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If you’re thinking about starting a reading journal, look no further than this ultimate guide to book journals. You’ll find book journal ideas, reading journal examples, prompts, and thoughts on why you should start a book log to improve your reading life.
Over the last year, I’ve really embraced the idea of using a reading journal. As I’ve explored the role of a book journal in my reading life, I’ve discovered that there are so many ways to use reading journals.
I’ve actually started keeping multiple reading journals–some that I use alongside my regular daily reading and others that are tied to longer-term reading goals and tracking.
Why to Keep a Reading Journal
For a long time, I was resistant to using any type of reading tracker. I’m protective of my love of reading, and I don’t want my enjoyment of it to be affected by getting hung up on numbers.
It’s one reason I don’t set a yearly goal on Goodreads. While I glance at how many books I’ve read at the end of the year, I never want to get focus on that number–and start avoiding long or slow books so I can read more books.
But as I’ve read more books, and added audiobooks to the mix, I’ve found it useful to have a place to jot down my thoughts as I read. I also like having a place to note all the books I want to read–as well as why they catch my interest (because I’m bound to forget!).
And for me, that’s the key to book journaling: the forgetting. Or, more accurately: the remembering.
Writing things down–with pen and paper, not just online–is proven to help memory. And in a busy life with work, family, kids, friends, blogging, and–yes–lots and lots of books, I don’t always remember what I’ve read, or what I want to read. You may be the same.
The truth is, even when the most voracious readers finish a book and are blown away by how fantastic it was, we just don’t always remember it weeks, months, and years later.
Journaling about books can help you remember the story, characters, and the feeling of reading those books.
Keeping a book journal or reading diary can help you remember the books you want to read, keep you on track with reading goals, and help you meet a reading challenge.
And if you’re trying to learn something, to improve yourself, or to make a real change–as so many of us have been as we dive into our anti-racist education–a reading journal can help you track what you read and learn, and what you plan to read.
Reflecting on books in writing can help you clarify what you read, what you learned (if anything), and what you thought about it.
Reading Journal Ideas
Just like there are many reasons to keep a reading journal, there are so many types of book journals you can choose to keep.
I don’t recommend keeping multiple journals that you feel like you need to write in daily–one main journal will serve you better there–but there’s no harm in keeping additional journals to track certain aspects of your reading life.
Some of these journals I pick up sporadically as I recall books I’ve read in the past or come across books I want to read in the future, while others I update on a daily or weekly basis.
There’s no right or wrong way to journal about your reading–find what suits you! I’ve outlined a bunch of reading journal ideas below to get you started.
Book Log or Reading Tracker
A book log or reading tracker is one of the simplest ways to get started with book journaling. This type of reading journal can be as detailed as you want, and I often combine this with other types of book journals detailed below. If you’re just looking for a simple log of what you read and when, this is a low-barrier way to get started.
Start anywhere–today, last week, the start of the year. Write down the book, author, and any details you want to record. That might include:
- The dates you read it
- Format (print, ebook, audiobook)
- Number of pages
- Star rating
- Theme notes
- Brief summary or review
To make it really simple, leave off the notes and just keep a running list of books. You might be surprised by how helpful it is to just have a list of the books you’ve read.
The reading log is the one type of book journal that I do digitally–I use Goodreads for my log. I like the ability to sort by certain characteristics, including page count, dates read, and ratings. I don’t usually do much beyond that in Goodreads, but for my general book log, I like having this data at my fingertips.
Book Review or Reading Response Journal
Journals are a great place to jot down notes for book reviews or reading responses (though I think that term is mostly used in schools). I don’t usually write out my full reviews in my journal (since I do that on the blog), but I like to make short notes about my thoughts as I read.
In addition to things I like or don’t like, I include things like the characters, themes, major plot points (my journal is full of spoilers!). Since my journals are for me and not for an audience, I feel free to include those details in a way that I wouldn’t on the blog or Goodreads.
Physically writing them down helps me remember these details when I think back on books. As a blogger who frequently revisits past reads, this is helpful for writing book list posts.
It also keeps my “to reread” list whittled down, because it helps me remember how the book ends (I forget this ALL THE TIME.) I love rereading excellent books, but I can’t reread them all!
Books to Read/TBR Journal
My “books to read” journal (or TBR journal – “to be read”) is where I jot down the books that catch my eye. Since I’ve started reading book blogs and writing my own, I read more book reviews than ever before. As a result, my TBR is unending. I’ve accepted that I’ll never get through it.
