In a time of year when lists abound, I wonder why lists work so well. So many of us make to-do lists for the day, week, or month. These are often chores, things that must get done. We might have to read for work, to research, comment, or write. We should or could read particular things, or my selfish favorite, I get to read what I’d like.
So where do reading lists belong? Many general readers start with bestsellers. But what is a bestseller list? A few years ago Publishers Weekly released a curious essay on that very thing, exposing the myth behind the word “bestseller.”
Bestsellers are not always the most-sold books. The New York Times, for instance, uses a “secret formula” based on numbers from a select group of book retailers. Amazon reports sales based on paper and hardcover books but not ebooks. The Wall Street Journal and USA Today produce their own lists as does the American Bookseller Association. There is no single true national list.
Bestsellers aside, book recommendations do abound, and I trust you already have a continuing list of things to read. As it is, I have a towering stack on my desk. Make that two. I’m always adding another group of essays, an historical novel, a poetry collection, a journal, fiction, spiritual study, nature memoir, children’s literature, and such. There are so many categories and subgenres and rereads, but that is not my focus here.
The better question to ask is how what you read affects you. More importantly, how do you remember your reflections and track your reading over time? Anne Bogel of Modern Mrs. Darcy recorded a podcast episode last month sharing helpful ideas her readers used for that very thing. Yes, Goodreads was the mainstay, but the majority of readers had developed their own systems using spreadsheets or handwritten reading journals tracking books read over the years. It wasn’t so much about tracking numbers as the annual Goodreads Reading Challenge does, but more about reflecting on the book’s meaning at the time in life you read it.
In these same personal lists, many of Mrs. Bogel’s listeners included a reference category for where they first heard of the book. Imagine looking back ten years from now and seeing what you read because a good friend at the time, a work colleague, family member, or random stranger recommended something you enjoyed. In the same vein, several of Mrs. Bogel’s listeners added that they still employ the tried-and-true Commonplace Journal. Date read, notable quotes, words that delight, even a one-line-a-day journal were all suggested. Some readers said writing a list of what they hoped to read in the year with pen and paper gave them the greatest satisfaction of all. Simply cross off what was read and when.
Other readers suggested bullet journals, reading diaries, and other variations. But then I heard something new to me, the next level of cataloguing, the free tool for cataloguing and tracking your books and media. With access to the Library of Congress, six national Amazon sites, and more than 2,200 libraries worldwide, Library Thing allows you to edit, search, label, and sort what you enter to organize your own library and reading lists. Their app allows you to scan books directly.
Whether 21st century cataloguing or handwritten means, personal reflection is key. An even more unique facet is reading or hearing the reflections of others. The ability to read, hear, or follow reading recommendations from a multitude of sources has only been amplified by those who blog or podcast. Though I do read a few blogs with regularity, I only began listening to podcasts three years ago. I began to listen in, not to the oh-so-famous ones, but to a handful that share reading interests with me.
As time has passed, many more podcasts for bibliophiles have cropped up, so here are a few I follow for the occasional, if not weekly, listen.
- Center for Lit podcast network with Adam Andrews
- Pints with Jack with David Bates and Matt Bush for reading C.S. Lewis
- The Literary Life podcast with Angelina Stanford, also known as “stories will save the world”
- Speaking with Joy with Joy Clarkson, a weekly feast of good, true, and beautiful morsels
- The Prancing Pony podcast for all things Tolkien
- The Close Reads Podcast network from Circe Institute. Close Reads, The Daily Poem, The Play’s the Thing, Libromania, and more
- National Review’s The Great Books podcast with John J. Miller
- Read-Aloud Revival with Sarah Mackenzie
As Lewis wrote to his friend Arthur Greaves, “If only one had time to read a little more: we either get shallow & broad or narrow and deep.” I trust that the keeping of lists this year proves ever more deep and meaningful as we all interact with authors, words, and meanings.
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 John Maher, Rachel Deahl, and Claire Kirch, “Does Anybody Know What a Bestseller Is?,” Publishers Weekly, November 2017.
 Anne Bogel, “Finding the right way to track YOUR reading,” December 24, 2009, in What Should I Read Next, produced by Modern Mrs. Darcy, podcast, audio, 47:40.
 Library Thing can be accessed here.
The featured image is a photograph of books by user StockSnap, courtesy of Pixabay. The image has been slightly modified for color.