Start a Reading List or Remain Listless

This essay was written by Brandon Monk.

“[A] list of books that you reread is like a clearing in the forest: a level, clean, well-lighted place where you set down your burdens and set up your home, your identity, your concerns, your continuity in a world that is at best indifferent, at worst malign. Since you, the reader, are that hero of modern literature, the existential loner, the smallest denominator of moral force, it behooves you to take counsel, sustenance, and solace from the writers who have been writing about you these hundred or give hundred years, to sequester yourself with their books and read and reread them to get a fix on yourself and a purchase on the world that will, with luck, like the house in the clearing, last you for life.” Sissman from Jacobs, Alan. The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction. New York: Oxford UP, 2011. Kindle loc 1696.

“Systematic reading is of little help. Following an official book list, may, by chance, throw up a useful name, as long as we bear in mind the motives behind the lists. But the best guides, I believe, are the reader’s whims….” Manguel, Alberto. A Reader on Reading. New Haven, Conn.: Yale UP, 2010. Kindle loc 217.

For some reading purists, lists are shit and you should read for pure pleasure. I look at lists like a road map, not a tally sheet. A “have read” list gives you reading sense, like a compass might with direction, and can inspire new reading suggestions. A “to read” list assures there’s reading material waiting in the pipeline. Don’t let me confuse you, the list is not a mandate. I can promise you will never find yourself without something to read next if you create a list. Understand though, you should always read for interest, in the moment, to ensure enjoyment.

I used to live trying to remember it all.  As I get older, I realize my memory is far from perfect. I do not want my memory to disappear, but I expect decline. I credit Total Recall  for giving me the idea to create a book list. Bell, C. Gordon., and Jim Gemmell. Total Recall: How the E-memory Revolution Will Change Everything. New York: Dutton, 2009. Print. Life gets more digital daily. As Mr. Bell and Mr. Gemmell correctly conclude, our ability to save and store unlimited information, including digital video, for future use will mean total recall.  So how does this idea apply to a book list?

I recommend you start a note-taking system if for no other reason than to allow your family and friends to see your reading experience.

I use Evernote so I can get to the list anywhere I access the internet. At year-end and year beginning I look back and reflect on the books I read and make a plan for the coming year. I can’t remember as well as I used to and I find reflection easier with a list’s guidance. I don’t use the list as a syllabus to structure the books I must read in the new year. I keep the list for myself alone so it looks ugly.

You might decide to keep a reading calendar instead. I wish I started keeping a calendar earlier. I could have used it as a task organizer and to-do list, but also as a diary. Google calendar gives you this ability. On a day ten years down the road you will want this information and be unable to recall it on your own. Could you write down the book’s title on a calendar? Google calendar’s search function means if you consistently use a key in the event title like [reading list] or even [RL] you can search for the unique character set and generate a list from your calendar.

Even remembering the book’s title can bring back the book’s grip and potentially a crucial idea you took from the book. You can experience the initial reading again before you decide to re-read. Today we read from so many sources like the library, Kindle, and physical book stores, remembering means doing more than looking up at your bookshelf from your chair.

What will you value enough to want to pass it on to your relatives? I think as you get older you will find value the knowledge and experience you acquired the most. You can use a list to share to share your reading experience instantly, and the minute you learn a lesson you can pass on,you will find yourself truly inspired. If you’re list allows you to connect with a niece or nephew or son or daughter then it is worthwhile. Let this project be your first practice creating a digital legacy.

Start a reading list using Evernote or Google Calendar to catalogue your reading. Make one list books you “have read” and one list books you want “to read.” Throughout these lessons I may offer options. Pause. Think about your preference. If a reader insists they possess the reading holy grail, another reader is shouting contradictory instruction over their shoulder. Let preference guide you. List? No list? Evernote? Google Calendar? Something else? Decide what works for you.


  1. Ms Oh Waily

    I wonder if you have considered as an alternative storage and list-creation option?
    Until last year I did not maintain a list of any description, other than my Booklitzer page on the blog, despite having dabbled at Goodreads and LibraryThing earlier on. I now have a ridiculously large number of books to read in my TBR list. I will not live long enough to read them all, but I am certain that there will always be something to read in my life. 🙂

    1. Read.Learn.Write

      Thanks for the recommendation. I actually did make a account, but the biggest problem was in going back and adding the books I had read. I felt like I needed to hire a virtual assistant just to get the account up to date.

      Since then, I have added a few more books that I’ve read, but the list is no where near up to date. I like the idea. I only wish I had started earlier.

      I keep a TBR list in Evernote these days and also randomly pick up things that look interesting. Always keeping that flexibility has been a necessity for me.

      1. Ms Oh Waily

        Indeed entering books that you have read over the years anywhere is never going to be a pleasant chore. A lifetime’s enjoyment is not an hour’s work.
        My GR read list suggests I have only ever read a touch over 400 books and that is certainly not the case. I find that if I reread a favourite I go back and add in any of the author’s other books at the same time. Otherwise I just do batches when the mood takes me. That in itself is a pleasant experience, reminding myself of books that may have been read as a child or young adult a millennium ago. I get to enjoy the book twice this way.

        But I must add a warning. If you venture into the groups or listopia, it may become a little addictive. 😀

        1. Read.Learn.Write

          Good advice! Thank you 🙂

Comments are closed.