But I still like to write down the books that sound appealing. If you decide to keep a TBR journal, jot down a few notes about the book, including who recommended it, some notes on the story, and why you think you might like it. If you finally pick up the book months later, it will help you remember why you wanted to read it.
This is also useful for removing books from your TBR–which for me, also happens frequently. If a book doesn’t work for a trusted reader friend, I’ll go in and cross it out. Same thing if something about the book is problematic (e.g., American Dirt).
Those things don’t always mean I won’t check out a book for myself, but again: reading time is limited, and I want to spend it with the most promising books.
A TBR journal could also be useful if you’re trying to change your reading habits in some way. For example, if you’ve committed to reading books by more Black or LGBTQ-IA authors. Or if you’re working your way through a list of classic novels, or you want to read more sci-fi. Maybe you’re even researching or learning about a particular topic.
I find a paper TBR journal more useful than Goodreads for tracking my TBR because I tend to add books with abandon in Goodreads. Then when I revisit it, I have no memory of why or when I added a particular book.
Because of the small amount of effort to physically write in my TBR journal, I’m more thoughtful about whether a book should be added, and I’m more likely to remember it (and if not, I can revisit my notes).
Reading Challenge Journal
Reading challenges are a fun way to shake up your reading life, and they can take so many forms. A lot of people start reading challenges at the start of the year, but you can start a challenge anytime, and it doesn’t necessarily have to be bound by time.
I tend to avoid numbers-based challenges, but I do like to consider my reading habits each year and what kind of books I want to read more of. My 2020 reading challenge was to read one nonfiction book per month and one book from my shelf.
To support my challenge, I started a reading challenge journal. The journal helped me narrow down my goals for the year, and it gives me a place to track my progress and write about the books I read.
A dedicated book journal for your reading challenge can be especially useful if your challenge will span a whole year (or even longer). It can help you stay focused on your goal and remember to work in those books that help meet your challenge.
My reading challenge journal includes pages to brainstorm and plan your challenge, as well as monthly pages to note your reading plans and stay on track.
I firmly believe that there’s no “should” when it comes to your reading life–you don’t *have* to read anything you don’t want to. But if you have a mental list of books you definitely want to read “someday,” a reading challenge is a great way to actually make it happen.
Books You Love
Ah, my favorite! This is a new journal project I’ve started this year, and I expect it to be a lifelong collection of journals (maybe even something that will amuse my kids or grandkids after I’m gone?).
My reading journal of the Books I Love is just that: a collection of notes on my very favorite books.
I don’t write in this one often, but when I find myself thinking about old favorites, I like to pick it up and make a few notes. I have space to summarize the book, why I loved it, themes, quotes, similar books, and to note others who might love it.
Because I’m often looking back on books I read years ago, I may not fill in all of these spaces (see that whole issue of remembering what even happened that I discussed above).
But this is the place where I recall how books made me feel, and what about them sticks with me years later. I do occasionally add newer books that I adore soon after I read them, but not always. It’s interesting to see what books rise to the top long after I’ve moved on from them.
My journal of books I love is a mishmash of childhood favorites, books from my teen years, and books I read as an adult. I enjoy the freeform nature of it and just falling back into my “oh, I LOVED that” whims, but if you wanted to be more organized about it you could separate by genre or age group.
Reading Bucket List Journal
I wrote a lot about building a reading bucket list a few years ago, and I still think it’s a useful exercise. I think a lot of us do carry about mental list of “someday” books we want to read, and narrowing down our actual reading bucket list makes it more likely to happen.
These days, I think my reading bucket list could use an update (fewer old white men, more marginalized authors from all time periods), but I do like to revisit it and work the books in when I can. Even better if they’ve been sitting on my shelf for years!
I use one of my Books to Read journals for my reading bucket list. This isn’t a reading journal that I update often, but it’s one that I like to keep for long-term tracking.
Thoughtful Reading Journal
Finally, what I’m calling a “thoughtful reading journal” is a type of journal that I haven’t actually started yet, but that I’ve been wanting more and more in my reading life. I am especially realizing this in 2020 as I read more nonfiction and more books for my antiracist education.
All of my reading journals have a bit of space to make notes and write reviews after I finish them, but I read books over a number of days–sometimes even weeks.
My next reading journal will be a place where I can make notes as I’m reading, of the things I’m learning, questions I have, quotes or ideas that stand out, and concepts to explore further.
This will be my working journal–the time in the messy middle of reading when I’m still processing what the author is saying and how it’s affecting me. It’s not one to use with every book–lighter beach reads probably won’t get pages here–and I may not even realize I need it until I’m several chapters into a book.
