The Book Files

I have a little black book beside my bed.

It is a diary (an X Files diary actually -- ahem!), but there's no salacious reading in there. It's a record of every book I've read since 1996.

I've always had a habit of jotting down the titles of books I've finished. I used to keep a list at the back of my real diary, the one filled with angsty moanings about the unfairness of life, but I let that journal dry up years ago. Instead I have my X Files list.

Here's a random day's worth and what it tells me:

3rd May
Time In History: GJ Whitrow (98) Picked this up from the Readings bargain table. Not as interesting as it looked. This was obviously pre-children when I had more patience for dull books.
The Red Queen: Matt Ridley (99) A science book, something about sex and evolution? I used to read a lot of pop science, before my brains got scrambled by child-rearing. Don't know if I could struggle through this now.
The Veiled One: Ruth Rendell (01) When I was pregnant with Alice I read nothing but murder mysteries. Hm, that could explain a lot about Alice actually...!
Venus In Copper: Lindsay Davis (02) Another murder mystery, but set in ancient Rome. Alice was a baby. These were light but diverting reads.
Elsewhere: Gabrielle Zevin (07) Rosalind Price from Allen & Unwin lent me this when I was struggling with Cicada Summer. It didn't really help much but it was... interesting.

So in a way, my book diary does function like a real diary. I can remember what was happening in my life, where I was when I read a particular book, and why I picked it up. I go through phases -- mysteries, favourites from my childhood (in one difficult month I re-read all of Arthur Ransome), research for books I want to write (most recently, lots of books about New Guinea), books about the supernatural. There are books I read for my old book group, and books I've read for the new one.

There are weird pieces of synchronicity. I finished Kate Grenville's Searching For The Secret River three years (less one day!) after The Secret River itself. I seem to read more children's books in winter. I read less in September. There are days overflowing with books, and days that are completely empty, year after year.

But alas, the X Files are almost full. Too many days are crammed. So much in my life has changed since the day I bought it at the newsagents in Clifton Hill. In 1996, I was living in a Collingwood share-house, young and single, optimistically sending off short stories to Meanjin and Island. In 2010, four houses later, I'm in Preston, middle-aged and married, with two school-aged children and eight books to my name. I need a new little black book, for all the reading experiences the next fifteen years will bring.

Does anyone else keep a list of their books? Or is it just the Virgo in me?


  1. I don't, but what a fabulous idea - I'm going to start one right away! Thanks, aimee

  2. What an excellent idea. Just as music is a marvellous memory placeholder for many people, books are mine. I wish I had been like you and kept a 'diary' of them. I hate to think how many memories I have misplaced. But hopefully, just as hearing a piece of music can retrieve the memories, rereading or seeing a cover will do the same for me. Fingers crossed!

  3. Kate,
    I've been meaning to keep one for years and years, and the other day when I read about your handy dandy book diary, I decided to finally actually start my own. Thanks for the inspiration. :)
    I started last night, with the most recent books I've read; the Chanters of Tremaris trilogy. I already have ten pages of comments and thoughts on The Singer of All Songs. ;)

    Do you think that your reading journal helps in any way with your writing?
    That's what I'm trying to do with mine; write down everything I liked about the writing, as well as what I didn't like. (Not that I wrote anything like that about The Singer of All Songs.)

    Londy Leigh
    Your Newest and Biggest Fan

  4. 10 pages of comments! Crikey! You deserve a medal. I'm afraid I am too lazy to keep comments at my advanced age. I probably should, because sometimes I'll look at the title of a book I read a year ago, and remember nothing whatever about it. Although, when I think about it, that's a comment in itself, isn't it!
    I think a proper detailed reading journal is a fantastic idea, and it will be fascinating to go back to in the future to see how your taste changes and your critical faculties evolve. Well done you.

  5. I started in Jan 1996 and am up to book seven but this year joined one of those online review sites and the current book has been neglected all year. I now regret this and need to revert to paper again. Thanks for reminding me of the pleasure of flicking through the past. Some of my comments should not be made public anyway - not your books - promise.