Organizing a Reading List

In the mood for some KafkaSome people get a hankering to clean and organize in the spring. Me, when it’s beginning to get dark earlier and I see back to school schedules and promotions, I get all itchy to clean out closets and organize everything I see. I fall clean like crazy.

Fall also brings on the Jewish high holidays, one of which is Rosh Hashana, which marks the New Year (5772). So not only do I clean but I also make a set of new year’s resolutions (which I do again in December for the other new year). My goal for this fall’s resolution is to be better organized and to keep things in a logical and somewhat efficient system. Or, as I put it, making sure Present Sarah does Future Sarah a favor and doesn’t make more work for her.

One of my goals for all that organization and thinking aheaded-ness is to better organize my reading list. Because I read mostly digitally but occasionally on paper, I have to create a system to track not only what I want to read, but where it is – on the Kindle? On my iPad? On paper and currently on the side table? My list in progress is as much of a GPS for my books on the list as it is a schedule.

Which got me thinking – most people are probably better organized than I am (Shut up, you SO are). So, do you track and organize the books you have to read? A giant vertical pile? A written list? A spreadsheet?

I asked this question a week or so ago on Facebook and the answers were fascinating. Some use Calibre, and some use GoodReads. There’s the ever popular spreadsheet, either in Excel or GoogleDocs, or a pile of books or shelf order in the bookcase. Other folks use a time-honored system: the due date for the book to be back at the library.

I’m still trying to figure out the best way for me, but I’m curious, since all of you are avid (which really isn’t a strong enough word, really) readers: how do you track your reading list?


Random Musings

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  1. 1
    Kaetrin says:

    I devoted a few weeks earlier this year to putting all my books onto Goodreads and cataloguing them as either paper or ebooks so I know where to look for them.  I haven’t graduated to actually sorting out a reading order yet but I do know which books I own and where they are – I even set up a “loaned-out” shelf (not that I do it often) so that I can track what sort of book I have and where it might be.  Especially with series books, I often find it difficult to remember whether I already have a particular book and with the mobile Goodreads app for either Android or iPhone, I find it is really useful for making sure I don’t double-purchase.  It’s a big job initially but once the backlog is done, it’s fairly low maintenance to put the new purchases/wins/ARCs onto the list.

    I don’t think I could have a reading list- I tend to flit about when choosing what to read next, depending on my mood.  I justify this by the notion that I have a responsibility to bring my a-game to a book – if I want to read it, that’s a good start and gives the book the best chance of success.

  2. 2
    Rose says:

    But Sarah, you’re supposed to do this sort of cleaning and organizing for Passover, not for Rosh Hashanah!

    Honestly, I don’t own enough books for this to be a problem. Until I actually own rather than rent (not anytime soon, that’s for sure), I’m not going to accumulate a huge collection that I might need to move on a regular basis. I have a firm “one book stays, another must leave” policy for hard copy books, and my Kindle won’t arrive until next week, so I haven’t yet accumulated too many e-books, either. My TBR pile, both real and electronic, has never contained more than ten books, and I don’t plan what I’m going to read – I just go with whatever I feel like at the time.

    I began to track everything I read/want to read using an excel spreadsheet about four years ago and so far that’s worked for me.

  3. 3
    Overquoted says:

    Well, I read in paper and ebook form. I’ve found, however, that I no longer remember which books I’ve read and which I haven’t in print. This is a recent development (I could’ve told you two years ago which books I’d read in the last ten). I’m thinking from now on, I’m going to start tagging my print books by putting those little round colored stickers on the spines.

    The ebook side is a lot easier now that I use calibre with my Kobo. I use the tag system a lot. I usually have a 3- or 4-letter acronym of the genre the book belongs to (or if I want to read it immediately, it’s labeled [TBR]). Then when they get transfered to the Kobo, I have a metadata plugboard that outputs the title as {tags} – {title} -> {title}. Nifty thing. Helps remind me what the book is about. And if I’m the mood for a specific genre, I can go directly to a bunch of books of the same genre. When I’m done, I delete it from my Kobo and change the tag field to [Finished] in the library. It stays in my calibre library, but not my Kobo.

    I have 700-1000 print books, and most of them are arranged in similar fashion. I even arrange an author’s books strangely. If it’s romance, I always sort them by the time period they’re set in, followed by whether or not they’re part of a series (even if it’s just related characters). Makes it easy to find a pirate or medieval romance. ;)

    I should mention that I was almost OCD about organizing as a teenager. *cough*

  4. 4
    Laura (in PA) says:

    I use an Excel spreadsheet too. I read a lot of mysteries, and I’m uber-anal about reading series in order, so I keep a list In order by author, then by series in order, and I indicate which ones I already have and whether it’s a hardcover, paperback, or on my Kindle. I also include a brief description of the plot/series setting, so i can keep them straight. It’s handy to have when I’m in a bookstore or otherwise acquiring books, so I know what I “need”.

