Is a reading journal worth your time?
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If you’re anything like me, you might have a hard time remembering what you ate for breakfast let alone what you read last week. And we’re definitely not alone in that.
The chronic stress of scrambling around to get everything done can make our brains haywire. Not only does stress limit the amount of working memory you have at any given moment, but over time it can hamper your ability to form and recall memories.
According to an extensive article published by the University of Maryland Medical Center, in stressful situations, the brain secretes a chemical that suppresses “activity in areas at the front of the brain concerned with short-term memory, concentration, inhibition, and rational thought. This sequence of mental events allows a person to react quickly … It also interferes with the ability to handle difficult social or intellectual tasks and behaviors during that time.”
This means that in a busy world, we need to remember to stay calm and give ourselves time to rest. But it also means that it’s really easy to lose track of our reading lists.
How many times has this happened to you? You see the title of a book you remember reading years ago. The warm tinglies bubble up in your heart as you remember how much you loved the book and how it made you feel. Then you try to summarize the book for a friend and come up empty. Characters’ names are a fog, key details are missing, and you find yourself flailing.
If this has never happened to you, I’m honestly pretty jealous. Because forgetting the details of a book you once loved is like losing a close friend. The doors to magical worlds you once explored are suddenly closed to you.
Sometimes I’ve forgotten the titles of books, as well. Could you imagine forgetting a childhood friend’s name? It’s heartbreaking.
Goodreads has reconnected me with some of my long-lost books much the way Facebook has with long-lost friends. But for me, keeping a virtual library of books I once borrowed or owned isn’t enough. If I really want to absorb and remember a story, there’s only one thing that helps: writing about it.
Some people write reviews on Goodreads, Amazon, and/or websites like this one. And that is a wonderful thing to do. It helps authors SO much.
But there’s a more personal alternative for people who don’t wish to air their literary opinions with the whole wide world:
When did reading journals start?
You may not be surprised to learn that the idea came to us from the world of education. In 1933, Louise Rosenblatt published a revolutionary book called Literature as Exploration, which established the precursor to reader response theory. By the late 1970s, this theory of students creating written responses to the works they read had evolved into what many of us remember as “book reports.”
I distinctly remember my 5th-grade teacher in 1995 required each of us to maintain daily journals where we described our day and the books we read in class.
Back then, I absolutely hated it. But now, I’m extremely grateful. With a written record, I can go back and relive those moments and storylines again and again.
(So Mrs. Cogliando/Sarchi, if you’re reading this, I’m sorry for being such a brat back in the day. And THANK YOU!)
But reading journals have moved beyond the classroom. Why?
Why People Keep Reading Journals
- They help us maintain an updated list of the books we read.
- And they allow us to track our reading rate and how it may change over time.
- Reading journals force us to take time to contemplate and rest instead of constantly “doing” and increasing stress levels.
- With hand-written journals, we have the freedom to doodle and add our own flair.
- They help us remember key characters and plot events.
- They provide space for us to interact with the text more critically.
- We can jot down our favorite quotes all in one spot.
- They’re a way to collect evidence to support what makes a book enjoyable or not.
- They reveal how our reading tastes change over time.
- And they showcase which authors and genres we’re drawn to.
- They come in a wide range of styles and colors, so it’s easy to find one that connects with you and improves your mood.
Types of Reading Journals
Readers today who want to track and comment on their reading habits have a number of options. And you probably have personal reading goals and preferences that might benefit from any one or a combination of these formats. Don’t be afraid to experiment until you find a reading journal that’s easy and natural for you.
If you’re a tech-savvy person, you may prefer the hyperlinking and tagging capabilities that digital book journaling allows. You can share your thoughts, interact with authors and other readers, or adjust your accounts to private. These offer some great options for book journaling:
- Blogging (WordPress, Tumblr, Blogger, Medium)
- Social Media (Instagram #bookstagram, Twitter, Facebook)
- Vlogging (Youtube, Vimeo)
- Litsy (A visually-focused social media site focused solely on books)
If you prefer a more hands-on approach and like loose pages that can be reordered however you like, printable reading journals may be a good option for you. You can download them instantly and print journal pages from the comfort of your own home as many times as you like. Many designers on Etsy offer a wide array of printables in a plethora of designs and style.
There are also free ones available like this one I made the other day. Reading journal printables give you the freedom to print from home and organize or shuffle around pages however you like.
If you have a secret love affair with notebooks, like me, this may be more your speed. Long gone are the days where you have to keep book-related notes in a plain, general purpose diary or journal. Now stores like Etsy and Amazon have an abundance of journals dedicated specifically to the art of book logging.
And if you prefer brick and mortar stores, many of these reading logs are also available at major book retailers and in independent bookstores.
If you’d like a step-by-step outline on how to start a reading journal, this post by Dolly Garland does an excellent job of hitting all the major points. If you’re a book journaling pro looking for some inspiration, this post by Esther Lombardi has some wonderful, thought-provoking questions.