The Benefits of Keeping a Reading Journal

reading journal

Every writer will benefit from keeping a reading journal.

Journal writing is something I’ve done on and off since I was a kid. I’ve always wanted to keep a reading journal, but usually I inhale books, leaving little time between chapters to jot down my thoughts and reactions.

And by the time I finish reading, it’s often the wee hours of the night and time to fall asleep, which means I’m far too exhausted to post entries in a reading journal.

Next thing I know, I’m on to the next book without a minute to spare.

But lately I’ve been trying to capture my reading experiences by writing down notes about what I’ve read, and I find it incredibly helpful.

The Benefits of a Reading Journal

Keeping a reading journal:

  • Increases retention.
  • Forces you to contemplate the material you’ve read.
  • Allows you to study and analyze the material from a writer’s perspective.
  • Provides a time and space for writing practice.

Most writers already practice regular journal writing. There’s no reason you can’t start including your reading entries there, or if you like to keep things neatly separated, start a separate reading journal. Use a Word document, launch a blog, crack open a notebook. The important thing is that you record your thoughts and your reactions or observations about what you’ve read.

What to Include in Your Reading Journal

 If you just want to keep track of all the books you’ve read, you can keep a running list in a spreadsheet or use a website like Goodreads. However, a comprehensive reading journal allows you to do more than maintain a list. Here are some details you can include in your reading journal:
  • This is pretty obvious, but be sure to include the title and author.
  • It can also be helpful to jot down the publisher. As an aspiring author, you should start familiarizing yourself with publishing houses. Noting the publishers of books you read is a good habit for acquiring knowledge about various publishers.
  • Note the year of publication. This may be relevant for understanding the book’s context.
  • Track the dates you started and finished the book and note the page count. This information can be useful if you ever want to assess how fast (or slowly) you read. It can also help you with future goal-setting: if you know how much you normally read, you can set goals to push yourself to read a little more each year.
  • Write a short summary or description of the book. You don’t need to get into a lot of detail — just enough to jog your memory of what the book was about if you need it for reference later.
  • General notes: Make some notes about the book’s strengths and weaknesses as well as what you liked and didn’t like. If the book gave you any ideas that you might want to use in your own work, jot them down. Make notes about anything else that you feel is relevant or useful, even if it’s just your general response to the book you’ve read.

Keeping a Reading Journal

Make it a habit: every time you pick up a new book and start reading it, make a note in your reading journal. Revisit the entry in your journal when you finish the book.

You can keep notes about all your reading, not just books and novels. Jot down your thoughts after reading a magazine article, news story, or blog post. If you really want to get all-inclusive, you can even include music lyrics, movies, and TV shows. All of these are sources of inspiration.

Do you keep a reading journal? Is there another type of journal writing that you prefer? Share your experiences by leaving a comment.

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About Melissa Donovan
Melissa Donovan is a website designer and copywriter. She writes fiction and poetry and is the founder and editor of Writing Forward, a blog packed with creative writing tips and ideas.


8 Responses to “The Benefits of Keeping a Reading Journal”

  1. --Deb says:

    I have to admit that I almost never jot down thoughts about what I’m reading as I’m reading it–I consider it fortunate that I manage to jot down the title and author for future reference. I do add a short description of each book on my monthly reading list (posted on my knitting blog every month), but that’s about it. Because, as you say, it’s all about moving on to the next book, right?

  2. @Deb: One of the reasons I want to start taking better notes is because I’d like to try writing reviews — books, music, films, and more. Also, sometimes I forget where I read or heard something, probably because I take in too much information every day. I’m always saying, “I read somewhere…” I think writing my thoughts and reactions down will help with that. And I know it will inspire me!

  3. Amy Derby says:

    Love your blog, Melissa.

    I used to keep an informal reading journal, but somehow I got out of the practice. I don’t read nearly the amount of novels I used to when I had a train commute, so maybe that’s why. Reading on a train is distracting.

  4. @Amy: I used to keep reading journals back in school. Some English teachers would require journaling our readings, all the way back to grammar school’s book reports. Of course, I used to plow through the reading and then stay up all night journaling like mad before the journal entries were due. I’m a rebel like that.

  5. Amy Derby says:

    Ha! I made one from Cliff’s Notes once when I didn’t read the book.

  6. @Amy: LOL! I once wrote a book report before I ever read the book. I was just a kid. And I know someone who read The Indian in the Cupboard once and wrote book reports on it for like five years in a row. That’s leverage!

  7. Tracey says:

    This is why I love my Kindle so much. I can highlight passages and I can write notes and then I can sync all my highlights and notes into Evernote ready for later reflection. I do still find myself getting caught up in a moment and don’t remember to take a note but something is better than nothing.