to provide public comments, please email me at and I’ll incorporate your comments anonymously in the discussion. I’ll provide reviews and related information about the book, and supply some discussion questions as we go along. We will plan on about a 4-6 week period from the time the book is chosen until we finish our discussion and choose the next book.

Here are a couple of interesting links about online book clubs:

The first book selection will be The Art Forger by B.A. Shapiro:

Almost twenty-five years after the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum’s infamous art heist—still the largest unsolved art theft in history—one of the stolen Degas paintings is delivered to the Boston studio of a young artist named Claire Roth. Claire, whose reputation has been tarnished by scandal and who now makes her living reproducing famous works of art for a popular online retailer, has entered into a Faustian bargain with Aiden Markel, a powerful gallery owner. She agrees to forge the Degas in exchange for a one-woman show in his renowned gallery. But as she begins her work, she starts to suspect that this long-missing masterpiece—the very one that had been hanging at the Gardner for one hundred years—may itself be a forgery.

As Claire searches for the truth about the painting’s origins, she finds herself in a desperate race through a labyrinth of trapdoors, dead ends, and deceit, where secrets hidden since the late nineteenth century may be the only evidence that can save her from incrimination. Blending art history with passions of the heart, B. A. Shapiro allows us to smell the oil paint, see the brush strokes, feel the artist’s ambition and the collector’s fanaticism. As she explores the ingenious techniques of forgery and reimagines historical relationships, she reveals both the beauty of the artist’s vision and the ugliness the desire for great art can unleash.

The Art Forger is a thrilling novel about seeing—and not seeing—the secrets that lie beneath the canvas.

B. A. Shapiro lives in Boston and teaches fiction writing at Northeastern University.

Please feel free to comment any time! Since we’re entering into the busy holiday season, let’s read and discuss The Art Forger through mid-December, and then start with a new book in early January.

If your book club has discussed The Art Forger, I’d love to hear about it. The Lake Forest Book Store book club will be talking about the book next Tuesday (11/19) and I’ll report on that meeting.