But when I start coming across passage after passage that makes me pause, read it again, and try to internalize it, I want a meaningful way to engage with those ideas. And obviously, for me, that starts with a reading journal.
How a Book Journal Improves Your Reading Life
Obviously, I keep a lot of reading journals. I’ve always loved journals and pens and stationery, and now that I’ve designed some pretty journals that fit my needs? All the better.
But when I started my first reading journal this year, I wasn’t sure how it would work for me. I’d gotten out of the habit of journaling in general and I thought Goodreads might be enough, flawed as it was.
But keeping a physical journal with pen and paper has had multiple benefits to my reading life, including:
- Better memory of stories
- More meaningful reflection on what I read
- Greater focus on my reading goals.
In addition, those jotted notes usually lead to additional insights and connections that I wouldn’t have made without the physical act of writing. Typing up a review is one thing, and it’s useful, but those pen-on-paper notes are gold.
Choosing a Readers Journal
You have lots of options if you want to start a reading journal and it’s okay to use a mix of them.
You may want to do some digitally and some on paper. And you may like the idea of creating your own journal, or you might want to use a pre-printed journal, as I do.
Digital Reading Journal
You have a few options if you want to journal your reading in a digital format, but the main decision here is whether you want it to be public or private (or somewhere in between).
If you want to share your reading journal and have conversations with others about it, Goodreads, Instagram, and blogs are great ways to do it. I’ve even seen people post about their reading on Facebook.
Posting publicly changes the nature of a reading journal. As a blogger, I post my reviews with other readers in mind. I share my thoughts, but I also try to think about who might enjoy a book. It’s less for me than for my readers, while my reading journal is for my own reading life.
I enjoy both the public and private aspects of reflecting on reading, so I do both of these. Your choice depends on your goals, how you plan to write, and your comfort level with sharing your thoughts publicly.
DIY Reading Journal
If fancy lettering, stickers, little drawings, and creating layouts are your thing, then a DIY reading journal is the perfect choice for you!
And if you don’t like those things? DIY can still be a great option. Pick up a notebook, start writing about a book, and voila! Reading journal.
A do-it-yourself book journal gives you the freedom to make a journal that works for you. If you like several of the types of journals described above, you can combine them into one journal. If you want to experiment with layouts, you can. Want to make it part of your bullet journal? You can.
You could also just grab a binder or discbound notebook, find or create some templates, print them out, and make a pre-printed journal that works for you.
Buy a Printed Journal
This is my favorite option, and not just because I made them for sale. For me, a pre-printed reading journal ensures that I actually continue to write in my reading journals. Much as I like the idea of a beautiful bullet journal, actually creating one is not something I’ve ever been able to sustain.
While I know they don’t have to be pretty and can be as utilitarian and functional as I want them to be, sitting down to a blank page is sometimes a barrier. This is especially true if I start out drawing nice layouts and then feel like I need to keep it up. At this point in my life, I’m just not a bullet journaler.
That’s why I made my own reading journals, with layouts and prompts that are flexible but also capture most of what I want to remember about a book.
I also like having nice looking journals that work together and add a little color to my bookshelves. Most of the journals are compact enough to carry around easily and keep handy for quick notes. I hope you also find them useful!
Shop for Reading Journals
If you’d like to get your own reading journals, you can see all of the color and journal types in the Shop.
Start Your Reading Journal
I’ve discussed tons of options for ways to use a book journal to enhance your own reading life, and I’m sure there are more. Now it’s time to get started on your own reading journal!
If you’re ready to start, I recommend choosing one type to start with. This will help you figure out exactly how you want to use it. I’ve added multiple forms of book journaling to my own reading tracking, but I’ve added them over time.
Before you start, consider your goals. If you have multiple, start with one:
- Tracking your reading?
- Organizing your TBR?
- Meeting a reading goal?
- Remembering your favorites?
If you have a few of these goals, pick one for a week or two, try it out and see what works for you. If you love journaling and want to keep going, expand or continue what you’re doing or start another type or reading journal.
Most of all, have fun with it. Your reading journal isn’t homework, and it’s not the end of the world if you don’t record something. Don’t be afraid to add color, stickers, or doodles. Write sideways or in spirals!
Great books sometimes send our thoughts in crazy directions–let yourself record what you’re thinking and feeling as you reflect.
Share Your Reading Journal Ideas!
I’d love to know how you use a reading journal. Share your ideas, reading journal prompts, and the creative ways you keep track of your reading.