    I tried using iBookshelf, an app that tracks books, but it was too buggy (series didn’t always go in right or at all, book info wasn’t always correct, you couldn’t always see where in a series the book fell), so I went back to the good old Excel spreadsheet.

    As for organizing physical books, I have two 5-shelf bookcases that hold most of my books, and they are organized by author, then in series order, if applicable. One case is for mysteries, one for non-mysteries (romance and general fiction). Then there are the piles next to my bed, which are far less organized. :)

    As far as what I read when, it totally depends on my mood. When I finish a book, I peruse the piles/shelves, titles languishing in the Kindle, or even the spreadsheet to figure out what I feel like next. That’s why I’ve never joined a book club – it would annoy me to have to read something I’m not in the mood for. Plus, they always seem to choose sucky books. ;)

    So yeah, “avid” may not be strong enough…

  5. 5
    Sarah W says:

    I look at the stack on top of the toilet tank.  If I’ve read it recently, it’s probably there.

    But honestly?  I don’t track.  Inadvertant re-reads don’t bother me at all.

  6. 6
    Alex says:

    Woah, aren’t people organised?  I don’t computerise it at all.  I have about 5 giant piles of books next to the bed (they also double up as a big bedside table which is quite useful!) that make up the bulk of my TBR pile.  I have to read what takes my fancy at the time though so often that means the pile will be ignored and I’ll reread some of my favourites instead.

    I keep a note in my diary of what I’ve been reading that day though.  I think the total for last year was something like 345 books.

  7. 7
    Morphidae says:

    Hi, my name is Morphy and I am a list addict.

    I have a few MS Access databases:

    Lifetime To Be Read
    Read Books
    Author Bibliographies

    The Lifetime To Be Read database is a list of “only” 9,000 or so of the books I want to read… eventually. I also have my various challenges there – book lists that I track how much I’ve completed such as all Hugo winners.

    Read Books tracks my reading including author, title, year published, a quickie review and rating among a few other pieces of data.

    Author Bibliographies has tables of every author where I want to read their entire works.

    Then I have a table in my To Do database that has the books I want to read in the next month or so – about 25 – 30 titles.

    Oh, and another table with the books that are TBR Soon – that runs about 100 – 200 titles.

    Nothing much. Heh.

  8. 8
    Alley says:

    I keep track of what I’ve read on GoodReads.  As for a TBR list . . . I don’t know that I have one?  I have a shopping list on Amazon that I add books to for reference, and I put a ton of samples on my Kindle, so I guess that could count, but I don’t attack them one after the other.  I’ll jump from book to book—or, sometimes, sample to sample—to decide what I feel like reading.  (I’ve noticed that having a stocked ebook makes me focus less on a particular book if it’s not grabbing my attention.  Previously, I would soldier through a library book for awhile longer, but now, if it’s not grabbing me in the first eighth to quarter of the book, forget it.  There are too many other books in the world for me to force myself to finish something I’m not enjoying.). 

    I’m a moody reader and my reading goes in phases, so while everyone may be raving about a romance novel, I may be tired of romance and into mystery for the moment, and so that novel gets set to the side.  Or I’ll start something I want to read, and then decide I just don’t care about it right then. To have an actual list to go down would feel like required school reading to me.

  9. 9
    Rij says:

    My physical books are organized into:

    -reference (which means basically any non-fiction that gets looked at occasionally)
    -comics and manga
    -unread paperbacks
    -read paperbacks
    -unread hardcover
    -read hardcover (Hardcover and paperback are mostly separated by size, not the quality of their actual covers.)

    I don’t have the books listed anywhere, so far I’m able to remember most of them. Then there’s the huge pile of library books on the bedside table that never seems to shrink as I keep bringing home more books than I get around to reading.

    My Kindle collection is still pretty small so I’m able to keep all the unread books on the first two pages of the index. I just have to go through the list after every couple of books so that all the unread stuff is at the front.

    I just started keeping track of books I’ve read two years ago. It’s just a simple Word document. Another simple text on my computer is a list of books that I am going to either borrow or buy, this list also includes dates for books that haven’t actually been published yet. I keep thinking that I should organize the lists better but never seem to get around to it.

    I read multiple books at the same time and choose books based on my mood. There are dozens of books on my shelves that have been waiting for just the right mood for years. I don’t schedule my reading and there are very few books that I have to read, which is how I can get by with just the rough read – unread division.

