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Why I Track My Reading

For a long time I mostly only read books at the beach or on a plane, but in 2022 I started intentionally reading more. The decision was obvious: I liked books, missed reading consistently, and it gave me something enjoyable to do before bed instead of endlessly scrolling on social media. Partway through the year, I started a public reading list to track all the books I’ve read. Over a year later, I wanted to reflect on how it’s been so far and talk about why I do this.

With authors like Harlan Coben or Clive Cussler, I often don’t remember which of their books I’ve read. They’ve published a lot, I’ve read a lot, and I don’t remember all the titles. Keeping a list of what I’ve read lets me avoid starting a book and realizing 75 pages in that I’ve read it already. It shouldn’t take me that long to realize I’ve read something before, but nobody’s perfect. Even if I remember I’ve read a book, I don’t always remember what happens in it. Having a short description of the book and what I thought of it helps jog my memory about the rest of the book. This is nice when I’m talking with someone. For example, a few weeks ago someone mentioned The 4 Hour Work Week and I remembered I didn’t like it, but couldn’t think of any specific reason why. If I had it at the time, my reading list would have let me go back and see what I thought after finishing it.

In a small way, having the list has motivated me to keep reading, a kind of low-level gamification. When I finish a book I get to add it to my list and count how many books I’ve read so far this year. There’s a bit of joy involved in seeing the number keep going up for the year. I beat my 2022 number around April of 2023 and in 2024, I’ll get to see if I can beat my 2023 number. It’ll be fun.

Apart from the gamification, it’s nice to be reminded how much I’m reading. I like to look at the list when I add something new and remember what I read in the months prior. A few weeks ago, I was talking with my wife about reading and I remarked how great it was that I’d read twenty-something books so far this year. I loved it because that is so much more than I’ve read in a long time, potentially ever. She said she had no idea how many books she’s read this year, and that’s fantastic, because she’s read enough that she can’t remember all of them individually. We’re getting a similar feeling from opposite processes.

I haven’t attempted to put into words why I do this in public until now. I could keep a list to myself and get all the same benefits, but I chose to put it on my website. Part of it is because I’ve found good recommendations from other people’s pubilc reading lists so this can be my contribution. Another part is just to have something going on my website when I’m not writing often, but I think there’s more to it. Since I’ve gotten into having a personal website I actually use, I’ve wanted to make my website a picture of me. Since I spend so much time reading, including what I read on my website makes that picture more complete. Moreover, because I track when I read a book, it gives a temporal picture of me, showing how my interests have changed over time. Including every book I read just makes my website show more of me, and I think that’s a great reason to keep doing it.