How to keep track of the books you read

The Little Guide to Your Well-Read Life” by Steve Leveen suggests you track all of the books you’ve read. This enables you to see patterns, refer back to the list for reference needs and illustrates your varying interests over time. Plus, it’s cool to see how many books you’ve read. I started to do this, but it’s hard to remember all the books I’ve read in my lifetime. I started out with a wiki page of books, but as my wish list grew and the list of books I read grew, it became too cumbersome.

I wanted a solution that would allow me to track not only the books I own, but also the books I’ve read and want to read.

The site that does all that and more is called Library Thing.

Managing your books
You can easily add your Amazon wish list and even past orders (although that’s a bit more work). It’s very flexible, allowing you to tag your books, write comments, notes and reviews. I have two namespaces for my tags. The first namespace is mainly organizational, defining where the book is in the reading chain (toget, toread, reading, and read), whether I own it and the format (ebook or audiobook). I have a lot of books in the toget category, so I added priority with the rating system. That way I can go to the toget tag and see all the books I want to get sorted by how much I want to get them. I’ve also found it very useful to keep track of book recommendations. It’s quite handy to be able to refer to a list of highly recommended books when I’m ready to read another book. I use the comments field to help remember why the book made it onto the toget list.

The second namespace is used to describe the subject matter of the book, like fiction, finance or business. So far this system has worked out quite nicely.

Book reading lifecycle
Before using Library Thing the lifecycle of a book that I wanted to read was:

1. Enter the title and author in the toget section (or add the book to my Amazon wishlist)
2. Purchase the book
3. Cut and paste the book title and author to my reading section when I begin reading it.
4. Cut and paste the book title and author under a single subject heading when I’m done reading it.

As the page got bigger, I would sometimes mistakenly put books into the wrong category or lose a book in the shuffle. Now that I’ve switched to using LT, here is what I do.

1. Add the book to my library by typing in the title or author (or add the book from the Amazon page through the bookmarklet), tag it with the subject and toget.
2. Purchase the book.
3. Change the tag to reading.
4. Change the tag to read.

Here is my library.

The big wins for me are that once the book is in LibraryThing, it won’t get lost because it’s not being transferred anywhere. Once it’s in, it’s in and I’m just changing tags. I can also tag the book with multiple subjects rather than forcing it to be in only one. It’s comparable to folders in traditional mail clients (like Outlook) versus Gmail’s system of labels

The social aspect
One of the most useful parts of having all your books (including the ones you want to read) in one place is that you can find people with similar interests. It makes recommendations more meaningful if you share interests with the person providing the recommednation. You can use sites like What should I read next? but they are limited because they don’t have your entire collection of books. The recommendations I’ve seen so far from LibraryThing are quite good. They’ve even come up with books that I had forgotten I had read, so it helped populate my library as well. You can add friends and comment on their profiles but there’s pretty limited interaction.

What does it cost?
It’s free to track up to 200 books. I recommend you try it out first and see how you like it. If you like it, there’s no set fee to become a lifetime member. They ask you how much you want to pay within certain bounds. A lifetime membership (unlimited books forever) is $19-$55. A year membership is around $10-$20 I believe (I don’t know why anyone would get just a year membership).

Free books
Each month publishers make a certain number of review copies available to LibraryThing members. You just go to the Early Reviewers list and click on any of the books that catch your interest. If you’re chosen, the publisher will mail you the book and in return, you’re asked to write a short review on LibraryThing (and sometimes Amazon). The review doesn’t have to be positive, they just want you to provide your opinion for others. I’ve managed to get about a half dozen books this way. It’s hard to beat the price.

That about covers it. I haven’t had any epiphanies after tracking the books I’ve read for over a year, but I’ve enjoyed being able to see what I’ve read. It’s also been useful to see what interests I’ve had over the years and to remember books and what I learned from them.

They’ve had some growth issues which is good and bad. It’s good because it means they’re popular and things are going well. It’s bad because it has meant downtime and some growing pains. However, it’s not the type of site that I use constantly, so the downtime hasn’t been a big deal. It rarely lasts more than a few hours.

If you’re interested in learning more you can take the LibraryThing tour.


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  1. […] Wednesday – May 28, 2008 Tracking Comments, Bookmarks and Books I’ve made three new additions to the sidebar on this site. I’ll explain what they are. The first two sections come from and the third comes from LibraryThing. […]

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