Spreadsheets and Stars: How I Track My Reading

*Life update: Day #3 was better than Day#2; no tears and general happiness. It was crazy-hair-day for the Grade 5’r which was fun and whimsical. I’m sitting across from her at the table now and even though the day is done the crazy array of clips and scrunchies (thank goodness she received about 10 million for Christmas) are still going strong. There has been lots of screen time today, but it partially involved having friends over to watch Encanto. There was also a very cold walk in the frigid wind. Levi and I went out alone to check the mail and walk the neighbourhood; he dragged a stick behind us in the snow to make a “trail” for us to follow home. He also told me it was nice to walk alone with me since he “could talk about whatever he wanted.” Whatever he wanted turned out to be his high score of 127 on Flabby Dragon Jr, a game that is about as educational and stimulating as the name suggests (I will admit Andy’s Golf, on the same school-sanctioned “learning games” website – is frustratingly addictive and purports to teach kids about Physics; believe me when I say that is a streeetttccchhh).

Today’s post feels like something too insignificant to even write about, but I’m on a roll with the book theme, so here goes.

In the spring of 2018 I read My Life with Bob: Flawed Heroine Keeps Book of Books, Plot Ensues. It’s written by Pamela Paul, the editor of The New York Times Book review. The book chronicles her Book of Books – affectionately known as Bob; a detailed rendering of every book she read over a 28-year+ period.

As soon as I put down that book, I started tracking my own reading patterns. I’m not good at sticking with journals and I didn’t want to put loads of pressure on myself to maintain a complicated reviewing system so this isn’t going to wow anyone with levels of complexity. My only regret – not starting earlier. How fun would it be to have my entire life of reading recorded somewhere? But, you know the adage: The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.

1. My spreadsheet

Since June 14th, 2018 (when I finished Laura Vanderkam’s very relatable book Off the Clock for the first time), I have made note of every book I’ve finished with a short one-sentence(ish) review. If I make it far enough (100 pages+) into a book that I end up abandoning, I sometimes record the books I don’t finish (DNF), but that’s hit or miss. Typically a book only shows up on this list if I’ve read/thoroughly skimmed it cover-to-cover.

  • Since I started in June 2018, my reading year runs from June to June; I’ve never bothered to change this to a calendar year – again, setting the bar low.
  • I highlight the title of the book if I particularly enjoyed it.
  • My spreadsheet is on Google Drive so it’s easy to access, and is simply titled “Books I’ve Read.” How original.
  • I try to update the spreadsheet immediately after finishing the book.
  • I also take notes/copy out quotes from almost every book I read (and I printed off a decades-worth of quotable quotes last October), so that is another way my reading history lives on.


At the same time I fill in my bare-bones spreadsheet, I also log on to Goodreads and add the completed book to my “Read” shelf, along with giving it a starred review. With only a handful of exceptions, I don’t add written reviews. I’m sure this will raise the ire of many a reader, but:

  • I think it would take some of the fun out of the book to have to justify my rating in writing (I tend to be verbose, so this would also likely take me approximately forever).
  • I don’t read reviews on Goodreads. Again, I’m sure many people absolutely love reading through other people’s reviews of books, but that is just not how I roll.

WHY track books in two ways?

Part of this is because I’ve been too lazy to get my spreadsheet switched over to a calendar year (which would, admittedly, take all of 30 seconds). *Update, I went and did this while typing up this post and it took me less than 15 seconds).

Mostly, though, it’s because I do like to write private “reviews” that give me a quick glimpse into what I thought of a book without having to worry about spelling or impacting the reading experience for someone else (i.e. I can write about spoilers with wild abandon in my spreadsheet).

I like how Goodreads will collate my books for the year and show me pretty thumbnails; and I like how I can skim through my spreadsheet and notice patterns and keywords like “loved this; great read” which triggers a happy memory.

And…that’s it.

What about you? How do you track the books you read?

Header photo by Kari Shea on Unsplash

23 thoughts on “Spreadsheets and Stars: How I Track My Reading”

  1. I also keep a spreadsheet to track my books, and it comes in so handy when I start a new book and wonder “Wait, have I read this before?” A quick spreadsheet check and yes, I read it in 2017. This happens more than you might think. What can I say, I read a lot. I finally caved from pressure from friends to go on Goodreads this year and I DO NOT LIKE IT. I am putting my books there but I don’t like rating them – the no half stars gets to me as well, as we spoke about – and I keep thinking maybe I’ll start liking it. I don’t know WHY I don’t like it. I also put photos of my books on IG and my blog, and I talk about them there. Maybe I should just copy and paste into Goodreads. I don’t know, there’s only so much stuff I want to do on my phone, know what I mean?

