Online Bookshelves

For nearly a quarter-century, I’ve kept a running list of all the books I read, first in spiral notebooks and for many years now, in a blank leatherbound book I bought at the WaldenBooks in the Staten Island Mall early in 1985. The list is around 3,000 books long, and I am gradually putting it online, thanks to a wonderful new site called Library Thing. I’ve entered my books, going back about three years so far, and will be updating it going forward. I’m not sure how much back-entry I will do, but being able to search, tag and categorize books online, link to reviews and communities of others who own the books, and at some point perhaps even provide a “What I’m Reading” RSS feed, was just irresistable.

My bookshelf.

Additionally, I have for the last few years been writing about each book I read, in an attempt to stave off that horrible feeling of having read a book some years ago and not remembering a damned thing about it. I’m no longer doing that with a fountain pen, but instead in LJ entries, which will be linked to from the Library Thing catalog. (I’m not making the entries directly into Library Thing because (a) it doesn’t support HTML, (b) the comments aren’t text-searchable, and (c) there’s no way to make your bookshelf public but your comments private). My book essays — not reviews, which I post publicly — will be tagged “books” and will be filtered. If you are interested in reading what I write about each of the books I read (be warned, there will be many spoilers and I will make no attempt to label them), comment here or email me, and I’ll add you to what will probably be a very small filter.

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10 Responses to Online Bookshelves

  1. bobhowe says:

    I’m both deeply attracted and deeply scared by this project. On the one hand recording everything I’ve read, including a thumbnail sketch of each to fix the memory, is very appealing. On the other hand I’m afraid I could veer off into a place where I use so much psychic energy trying to record the memories that I lose the experience of the books.

    It’s like going on vacation and being focused on documenting it with pictures. Sure it’s nice to have the pictures to remember it later, but instead of being in the moment you’re thinking about loss. Admittedly with books it’s a little different: one is (presumably) recording it after the fact. Still it’s not the actual time I spend on the process as much as the intellectual energy I invest in it. I’ll have to think about this more.

    • ken says:

      You know, I totally understand that — Sunday morning I reminded myself a few times to simply enjoy being out in the blizzard and not constantly be reaching for the camera. But writing about the books I read has actually had the opposite effect: I am a voracious, speedy reader, and it’s very easy for me to put down one book and pick up another and be halfway through the new one before I go to bed. Stopping to think about a book I’ve just finished, to write about it before jumping to the next one, helps me to think about the experience rather than rushing past it.

      • bobhowe says:

        I can totally see how writing about (or discussing) a book would enhance the experience and fix the book more firmly in one’s memory. I’m just worried about feeding that compulsive anxiety to document everything—I should, I should, I should…

        • ken says:

          As Laurie noted, I am so far past worrying about the anxiety to document everything! I document obsessively, so at this point, I have long since stopped worrying about whether to feed that anxiety. I just make sure to pick up a couple of bags of Purina Anxiety Chow at the grocery store every week. And I’m fine with that, and I really do enjoy being able to look back at what I was doing and what I was reading ten years ago and feel some sense of progress.

  2. I would absolutely be interested in this project. While I understand Bob’s warning against getting lost in the cataloging, you have already shown a predilection toward organizing and recording notes longhand, so the warning is long past due in your case!

    I tried to do the same thing as your spiral notebook, but I lacked the patience to see it through. I cannot explain the impulse, except to say that it’s a joy to look at a book you’ve read and actually remember it. Sure, it may be “cheating” a bit, but if you can take the logistical headaches, it works.

    It sounds like a fascinating, and mildly masochistic, undertaking. I’m in if you’ll have me.

    • ken says:

      You’re in, but remember, lots of spoilers. Half the reason I write these things is to remember what happened in the book; otherwise I’ll completely forget it all.

      It doesn’t feel masochistic at all. It is indeed a joy to look back at all the books I’ve read, and to remember them. I am a compulsive documenter (see above) so that figures into it as well.

  3. I didn’t know other people wrote down all the books they read. I started a few years ago when someone in my book club said “My goal is to read 100 books this year” and I realized I hadn’t the slightest idea how many books I read in a year; so I started doing it.

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