  10. 10
    Carin says:

    I use a couple things.

    My physical keeper shelf is organized by genre and series.  (Series as in Kenyon, Feehan, Cole, etc.). And, of course, each series is shelved in order.

    Digitally, I had a brief affair using Callibre to organize books for my Sony, but gave that up as too much effort.  I’ve got MANY folder (oh, I’m sorry, I mean ‘collections’) on my Sony.  One of them is called ‘about to be read’. I had to put the ‘about’ in there o pull it up to the top of my list of collections.  Inside the atbr list I put the books in the order I think I’ll read them. 

    I’ve got an excel spreadsheet listing all titles but I don’t keep it up to date well.

    I’ve got files with long series (In Death, I’m talking to you, and you, too, Psy Changelings) listed in order.

    I recently read on DearAuthor a pst by Jane on using Dropbox and Callibre together to organize books.  I jut got an ipad and I need a non-Sony based Organization system.  I’m hoping to spend some time trying the Dropbox+Callibre system once the kids are back in school. One of my favorite features with Callibre was the way you can change metadata.  So, for example, I changed all my Psy Changeling titles to include the number they were in the series.

    I’ve got an excel spreadsheet

  11. 11
    Suzy says:

    I keep my books organized via I don’t have many ebooks right now, but that will be changing. I also organize where books are by catagory & status.  I rate them, tag them & am able to easily find them. When I don’t want to keep a book, I can mark (comment or tag) why I didn’t want to keep it.

    I have a couple of small bookcases that have my TBR books. Not all of the TBR mountain is located there, but most of it.

    But, while you are prioritizing your books for reading, I’m moving within the next month. 3000+ books to move. Can’t do 3000+ books, so I’m selectively culling. **SOB**

    So, I’m tagging the books (on LibraryThing) that I’m not taking with me. This will tell me what I had & help me to replace them if I want to. What is hard, though, is that I have many complete series sets and many books that are out of print or difficult to get. (yes, my heart is hurting!)

    But, organizing & being methodical about the move & the books is helping. I won’t forget the books I had because I have a record of them & I can probably get them again, possibly in digital (although it isn’t the same).

    Oh, it is hard!! (& heavy, too)

  12. 12
    Carin says:

    *ignore that last “I’ve got an excel spreadsheet”. I’m having editing issues.

  13. 13
    Kerry Allen says:

    I use Goodreads, but it’s more to keep track of what I’ve already read so I don’t waste money buying multiple copies and to keep track of what I loathed with the fiery passion of a thousand dragon farts so I never buy anything by that author again.

    If I haven’t read a book, it’s physically on a bookshelf I’m methodically trying to clear lately. If nothing on the shelf holds any appeal when I need something to read, I know it’s time to go shopping.

  14. 14
    Rae says:

    I’m on shelfari. It’s dangerous at times, because they have three categories for books: To Be Read, Read and Reading Now. I’m not always faithful about updating the “read” section, which has lead to a few re-reads but nothing in a bad way. For the most part, I use it to keep track of my TBR list. The one that isn’t physically located on a growing pile on my dresser.

    Let me tell you, having a 16mo really puts a crimp in your reading time. I did get sneaky and start reading via Kindle app on my phone while snuggling with her (in that “I’m asleep but don’t you dare put me down” phase) and then transfer where I am to the actual Kindle to finish the chapter in my bed…but it’s hard to do that with real books.

  15. 15
    Jayne says:

    My long-term TBR pile is my Amazon wishlist, and the short-term TBR pile is the 3-4 books on my Kindle at any given time. I don’t want to talk about how much I spend on e-books, it’s embarrassing.

    As for what I’ve already read, I LOVE having a blog. Even if nobody else reads it, I like to be able to review almost every book I read (or at least every romance) while it’s still fresh, and looking through the archive when it comes to recommending stuff. Although other people submit reviews to me, which means my TBR pile grows even larger, and the whole thing begins again. May the circle be unbroken!

  16. 16

    I use Google Docs for books I get in the mail. I have 3 categories: 1) review books (with date received, when to review, pub) 2) books for book blog tours 3) books won in contests or from friends (so I can thank them when I review them).

    Then I have Goodreads for all the books in my house. Other than categorizing them as owned, borrowed, ebook, audio book, I don’t really organize them. I use Goodreads for when I’m too lazy to go look at my shelves but want to pick what to read next.

    Organization is really personal, I find. It’s interesting to see how other readers do it.