    1. I do like Goodreads, but I don’t take pictures of my books or do social media, so I think if I had all those things + a spreadsheet + Goodreads, it will feel like a lot of work/overkill?
      One of the things I like about Goodreads is the snapshot of covers it provides, which I just find fun to see at the end of the year.
      I don’t read as much as you, so I’m not actually logging on that often. I also don’t use it for reviews or really do much in terms of following what other people read. Reviews would be A LOT of work for me, but I think that’s a really enjoyable aspect for a lot of people?
      There is no book police out there saying you have to use Goodreads. I say drop it if it feels like a net negative in some way (or even if it just feels neutral). As much as the 1/2 stars do annoy me, overall I do find Goodreads a helpful tool for me with reading.

  2. This is an intricate system! I’m very impressed šŸ™‚
    I have an L1917 notebook which I record my books read in. I don’t use Goodreads or anything like that… low tech over here!
    All my reading list includes is the running count of which book it is, title and author, date finished, and I also include L for library, P for pre-owned by me (before that year began), A for audio
    That’s it šŸ™‚

  3. I use Goodreads. I like the Reading Challenge feature of Goodreads, and I think their database is pretty extensive. But it’s not an IDEAL system, by any means. For one thing, I find it very hard to sort my books in any meaningful way (this is probably user laziness rather than a Goodreads issue) and my TBR list is… 827 books long. I admit that I am the problem here. Every time a book sounds interesting to me, I add it to my “want to read” list. And then… I forget about it. It’s not a meaningful list.

    My other complaint about Goodreads is that the search function is not great.

    But I like the reading challenge, I like being able to track my books. I like the year in review feature that seems to be new as of this year. I don’t rate anything on Goodreads unless it is 4 or 5 stars because I don’t want to hurt the author’s feelings LOL. But when I can get up enough energy to post on my blog about books, I do rate them there. It takes a LOT for me to give a book 5 stars (according to my real, honest, personal rating system; on Goodreads I rate any book I enjoy 5 stars).

    1. I’m very stingy with 5-star reviews on Goodreads; it has to blow me out of the water. This is a major reason I really want access to those 1/2 stars!
      But…I think I also give a lot of 4’s to books that are closer to “3” (again, because of the lack of 1/2 stars).

      I don’t do much searching on Goodreads and while I do occasionally add books to my “Want to Read” list, I actually rarely seem to visit this list. I end up finding books from other sources so I never feel like I’m left wondering what to read. Though I should go through that list right now and get rid of books that no longer seem interesting and/or that I’ve found and read independent of consulting this digital list…

  4. I’m verbose, so most books I read get a review on my blog. Ha! I don’t actually review every book I read, but I do keep a running tally of ALL books on my blog and have for the last couple of years. I’m going to start instituting a star system on myself in 2022, but I’m uncertain if I’m decisive enough for that.

    I’m so impressed that all of your books are listed in ONE place, though. That would be so convenient.

    1. I don’t refer to my list that often, but I do enjoy having all the information there if I need it. I find it strangely comforting?!

  5. I track books read in my journal and in goodreads for overall tracking. mainly to avoid buying the same book, which happened šŸ˜‰

    1. Ha! I buy so few books I don’t think I’ll ever risk re-buying, but I can see this being a problem for some people and definitely convenient to have a quick way to check what you own.

  6. I keep a humble list of the books I’ve read, with a star by the ones I really, really liked. Hmm! Maybe I need to upgrade that a bit… a one-sentence review would be great. I think I’ll start that for 2022.

    1. I really hope I haven’t made people feel like their own methods of tracking are somehow lacking. I’ve only done what feels “doable” for me. I honestly think simplicity trumps just about everything with regard to books. I’d say I spend about 5 minutes/week tracking books? Hopefully my descriptions aren’t giving people the false impression that I’m doing anything elaborate!!

  7. This serves as reminder to read the Pamela Paul book! I used to religiously listen to the NYT podcast so I got to know her voice so well that I overheard her on a segment of public television when i was in the other room and said, “is that Pamela Paul?” to Phil, to which he said, ‘yes, and how do you know this woman’s voice that well??’ Ha!

    In past years, I only used goodreads but this year I am using an excel sheet that I got as a patreon to a book podcast (Sarah’s Bookshelves Live). It tracks at on of different things like whether it features diverse characters, was writing by an owned voices author, what geographical region the book took place in, recommendation source, etc etc. I don’t know how much I will use this info and I don’t fill in all of the columns but it will give me a better sense of what I read. I wish goodreads gave better data, like a breakdown of star ratings by year. It gives you an average but nothing beyond that (as far as i can tell).

