The Book Journal Crisis: What to Do When Numbers Become Meaningless

Reading is my solace. I do not recognize myself without a book; but in the mild, beautiful spring of 2020, I was so jittery, sometimes terrified, that I took three walks a day just to calm down. Everything was closed, including the parks, but there was no limit on exercise.  When I came home from my walks and did read, I gravitated toward short books, particularly short stories by Chekhov and Katherine Mansfield.

And then I began to worry about my new attitude toward reading. Where were my usual Victorians?  They had disappeared from my night table.    My book journal, in a curious way, was as terrifying as the lurking Covid: it showed how my way of life had been destroyed, or at least derailed–and I didn’t even have the virus. During an old-fashioned phone call, I was gloomy. “All these f—- book lists, book journals, book blogs, indecipherable Twitter, Goodreads–I wish I’d never been born.”

“I haven’t read a thing in months,” my friend confided.  “Yesterday I hummed a Van Halen song in a Zoom meeting.”

“What was the song?” I wanted to know.

Before I stopped making entries in my book journal, I talked dramatically about my determination to WIPE IT OUT.  You would not believe how many notebooks I have with lists and lists and lists.  On Feb. 16, 2013, I read Norman Collins’s London Belongs to Me.   Oops, maybe it is worthwhile to remind myself of that excellent novel.  I finished Felix Holt on May 17, 2020,  my third reading of this classic, but I have no idea what year I first read it.  Does it matter?

I do remember telling a friend I was “bored out of my mind,” and was reading “too much” and keeping a book journal with “frightening numbers.”

“What is too much and why write a list?” she asked.

When did the book lists start? I can only think it had to do with blogging. Book bloggers make a lot of lists, and the early blogs were especially fun, full of spontaneity, full of reading recommendations. I loved the early days of blogging when I read short books by Pamela Frankau, Pamela Hansford Johnson, C. P. Snow, and Angela Thirkell in a day, and posted my thoughts the minute I finished.

Now I seldom visit my old blogs and rarely look at the lists in the book journals.

It is one thing to post about my reading at the blog, but keeping lists of every book I read seems pointless. Perhaps I’m less narcissistic than I used to be?  Or perhaps more?  Surely this issue is pointless!

I’ve stopped making lists.  Now I’m a free woman!

4 thoughts on “The Book Journal Crisis: What to Do When Numbers Become Meaningless”

  1. I’ve kept my list since 1984. I can’t help it. Incidentally, I’ve just discovered Wilkie Collins. The Woman in White. Now I have to read all of them. Better late than never, I suppose.

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    1. Well, going back to 1984 is impressive. I’m a fan of Wilkie Collins, and The Woman in White is one of the best. I’ve loved what I’ve read of him.

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  2. If you’re not finding the lists useful or interesting, then it does raise the question of how else you could spend your time, more pleasurably, how many more books you’ll read without your list-making time factored in (or how many more Chekhov stories). I enjoy looking back to see what else I was reading when, especially with rereads. But I will say that I wouldn’t likely check so often if I hadn’t digitized the records; it’s much less likely that I could locate that bit in a log when I wanted it otherwise.

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    1. Yes, I should list the stories! That is an excellent idea. And it would make it more meaningful.

      But there’s no question! I need a spreadsheet. The other day I was trying to find which book I was on in a series I HAD to go back several years, entry by entry, to find which book I was on. I can only set up the simplest of spreadsheets, but I know it would help. Really, I thought my notebook was good enough, but I’d never realized how hard it would be to find a particular author!

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