People often ask why I keep a log of my pop culture interests, and my answer is simply to record life through my preoccupations – a sort of autobiography through changing tastes and interests. The following article by Steve Leveen, found on Levenger.com, says it better than I have ever been able to articulate.
Keep a Reader’s List
My friend Tony Altmann has a cherished possession that he inherited from his father: his father’s book list. In this slim, desk-sized leather volume, his father kept a simple list of the titles, author and dates of the books he had read for nearly 40 years.
Do you keep a list of what you’ve read? I’ve asked this question to dozens of serious readers and the usual answer is, “No, but I wish I did.”
Of those minority of people who do keep lists, there seems to be two types of readers. First are those who read for entertainment. These people often read many books—hundreds per year—often by checking them out of a library. They keep a list to make sure they don’t check out or buy the same book twice. The librarians I’ve interviewed tell me that these lists are invariably kept on cheap little notepads or mangy pieces of paper that their creators carry in a pocket or purse and consult regularly.
The other type of list keeper is the serious reader who wants to retain content. Mark Ford, who writes a daily business column called “Early to Rise,” makes his own Cliffs Notes that he uses later in his writing. He diligently writes a summary of a book’s key points on a single three-hole sheet and snaps it into a red notebook devoted to this purpose.
I do something similar by keeping on my computer a chronological list of books I’ve read, when I’ve read them, and the conclusions I’ve drawn from them, ranging from a few lines to a few pages. I frequently write a letter to the author, too, and keep a copy of it in the same document. This is obsessive, I realize, but the honest truth.
Keeping a reading list provides us with insights into more than the books. It’s a glimpse into our own biographies that even an intimate journal can’t reveal. Who knows what we may or may not write in a journal? But what we’ve read, and when, can reveal much about our concerns and aspirations at different stages in life.
Sometimes the books represent intense discoveries or turning points. One thirty-something friend told me how, when her father passed away, she read Bridget Jones’s Diary. “It made me laugh and showed me that I would laugh again.”
My friend Tony, whose father left him his book list, uses it not only to select his own reading but also to keep his departed father close. “My father learned Latin in school and had a wide grasp of the classics that I doubt I’ll ever have. He used to read most evenings from 8:30 to 10:00 or so. It was his way of socializing. I’m intrigued by the books he read more than once, including Plutarch’s Lives. He did this while he was a busy attorney in New York.”
A reading list can also help us retain useful information. You remember things most easily if you review what you’ve learned soon after learning it, and retain some key words to help you recall facts and feelings years later. It takes so little time right after you’ve finished a book to jot down a few notes. These can trigger recollections that may otherwise be lost in the mist of memory.
If you’re thinking you don’t need such a list because you keep your books, beware. A colleague who recently completed her umpteenth move told me that “I’ve moved so many times and was spending so much money shipping boxes of books that I finally gave them away.”
Even if you don’t move, what books will you lend or give away? Often it will be the ones that have meant the most to you. The most reliable method is to keep a list as you go.
It’s not too late to begin. If you believe you are what you read, keep a record of who you are—and who you were—at various chapters in your life.