    Oh and I also started to use a book journal at the start of the year. It’s the Modern Mrs Darcy book journal if you are familiar w/ her. It has different prompts, like favorite quotes, so I think it will make me think more about the books I read. It holds 100 books so it will probably last me about a year and then I’ll decide if I should get another one or not. I tried using a bullet journal to track my reading once but didn’t stick w/ it. But I like the idea of having a tactile system for recording what I read. When my grandfather passed away and my grandma sold their home, she had us kids go through their books and I discovered that my grandpa would write who he got a book from or where (I gave him books for Christmas a number of times so there were lots of “from my dear Lisa” written in books) and then a one sentence reflection on what he thought of the book. It was such a treat to see something in his hand writing like that!

    1. Awww. I love hearing what your grandfather did.
      My father is a voracious reader and he always inscribes any book he gives and, if I forget to do it when I give one to him (or this Christmas, I gave him FOUR books), he will often ask me to do so along with the date and occasion. I used to be really good about this and would typically write a note about why I selected the book I gave, but have slacked off in this regard.
      I think that writing a one-sentence reflection inside a book is genius. I tend not to buy too many books (so do this in my excel spreadsheet), but having that tangible “forever” mark in a book is wonderful. I still have a Bible devotional my grandmother worked through; I’ve never actually read it, but it is filled with her handwriting and I can’t bear to part with it. I also save all the notes the grandparents send to my kids through snail mail because there is something so deeply moving about seeing another person’s handwriting; it’s another way to hear their “voice.”

  8. I love that you have a spreadsheet for your books.
    I have a spreadsheet for *everything*, but am surprised and somewhat embarrassed to say that I do not have a spreadsheet for my books. YET! You might have just given me an idea šŸ™‚

    1. I’m curious what all you track in a spreadsheet!

      I have a spreadsheet for tracking finances, one for workouts (walking and running and distance for each), and one for books. I think that’s it?

      1. Haha, I have spreadsheets for finances, groceries, household goods, a symptom log (for some stomach issues I am having), social media names/real names, birthday/gift lists, workout schedules, address lists… you name it šŸ˜‰

        1. Wow! That’s impressive.
          Do you have a spreadsheet of your spreadsheets? I have actually had a list of lists before!

  9. I also keep a spreadsheet and log my reads on Goodreads! Those are my main systems right now, although I did get a book journal for Christmas this year that I need to start using. My spreadsheet is very detailed and it helps me develop my yearly book stats post, which is fun to put together. I’ve had Goodreads for over 11 years at this point and my use of it has evolved a lot throughout the years. I always leave a rating but I don’t always leave a review, unless I thought it was particularly outstanding or horrible, ha.

    1. Yay – someone else that juggles the same systems I do!
      I feel like I need both at this point, to capture all the necessary info that makes me feel like I can say I “finished” a book – having it recorded, having a quick blurb about what I felt, and having a star rating in Goodreads.

  10. Just recently I cleaned out some boxes at my parents and found old flashcards that recorded my reading as a teenager. The title the time I read it and rating system and on the back a quote or two. I apparently always tracked my books but I have had different systems. About 15 years ago I started using a library software which was discontinued at a point. I was without tracking system then until I found good reads. It doesn’t have all I want but it covers a lot so I am content currently. I only rate a few books there. And I also only read reviews after I read the book. I want to be surprised when I read da book and not know beforehand whats going on.

    I also have a complicated relationship with trigger warnings. I understand why they are helpful but for me its often – oh ok, that is going to happen then I not need to read it anymore…

  11. I really need to take a page out of your book (ha!) and actually *track what I read*. I am always, always, trying to figure out if I read something or not and if I download it (I read a ton on my iPad) and find out that I already read it then I’m ticked off at Past Me for not doing better with this. Sigh. The worst is when I think I’ve read something in print but haven’t kept the book. The easiest is when it’s a book that I already purchased in Apple Books, since it lets me know that the book is already in my library. Anyway, all of that to say… I’m terrible with the tracking but need to get better.

    I am seriously impressed with – and kind of inspired by! – your spreadsheet, though. It is so simple, yet clearly so effective! I always thought it had to be a complicated, detailed picture of every single book and, well, it really doesn’t. Look at me, complicating things unnecessarily. šŸ™‚

    1. It really is SO simple. A maximum of 5 minutes per week, I’d say (but usually less than that). But I do really appreciate tracking it; I always felt like something was missing when I didn’t have a running list/tally of the books I had been reading.
      My only regret is not starting earlier, but so glad I didn’t use that as an excuse to not start eventually and it has really enriched my reading life, I think, since I can look at patterns of the types of books I enjoy etc.

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