Book Journaling for Beginners

I discovered book journaling way too late – during my sophomore year of college. Book journaling is about keeping a record of everything you’ve read, and although some might find this to be a tedious task, I’m sure my fellow bibliophiles will enjoy and appreciate this activity.

Benefits of a Book Journal

I’ve found that keeping track of the books I’ve read has helped me develop better reading habits. The simple task of jotting something like this down is not only fun, but it’s also an interesting peek into your former self through the lens of a book review.

Since I was younger, I’ve attempted to keep diaries and journals of all kinds – to no avail. It felt awkward writing about myself and what was happening in my life. But because books are such a defining aspect for me, this style of journaling allows a glimpse into the person I was, all based on my book preferences. You can tell a lot about people by the books they like and, more importantly, why they like them. Entries are also little snapshots into your life at that moment.

Starting a Book Journal

The most important thing to remember is that there is no wrong way to go about creating your journal. These are only some tips and things I wish I’d considered when starting mine.

• Keep it simple: As I said before, I started my first journal when I was a college English major – a pursuit that requires a lot of reading. My “brilliant” idea was to record all the books I read for classes and for fun. The details I included were the name of the book, author, genre, publisher, publication date, whether read for fun or school, synopsis, favorite quote, initial thoughts, thoughts after class discussion (if applicable) and whether I would recommend it.

My busy schedule meant no free time for fun reading, and the journal went by the wayside as it became more of a chore than fun.

I restarted my journal two years ago and kept it simple, sticking with some of my favorite elements from attempt number one. For each book, I included the title, author, dates when I started and finished, favorite quote, thoughts on the book and whether I would recommend it.

• Choose your journal: Although this seems like a superfluous thing to consider, the kind of journal you pick determines what the layout will look like.

If you’re new to this, go simple. I’m currently using a Decomposition Book and just recording the information with no added fluff. You can also do this in any basic notebook. It gives you more control over the information you record and keeps the pages from getting too busy.

If you aren’t sure what kind of information to make note of, another good starting point is something like My Reading Journal by Potter Gift. It’s designed for book recording, so the pages are labeled and ready to be filled out. There are also plenty of blogs that offer their own downloadable formats that you can print for free (but some bloggers do require a small fee to download the file).

If you want to get really creative, try a bullet journal, which allows for a more free-form style and a more detailed breakdown of information. Many people who use bullet journals incorporate collages, photos or their own sketches to accompany the thoughts they had while reading. My journal is just a running list, but most book journalers who use bullet journals break information down by month: the books they want to finish and a completion checklist.

This style helps with meeting book-journal goals, but you don’t need those extra design elements to create something worthwhile.

• Set goals: Another helpful addition to a book journal is a goal-setting element – written on the first page or included later. Creating a To Read list helps you to keep the journal going because you already have your next book in the pipeline and don’t have to wonder what you’ll read next. There’s also a sense of accomplishment when you check something off as read.

If, like me, you don’t already have a stockpile of titles to read, the many online reading lists offer great resources and starting places. Search for “Books you need to read”; try the Unread Books Challenge; or look into something more detailed, such as one of the Pop Sugar reading challenges.

Another great way to choose books is to join a book club. Many in Door County even meet year-round. At the beginning of each month, the Peninsula Pulse includes a list of book-club meetings in the Literature section, and you can visit the Pulse’s online calendar anytime at

When setting reading goals, make them reasonable and realistic in the context of your work and activity schedules. Trying to cram in too much reading sucks the fun out of it.

• When to start: I wish I had known about book journals when I was younger. Although I could reread everything I read when I was in middle and high school, my reactions wouldn’t be the same now because I – and my interests – have changed.

This can be a fun activity to do with your kids, whether you read to them or they’re avid readers themselves. With younger kids, you could mix journaling styles: You read out loud to them, and they draw a picture. Then add basic details with the picture. The drawing is a great piece of art to keep, and it reflects what the kids were inspired to create while hearing that story.

If you have avid middle or high school readers, give them a premade book journal so they don’t need to worry about the style at first and can instead focus on the content of the books.

• Other worthwhile additions: You can add whatever you like to your journal to make it uniquely yours.

Although it’s my goal to have a table of contents in my journal one day, I think this feature is better suited to people who have a large collection of entries in one or more journals. Such an index makes it easy to find the books you want; it’s a quick way to refresh your memory about what you’ve read; and it makes it simple to recommend books to others. They can peruse the contents, find something that sounds interesting, flip to the appropriate page to see what you thought and will perhaps decide to read – or not read – something based on your recommendation!

One thing I plan to implement in my journal soon is a Didn’t Finish list. One thing I struggle with – and I’m sure many others do as well – is forcing myself to finish a book even if I don’t like it. Instead, it’s better to put it aside and pick something else that might interest you more. If you have a large To Read list, part of your goals could be to finish something from your Didn’t Finish list.

Another thing to keep track of is the number of books you read versus the number of books you purchased. This information may keep the number of purchased books down when they pile up on your To Be Read list.

There are so many facets to keeping a book journal. Get creative, and have fun with it. Happy reading!