Friday, July 31, 2009

A Book Lover's Diary

"In the shop window you have promptly identified the cover with the title you were looking for. Following this visual trail, you have forced your way through the shop past the thick barricade of Books You Haven't Read, which were frowning at you from the tables and shelves, trying to cow you . . . And thus you pass the outer girdle of ramparts, but then you are attacked by the infantry of Books That If You Had More Than One Life You Would Certainly Also Read But Unfortunately Your Days Are Numbered. With a rapid maneuver you bypass them and move into the phalanxes of the Books You Mean To Read But There Are Others You Must Read First, the Books Too Expensive Now And You'll Wait Till They're Remaindered, the Books Ditto When They Come Out In Paperback, Books You Can Borrow From Somebody, Books That Everybody's Read So It's As If You Had Read Them, Too. "

- Italo Calvino, If on a Winter's Night a Traveler, quoted in A Book Lover's Diary (Firefly Books 1996)

Many times I have found myself staring at bookshelves with my mind not quite fully present. In libraries, used bookstores, coffee shops -- anywhere they are loaned or sold.

"I can't remember which book I wanted so badly. What was the title of that fabulous volume on building a strong marriage? How about that Victorian novelist I've been meaning to try? And wasn't there a book on woodworking that my husband would love for his birthday? Is this the one? "

Then there are the conversations I get into which are about books. I have been stopped midsentence, more often than I would like to remember, because I can't recall the title of a book I read several years ago. It might be a book I disliked, dropped before I finished, or one that I loved and lived in. I still forget their titles and author's names. I always have this sneaky feeling that I am disrespecting these writers and their hard work when I can't remember them. But even more uncomfortable is the feeling that such a book would help a particular person and it's right outside the reach of my mind at the moment.

A friend helpfully offered to me, on several recent occasions, that "forgetfulness is part of the life around menopause. You will get your memory back when it's over." But honestly, this has been going on for a very long time. Once I had children and began to lose sleep, my mental prowess lost some of it's edge. Or maybe it was that I was suddenly keeping up with so much more inside my head.

Regardless, I have been rescued.

I stumbled across A Book Lover's Diary (Firefly 1996) online while shopping for journals this winter. The description sounded too good to pass up. When I found a good used volume at ABE Books for $1.00, I ordered it immediately. This was a very smart decision.

The book's dimensions are about the size of a large index card. It has just over 125 pages. Its hardcover binding makes it sturdy enough to withstand frequent use and travel. It fits neatly into my purse, tote, suitcase, or book bag. The pages are made of silky paper that readily absorbs the ink from my pen.

The contents include pages on which I can record:
  • Books I want to read
  • Books I have read, either by title, author, or by subject
  • Books I want to own
  • The sharing of books (loans, gifts, possibilities)
  • Notes and information pertaining to book groups
  • Book passages (quotes, their significance)
  • Address Section for libraries, bookstores, book groups, and all places related to books
I have asked some of my bloggy friends how they keep track of this kind of information. Some of them keep it in the same place where they record what their children are reading. Others keep records in a computer file, or on a blog they host, or in an online program. One person I know just keeps a running list on an index card that he wears in his shirt pocket. These options all sound intriguing.

Except for one thing. They don't work for me.

I would have to remember the list and take it with me. I lose track of index cards and floating pieces of paper after a day or two. If I recorded my book lists with school records, then I would have to bring the school notebook with me or pull out a page of the school notebooks. If I used a computer, I would need to print out the information and take it along. I would also have to make new copies when I made updates.

Most of my book adventures are not planned in advance. Libraries and bookstores are a place where I relax, rather than a destination I plan to reach. Even more frustrating, I often find myself there unexpectedly. As we are doing other errands, we see an inviting bookstore and walk in the door, and there I am -- trying to remember again. I need something portable and of significant size and weight to stay with me. I need something that carries in a permanent way the trail of ideas and authors I have entertained.

This little book did all that for me. I am actually using it. Sometimes I do write my information on the wrong page. There are days when my handwriting is full of errors and I must strike through a line and make a mess (arrrggghhh) on the silky paper, but it's my mess -- my very own, messy trail through the joys of the written word.

I'm glad I found it.

Please note: I did not receive any compensation or free merchandise in exchange for my written review or my opinion about this book.


Have you ever had this problem? How do you keep track of your books?


  1. I keep track of them by recording them in the back of a journal, but the trouble is I fill the pages and set it aside. The list is contemporaneous with what's happening on the pages of my life, but then it too gets put aside.

    I like your idea.

  2. I found you through a link from Ann Voskamp earlier in the week and I'm enjoying your posts a lot.
    My "book-keeping" strategies are not at all organized. If I'm out and I see a title that intrigues me, I scribble down the title or ISBN on scrap paper from my wallet. Then later when I clear out my wallet, I transfer those scribblings to a file on my computer for book lists.
    Not so handy! Your book journal sounds very helpful.

  3. I keep a lovely, spiral-bound journal of books I've read and write a review of each one. In my purse, I carry a calendar, in the back of which I keep blank pages for books I come across at the bookstore that I'd like to read but don't want to buy. And, when I get a magazine with a book review, I cut it out and paste it in another 8.5 x 11 3-ring folder. But, usually, when I come across a book, I request it at the library right away or put it on my wish list at PaperBack Swap. I love that place.

  4. I have just started a small binder of lists, every time I get a book recommendation I write it in it's appropriate category. I have also started posting on my blog, my monthly reading list and then a monthly recap of books read...although I am behind for August! lol


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