  17. 17

    I enter all the books that come into my house whether in print or digitally into my account at LibraryThing. I also have a GoogleDocs spreadsheet that I use to keep track of review books. That one is sorted by the date the book will be published.  Beyond watching the spreadsheet to make sure that I am meeting my commitments for review books, I don’t really organize my other books. I prefer to browse through what I have and read what catches my fancy at the time.

    On the other hand, fall is the time I go through the masses of YA books that I have gathered but not read and sort out the ones I don’t think I will ever get to. Those get donated to my HS Media Center where they will still be accessible to me if I ever do find the urge to read them. The adult books I haven’t gotten to yet just end up piling up around my house.

  18. 18
    Asia M says:

    I don’t list books I’ve yet to read, but I do list those I’ve read… For romance novels, I even keep a ratings page on my blog.

    I compiled my TBR pile a few weeks ago and found out I had nearly 30 romance books to read, some I bought over a year ago… plus all the other books. Why make a list when I’ve got too much choice right now? Because I also review books on my blog, I usually try and diversify the genres or subgenres, but that’s something I decide when I close a book and start looking for the next one.

  19. 19
    Bri says:

    I started using good reads in December, so i use that for the recent things I have read.  I am not going to go back a keep track unless i run across a link to seomthing I hvae read

    I have an excel spreadsheet fo the newer things in my TBR – so i can split it up by gnere becuase if I just have a list of titles I will never remember what they are remotely about

    the paper books in my apt are helter skelter with the spines exposed – I do not have enough room for anything more orgnaized than that at this point in time,  I get a lot from the library still so use the due date method for those

    I dont usually re-read so finding locations of copies of things is not usually a probem for me

    Dont have an ereader yet so I only have a few ebooks to track and those were notsly ones i got for free.

    I also still have paper lists of some authors – (the ones i had from before the spread sheet), that i highlight as I read the books – i find this helpful for series that are long (such as in death) and find it less work to print it once than go to the website for every single book.  and it helps me remember what the last title i read was.  :)

  20. 20
    Mo says:

    I used to use Shelfari, but it hasn’t met my needs in a long time.  So, I switched over to GoodReads.  I like it a lot.  I just wish now that I had kept a log of all the books I have read in my lifetime.  :(

    I find it very easy and convenient, especially with the iPhone app so I’ll never buy a book I already have.

  21. 21
    Grace Lillevig says:

    I use LibraryThing.  I think since I’m a librarian I like their tagging capabilities better than GoodReads (I’ve tried both).  I use it to track what I’ve read, including a synopsis as well as my to read list.  I also have a list of to read for my son (20 months old) and my husband.  It helps me keep track of what’s what.

    Long ago, I did the paper thing, but electronic is much easier.  I’d recommend one of the services since they’re geared towards books rather than a spreadsheet or database (just my opinion).

  22. 22
    Snarky*Bitch says:

    I use Book Collector from and then export it into an Excel spreadsheet & save it to Dropbox so I can bring it with me to the bookstore to avoid duplicates.  I also use Collectorz Connect if I want to add books to my library in realtime when I’m shopping my book route.

    Book Collector has an option for whether or not you’ve read it or if it’s on your wish list, which rocks!


  23. 23
    Kimberly Mears says:

    LibraryThing!!!  It is great for organization of books. You can tag books with their location (like 3rd shelf or Kindle) or you can create categories.  Goodreads is nice for the social stuff, but LibraryThing is better for organization and cataloging books.  It gets book information from lots of different sources, not just Amazon.  It has fewer errors in the book information than Goodreads.  Plus, Goodreads is married to the shelf thing. Not the best way to organize.  Tags make organization much easier. I have categories for Wishlist and To Read (as well as Read but Unowned, Favorites, ebooks, Audible, etc). I also use tags so that I can find things within my categories.  Tags can be anything (The way I use it is with a tag for book genre, one for book format, one for book location, one for book setting, one for book time period, and one for anything special about the book I loved (like “witty dialogue”). You can also enter using a barcode scanner (I use the one on my phone).  I use both Library Thing and Goodreads. LibraryThing is my book catalogue. I enter information into Goodreads just for social purposes (to find other books similar, to get recommendations, etc).

  24. 24
    Spinster says:

    I’ve been reading pretty much exclusively on my nook since I got it a year and a half ago.  So my TBR “pile” is a nook shelf named “Unread” and there’s also my ebook wishlist.  I keep another wishlist on the same site (Barnes & Noble) of TBRs that aren’t available in ebook.  My loose rule is that if it’s on that list for a year, and I’m still interested in it, I’ll start looking for a cheap used hard copy.
    As for read books, I organize my bookshelves and my nook by genre, then series (if any).  Quick and easy, works for me.

