Keeping Track

I keep track of the books I read.

It started because I home schooled, and my mother recorded everything I read against the day we’d have to prove that I was an educated human being instead of some kind of feral sociological experiment. At some point early on in high school I took over the recording, and at some point during college, I took all my faithfully kept Word documents and turned them into one large spreadsheet of my reading habits, a monument to Bibliophilia run amok. (I do not remember exactly when I did this, but I have a strong suspicion I was avoiding a paper at the time.)

Whenever I turn the final page of a book, I open my spreadsheet and enter the author, the title, and the date it was completed. There are other columns for rereads, for whether I read it on my Kindle, whether I’ve entered it on Goodreads, or if I got the book from the library. This ritual means something to me. It makes finishing a book more final. It gives me a feeling of accomplishment. Sometimes the only reason I finish a book I’m not loving is so that I can add it to the spreadsheet. It motivates my otherwise fickle reading brain. I read a lot, and I’m usually reading, and I know I will forget otherwise. On three memorable occasions, my spreadsheet stopped me from buying a book I’d already read. On one even more memorable occasion, I realized I’d bought and read a book two separate times while I was entering it, for the second time.

It isn’t just a list of what I’ve been reading. It’s my biography. A small sampling is below.

November 2003: I read The Crimson Petal and the White, my favorite book, for the first time during a bout with pneumonia.
2004: I wasn’t recording dates that year, but I read Timeline (Michael Crichton) and Oracle Night (Paul Auster).
August 2006: The last book I read before I start college is Robert Heinlein’s Have Spacesuit Will Travel.
August 2008: I blast through the first four books of A Song of Ice and Fire in a week, only managing to finish the fourth one out of sheer momentum.
January 2010: I read Swan Song and love it so much I am late to things on purpose because I’m hanging out under a streetlight.
June 2010: I find the Pendergast series, and love it so much I read all ten books in twenty days.
January 2011: I only read the first two Harry Dresden books. I was living in another country, so much newness going on I can’t bear a new book for the first couple of weeks. Then I read Shogun and The Gunslinger. Stories of feeling alone.
January 2012: I read Wodehouse, Pratchett, and Bujold, all for the first time, all on the recommendation of our affectionate correspondent.

There are a few books I only read because someone I really liked at the time wanted me to. I know how much I like an author’s writing based on how many of their books I read in a row. There are a couple on this list I don’t remember at all. I’ve read some a dozen times or more. I used to leave all the rereads off, but I add them now. This is about more than simply recording what I’ve read. My spreadsheet has become the witness to how I’ve spent my time, and what I cared about. Every entry is a story.

Books hold memories for those of us who read them religiously. They are our palimpsests, our reliquaries. They know our secrets. A book is a time capsule of everything that happened while we were reading it. I look at the book, and it sets off memories. I keep track of the books because I’m writing myself down.

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