Tracking What I Read

I started tracking the books I read in 1996. I was 24 years old, and given that I am not quite 45 at the time of this writing, it means I’ve been tracking what I read for nearly half my life.

Over the years, the form my list has taken has changed, but it has always been available online. There were versions that were in a database, with different front ends. But it became too much to manage, and a few years back I moved it to a simple text file, which I keep in GitHub, where anyone can view it.

As of this writing, there are 661 books on my list. I no longer track the length of the books. I tend to read more longer books than shorter ones. 661 books in 21+ years seems like a lot to me. But then I see other people’s lists and my list pales in comparison.

I enjoy browsing other people’s lists of books that they have read, especially when they are home-grown lists, not lists contained in a service like Goodreads. Despite my love for reading, sites like Goodreads and LibraryThing never caught on with me. The trouble is, there are so few people out there publishing home-grown list of what they’ve read.

The one I’ve followed the longest is What I Have Read Since 1974, maintained by Eric Leuliette. His list currently contains 2,808 books that he has read since 1974.

Another list that has always impressed me is the list of books that Art Garfunkel has read since 1968. His list, through 2016, contains 1,246 books, nearly double what I have on my list.

Just as I was inspired to keep a list of books I’ve read by seeing other people’s lists, a few people have been inspired by mine. I recently came across the list of books that Heather Wardell has read, for example.

I have a few simple rules for keeping track of what I read. These rules have evolved over the 20+ years I’ve kept my list in one form or another. They work well for me, and I present them here in case anyone finds them useful:

  1. I keep the list in plain text. Plain text isn’t going away, doesn’t require special software, and is easy to maintain. As I mention, I host my plain text file on GitHub so that I can share it with anyone.
  2. I include one book per line. This makes it easy to get a count of how many books you’ve read. In GitHub, the file shows line numbers, which makes it even easier.
  3. I only include books I’ve finished. Books I am currently reading don’t appear on the list until I’ve finished them. Books I don’t finish, no matter how far along I got, don’t get onto the list.
  4. I keep track of the title, the author, and the date I finished reading the book. I don’t worry about fiction or nonfiction, or the classification of the book. I can look that stuff up if I want.
  5. I do like to know the medium I read the book in. An e-book gets a + after the title; an audiobook gets an @ after the title. A paper book gets no special adornment.
  6. I don’t rate the books. I don’t find rating useful. That said, a book which struck me, and which I would definitely recommend to others gets an * after the title.
  7. I sometimes re-read books. Those titles will appear on the list more than once, but subsequent readings are marked with an ^.

I like keeping my list, and I like to watch it grow. In many ways the list acts as a kind of autobiography for me. For reasons I can’t explain, I can look at a title on the list, and remember very well where I was when I read that book.

Do you have a home-spun reading list (i.e. one that is not maintained in Goodreads, LibraryThing, etc.)? I’d love to see it! Drop the link in the comments.

9 thoughts on “Tracking What I Read

  1. A plain text file seems like a great way to keep track of the books you read. I like your system. I started keeping track of my books in 2010. I wrote them down on an index card and used it as a bookmark, then at the end of the year I typed up the list on my blog and discussed books I liked, recommendations, and books I wanted to read in the new year. It’s been fun to see the list grow, and I hope to keep doing it.

    I don’t have my books in an easy-to-read long list, but here’s an archive of the posts:

  2. Nice lists! Where’s 2016? 😉

    I check my list (text file) into GitHub each time I add a title to the list. Sometimes, in the check-in comment, I’ll add some thoughts on the book I just finished. For example, this one after reading Carl Sandburg’s biography of Abraham Lincoln.

  3. Ha, 2016 is coming! Maybe by February or March, but it’ll get there 🙂 Love the note on Lincoln. That sounds like a great read.

  4. Inspired by your original post, I started my list in 2014 (2016 is still incomplete). Before that, I entered some titles in a paper journal I kept. I think that I might simplify what I do and just keep a text file and your github shortcode starting this year.

  5. On the one hand maintaining a plain text list appeals to me. Maintaining it in GitHub is just cool! At the same time, I started using GoodReads a few years ago and it has remained my book tracker.

    I caused a little chaos when I started using it because I used the app to scan all my books and forgot I set GoodReads to auto-tweet when I added new books. My Twitter profile was suspended for a day or two after they picked up unusually high Twitter volumes … oops!

  6. I started tracking back in 1997, in a spreadsheet that I would regularly export and regex into html on – but at some point I found and moved (with many retries over the course of a weekend or two) to goodreads. I’m drawn to services like that which purport to give good recommendations based on one’s prior reading & ratings – though that promise is rarely as well-fulfilled as I’d hope.

  7. I started using Goodreads but then, found I just couldn’t be bothered updating online there, as well as my card-index and, on my website ( Since as far back as I can remember, I’ve had a card-index file that, well, just grew to unwieldily over time (and many moves around the globe). I had hoped Goodreads (or the like) would be the answer but, I guess, at heart, I’m just a paper kind of Gal as I’m back doing it by hand.

  8. I used Goodreads in its early days (circa 2008 or so), but quickly gave up on it. I’m not big into the recommendations, and the UI seemed as clumsy as LinkedIn’s. Also, I have a hard time keeping up with Facebook and Twitter. There’s just no way I’d have the time for Goodreads.

  9. Thanks for referencing my list, and a huge thank you for the code that allowed me to make it! I don’t use your signifiers the same way, but I love being able to have them. I’ve tried all the other tracking systems (Goodreads etc.) and the only one I’ve been able to stick with is yours.

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