  25. 25

    Goodreads is my primary To Read list, but there, I break it down a bit across a couple different wishlists and subsets of the To Read list:

    1) Do I want to actually buy it? If I want to buy it, do I want it in print or electronically?
    2) Do I want to check it out from the library? If so, do either of my local libraries have it in ebook?
    3) Do I own it? If so, do I own it in hardcover, trade, mass market, or e? If I have it in both print and e, which formats?

    Once I actually own it, if it’s a print book, it waits on the shelf until it bubbles up to the top of my queue. If it’s electronic, it goes into Calibre, where, again, I have to do a bit of organizing.

    1) If it’s a purchase from B&N, which is likely given that I’m a Nook owner, it’ll go onto the Nook without Calibre’s intervention. My iPhone and iPad both have Nook apps so if I forget to take the Nook somewhere with me, I can use those as backup reading devices and keep my reading position synced, yay!
    2) If it’s a purchase from elsewhere, and it’s epub, it’ll still go onto the Nook via Calibre. I’ll probably also put it onto the i-Devices just to be thorough because I never really know what I want to read at any given time.
    3) PDFs HAVE to go on the iPad because that’s where I can read them best. The Nook talks PDFs but not nearly as well as the iPad does.

    I also have a small number of books in Stanza on the iPhone, although that’s become less of a go-to source for reading for me now that I have the other devices.

    Once I actually read a particular book, I’ll yank it off all the devices it appears on.

    All of which is really rather complicated, but hey, this is what happens when your To Read list has 900+ things on it and will probably clear a K by the end of the year. ;)

  26. 26
    Cass says:

    I started using GoodReads in January, and I absolutely love it—because I set a reading goal, and it’s so helpful to have their tracker for that. It’s great to be able to see the percentage, whether I’m on track or not, and the visual layout of all the books I’ve completed. There’s a great sense of achievement attached to tracking things through them.

    In the real 3D world, I’m a hyper-organised freak when it comes to my books (and almost nothing else). My bookshelves are organised first by genre, then alphabetically by author—except for the history and historical fiction shelf, which is organised chronologically by subject (from dinosaurs to Good Omens, a book about the apocalypse, because that’s the sense of humor that I have). There’s just nothing quite as satisfying as a well-organised bookshelf. ;D

    As for what I’m going to read—that’s a little less focused, mainly because I’m easily distracted by either new shinies or by the need to revisit old friends. I have a to-read list on GoodReads, but it’s more of a “remember to buy/borrow this at some point” list, not a “read these things in this order” list. A running to-read list on my blog gives me some accountability, and I usually have a reading project or two going, but generally I pick things up as the fancy hits me.

  27. 27
    rudi_bee says:

    I moved out of home this year and with that came packing, moving and re-shelving my many books so I created a spreadsheet of all the books I own and where they were in life (my parents place, my new place, lent to a friend etc.). I actually found it so helpful that I’ve continued to maintain the spreadsheet and added tabs of TBR and books to buy.

    Plus it was a great way to procrastinate while feeling like I was actually doing something.

  28. 28
    Julie says:

    Wow, looks like I’m more old-fashioned about these things.  I’m a librarian so I hardly ever buy books and I don’t own an e-reader.  I keep a little notebook where I write down every book I want to read, since I see so many at work that look good, I can’t keep them all bedside.  I just highlight what I’ve finished.  I do use goodreads, but only to keep track of what I’ve already read and rate it so I can remember if I liked the book/series or not.  I also keep a word file with authors’ bibliographies as I am also very anal about reading series in order.

  29. 29
    Brandy says:

    I’ve been using goodreads for nearly a year now and I love it.  Not only can I keep up with what I plan on reading, but I can also keep up with what I’ve already read. After I read a book, I write a brief review and the date I finished the book.  I’m really surprised by how much I actually read now that I can see it.

  30. 30
    Katie says:

    I love me some goodreads! I have been using it for about a year to keep track. I need it mostly for books I want to read and not so much for those I have (I have a pretty good memory for titles, but I have looked back recently to find out an author). The best part is the same book can be on multiple shelves. For instance, I have some books that are on my to-read list and also on avail-as-audio (library audio, of course!), avail-at-library, and requested-at-library. You make up the names of your shelves, which is super helpful. So you could also do genre or series if you were so inclined.

    It also shows you what your friends who use goodreads are reading or what they rated a book they read. It has (MY FAVORITE FEATURE OF ALL!) a barcode scanner on the mobile app. Which means that when I am at a friends/the bookstore/the library and see a book I am interested in I don’t have to write down the name (which I am guaranteed to lose), but just scan the barcode and put on my to-read shelf. Love it!

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