Whether your reading list has three books or three hundred, it serves as a goal. It is a practical solution for remembering the titles you want to read next, and a simple reminder that you should be reading more. If there are only a few books on it, it’s pretty easy to manage. But once you get beyond about 50, it starts to get a little crazy.
If your reading list is out of control, you’re not getting as much out of it as you should be. Here are some ideas for making sure your reading list is helping more than hindering.
Use the Right Tool
This is one of the most important things you can do to better manage your list. If you have the right tool, you’ll be more likely to use it, which means it will be more useful. And choosing the right tool depends a lot on your organizational preferences.
For example, a sticky note on your refrigerator (or a digital one on your desktop) might be all you need when you have a couple of books on your mind. If you have a larger reading list but still want to keep it simple, a text file stored on your computer or your phone will do. Simplicity works.
One of my family members uses Apple Notes so she always has her reading list with her. It’s easy to imagine using Evernote or OneNote for the same purpose.
If you prefer to be a bit more organized, you can use an Excel or Google spreadsheet. That way you can put different sections on different tabs. A Reddit user has separate sections for books he’s read, books he wants to read and already owns, and books he wants to read but doesn’t own.
Another Reddit user recommends Excel, and keeps the title, author, genre, rating, date completed, and other information in the spreadsheet so he can sort by different criteria. It allows him to look for specific books or genres and see which types of books he likes most so he can best pick the next books to read.
To get the Google Drive template for the fantastic reading log below, check out Book Riot’s post on the Ultimate Reading Log Spreadsheet.
Trello is a great organizational tool, and a number of people have written about how they use it to keep track of their reading. Lists can be used for books you want to read, books you’ve read, recommendations from others, review notes, finished books, and anything else you think will help you keep your list organized. There’s no limit to just how much you can customize a Trello board. This is a great option for visual list-makers, as you can add cover images and other image files to your cards.
And, of course, you can use dedicated apps for keeping track of your list.
Goodreads is the most well-known, but there are some others too. Here are some popular ones:
Many others exist. Each has their own style and advantages, but all of them will help you keep track of what you’re reading. More than any text list, you can record other useful pieces of reading-related information. These are full-featured tools. . . but that means they can also be very distracting. It’s not hard to get sucked into GoodReads for a couple hours.
Which option works best for you depends on how many details you want. You may want to be keep track of things you’ve read and how much you’ve liked them, maybe you want to write reviews, and so on. My personal favorite is Goodreads, but I know people who use all sorts of other systems. Give it some thought and figure out which one appeals most to you.
Keep It Up to Date
This is an easy step to forget.
In fact, it’s one that I don’t do enough. When you have a long list, there are bound to be books that you read and forgot to take off, books that you don’t want to read anymore, and books that — if you’re honest with yourself — you’re just never going to get around to.
Get rid of them! They’re not doing you any good, and they’re just making it harder to manage your list. It can be tough to remove things from your list when you haven’t read them, but if you’re like me and have 250+ books on the list, you’re not going to read them all anyway. Be honest with yourself.
(I’ve been going through my list as I’m writing this article, and I’ve been able to get rid of a lot of books, and I found myself asking “how the hell did that get there?” a number of times. Deleting these entries is liberating.)
One strategy that I’ve heard of is to only keep 10 books on your reading list.
It might be a horrifying thought, but it’s actually a really good idea. Once you get beyond 10 or 20 books, you’re getting into “wishlist” territory, and keeping it under that will help you focus on what to read next. You could use a similar guideline.
Institute Some Rules
It’s really easy, especially if you use Goodreads or a similar service, to add books to your reading list at a frightening pace. When I started writing this article, I had 290 books on my To-Read shelf in Goodreads (it’s currently down to 276 and will drop a bit further). Every time I see or hear about a book that sounds interesting, I add it to the shelf. But am I ever going to read all those books? Maybe not.
So I am instituting some rules about which books get added to the list.
For example, you might only add books that average over four stars on Amazon. Or only books recommended by a small number of reviewers whose tastes are similar to yours. Or only books that your friends have read and liked.
Setting and sticking with these rules won’t be easy, but if you have a tendency to add books significantly faster than you can read them, they might help you keep your unruly list under control. At least give it some thought.
Keep It Organized
The books on most reading lists belong to a lot of different categories. For example, my own list includes a lot of science fiction, but there’s also history, true crime, post-apocalyptic, cognitive science, fantasy, and classics. If I want to read a specific genre next, I can easily use Goodreads to sort by shelves so I can only see a specific subset of books.
This is a tremendous help, as I often want to branch out from what I’ve been reading a lot of or try something new. Sorting by shelf or genre is a lot faster than reading through my entire list looking for a specific set of books. Whether you use genres to sort, or labels like “work” and “home,” or even “read these first,” keeping your list organized will help make it a lot more useful.
Make It Mobile
The way you use your reading list affects how you browse books at a bookstore or library.
If you tend to add lots of books and aren’t really concerned about what you read next, you might not even think about your list. If you keep a short list of books you’d like to read as soon as possible, your browsing might be hyper-focused on those books.
Yes, browsing bookstores is a great way to discover new books . . . but if you have a reading list and you don’t think about it when you’re looking for a new book to read, what’s the point?
That’s why it’s a good idea to make it easy to consult your list when you’re out and about. If you happen upon a used book shop and decide to stop in, but aren’t sure what you’re looking for, a quick scroll through your reading list can help.
This won’t appeal to everyone, but if you really want to get through your list — or at least make progress on it — it could be a big help. So, make sure you can access your list on your phone (or at least snap a quick picture of your sticky note before you leave home).
Get Rid of It
If things are dire, there’s always the nuclear option: get rid of your reading list.
This is the tack taken by Book Riot’s Rebecca Joines Schinsky. She makes a number of great points in her post on the topic: if your reading list is stressing you out, it’s time to get rid of it. “Because I wanted to read it a long time ago” isn’t a good reason for reading a book, and not focusing on a list encourages you to stumble on your next great read without trying to force it.
There are a number of benefits to ditching your reading list. And it’s an option that shouldn’t be overlooked. Seeing a nice, orderly list of everything you’ve ever read, books you’re reading, and the ones you want to read is nice, but it’s not for everyone. If it’s not working for you, toss it and don’t look back.
How Do You Manage Your Reading List?
A reading list can serve a lot of different functions, from practical to inspirational. But it can also get out of hand pretty fast, at which point it doesn’t help you much. Whether you keep hundreds of books highly organized with Goodreads or just a few jotted on a piece of paper, your reading list should work for you, not the other way around. Spending a few minutes here and there managing it can do wonders for your reading life!
Do you keep a reading list? What tools do you use? How do you manage it? Is it organized, or a giant disordered list? Share your best tips below so we can all be a little bit better about it!