Prior to January 15th, 2009, I have a spotted recollection of what books I read and when I read them. It’s sort of like when someone says to you, “Hey, have you ever seen Heat?” You know you haven’t seen the whole thing, but may have seen parts of it on TNT (or was that Reservoir Dogs?) at some point, so you just respond, “I haven’t seen the whole thing.” Which, honestly, is a two-part lie. One part that you actually haven’t seen the movie and don’t want to say so. And the second part, that if you actually had seen the movie, you can’t remember and don’t want to admit that either.
To remedy that, my grandmother—at the time, 78 years old—suggested I follow in her footsteps, take up mahjong and retire to travel the world.
Kidding. What she actually suggested was that I keep a journal of the books I read. And, dear readers, that’s exactly what I’m suggesting here to you today.
Unless you’ve got a mind like a steel trap and have immediate recall of the third book you read by the same author in a two-month span from four years ago, I’d recommend giving this a shot.
Entries in my journal contain the following:
Before she passed, my grandma was reading so many books a year (I was initially impressed by this… and suppose I still am to a degree… but let’s be fair, what else was she doing? That’s a joke. Sort of) she got to the point where the summary/review section of an entry for a book simply contained a Yes or No. As in, “Yes, I’d recommend this book to someone else” or “No, I wouldn’t.”
Note the missing element there—it wasn’t “Yes, I enjoyed the book.” Often, she’d recommend books to people (myself, included) she didn’t particularly like but knew others would. I could wax poetic on her for a while, but that’s for another site (I’m still looking for 3 Guys, One Grandmother).
So, beyond the obvious, one great reason to start keeping a journal is because it’s great competition. Instead of answering the question, “How many books did you read last year?” (basically a Johnson-size contest for the literary nerd) with the vague “I don’t know, I think about 10 to 15”, you now can have a definite answer.
Three years ago, I read 10 books. In 2011 and 2012, I read 16 each. That’s progress, folks.
The only other thing you’ll need to get started is some sort of referee. My grandma served in this capacity before her passing and my mom has now admirably stepped in. Basically, you need someone that can play the role of honest judge.
For instance, last year I put the finishing touches on my debut novel. I probably read it three times and was curious if I was allowed to put that down as a book I read for 2012. My mom and grandma ruled that, in fact, I could. While I ultimately decided I couldn’t because it was a blatant attempt at stat-padding, it’s still necessary to have that governing body.
(Another example: if you start a book in December of a previous year and finish it in the following year, which does it count for? Is there a cut-off date? Does it really matter? Could it count for both?—–The answer, it turns out, is that if it’s started in that grey period between Christmas and New Year’s, it counts for the following year)
So, outside of fueling literary competitive fires and helping stem the erosion caused by time, keeping a book journal will also help you put together “My Favorite Books of [Insert Any Year for the Rest of Your Life Here]” Lists.
What’s that, you say? You were just about to ask for my list? Wow, that’s very kind of you. I actually happen to have the journal handy, so odd.
This past year, I was turned on to Chad Kultgen. I’ve read all three of his novels, but of them I most enjoyed The Lie (read in early February). It tells a story of a trio at SMU through their four years at college with each chapter from a different perspective, telling, retrospectively, how they thought “it” all went down and why. I’m not sure I’d recommend it to a woman, but seeing as how this is Three Guys One Book and all…
End of April into early May I read Chad Harbach’s The Art of Fielding (Yes, I read authors with first names other than Chad). That book, frankly, is as fantastic as you’ve probably heard. It’s not just about baseball, or college, or “coming of age” with Harbach seamlessly telling the stories of several different folks at the fictional Westish College.
I read two Jeffrey Eugenides’ novels (Middlesex to kick off the year and, after a needed break, The Marriage Plot over parts of March and April). While they certainly were good reads, I have one word of advice: edit. Each book clocks in at over 400 pages and while I’ve got no issue with length, each of these felt like they needed another round.
Lastly, and probably my favorite of the year, was Steve Hely’s satirical How I Became A Famous Novelist. If you’ve ever tried to write a book or wondered how it is some of these “awful” books become so famous, read this one. It’s really quite funny, and more importantly, makes some great points beyond the obvious.
So, folks, I leave you with one more New Year’s resolution: You don’t have to read more, just document it. You’ll thank me later.