Book Lists and The Second Law of Thermodynamics

By Kathy Crowley

Hi, my name is Kathy and I am organizationally challenged. Also, I am powerless over just about everything, mostly because I can’t find any of it. Yes, yes.  It’s true.  I could regale you with tales of repossessed cable boxes (pay the bill every month? Come on…) and cars driven with long expired registrations (“Now Miss Crowley,” says the officer, “which month comes first, February or August?”)

But instead, I’ll just cut to the chase: I can’t keep track of books I want to read.  Or books I’ve read.

Let’s take a quick look at my current system.

Books I’m Dying to Read List:

Somebody recommends a book that sounds great.  Exactly the kind of thing I’d like to read.  I WRITE  IT  DOWN.  Yes! On REAL PAPER.  Sometimes even with the author’s name!!  And the ISBN!  (Well, maybe not.)  THEN I put the paper in my pants pocket.  THEN I drop tomato sauce laden tortellini on my pants at dinner. THEN I put my pants in the wash.  THEN my husband complains that there are little bits of white schmutz all over the clean laundry.  And THEN, the next time I’m looking for a book to read I think, what was that really great book…? I know I wrote it down somewhere…

Books I’ve Read That Mattered to Me:

“Oh yes!  That reminds me of this book I read once. I loved it! It was called… Well, it was about this woman. I think she was a nurse. No, a governess!  You should read it.  I think you’d like it.”

So there. You have a sense of the scope of the problem.

Fortunately, I found a support group to help me with this problem. It’s called Twitter (yay Twitter!), and it’s full of really nice, caring people, most of whom I’ve never met but to whom I feel comfortable confessing my deepest darkest secrets.  Like my book list problem.

Laugh if you want. But let me tell you, Twitter gave me a lot of answers.  So did Facebook. And my BTM co-conspirators had a few suggestions, too (most of them polite).  So, in the interest of helping my fellow Book List Entropy sufferers, I have collected all of these suggestions, and listed them below.

Book List Preservation Method #1: “I’ll have an Old Fashioned, please.”

That’s right: Pen and paper. Moleskine. Lines. You remember them, right?  (See photo.)

Variation: a few people reported keeping three-ring binders so that pages could be moved around and entered in alphabetical (or other) order.

Others stuck to the keep-it-simple approach:

“When I get a new book, I lay it flat on the bookshelf. When I’ve finished reading it, I stand it upright.”

“I separate them by shelf — books waiting to be read, books I’ve read and want to keep, books I’ve read and am willing to part with…”

Book List Preservation Method #2: “First came the Word.  Then came the Word Document. Then, later the same day, the Excel spreadsheet.”

Two people (neither of whom are accountants!) described using Excel spreadsheets to keep track of the books they want to read and have read– columns for title, author, date started, date finished, comments, etc.

Some just use a plain old Word document. A BTM colleague keeps a list on her laptop.  What does she do when she’s out in the world and her laptop is at home?

“I use my phone to send myself an email with the name of the book then add it to the list later.”

Which brings us to the next category.

Book List Preservation Method #3: “Smartphones are so SMAHT.” (Like Matt Damon in “Good Will Hunting.” That guy, he was wicked smaht.)

iPhone and Blackberry (and probably all smartphones) have notepad apps.  In addition to being incredibly convenient (since most BB and iPhone owners keep their device in direct contact with their skin at all times), these phones can sync with other devices (e.g. desktop, laptop, iPad, etc.) so you can keep your list updated on your computer without much effort.

Book List Preservation Method #4: “Veni, Vidi, Vibli.  I came, I saw, I blogged. And I used my blog to keep track of all the books I read.”

Let me give credit to a pioneer in this field: Art Garfunkel.  Yup. Art Garfunkel of the Simon & Garfunkels.  His website records all the books he read starting from 1969. I kid you not. I am sad to say he stopped in 2009.  Check the link, it’s impressive.

Here’s another example I really like: A book a week last year and he writes a couple of lines on each.  A great — and community friendly! — way to keep track of what you read.

Book List Preservation Method #5: “Cloudy with a Chance of Order”

Okay, for the even more adventurous, hip and 2012ish — go to “the Cloud.” (Oooh…) I don’t actually understand what the cloud is, but I do like to strike a tech savvy pose. (My best guess so far is it means The Internets.)

Our terrific local librarian says she likes the Google cloud: “I keep a list on Google docs. Then I can access it at home or at work and keep it updated.”

Several other people reported keeping track of their books by putting them in wishlists on sites like Amazon.

A few recommended all purpose apps such as Evernote, which allow transfer of information and documents from device to device in different locations.

Finally, the most frequent recommendation from booklovers? Goodreads, LibraryThing and Shelfari.  I am grouping these together because they seem similar to me.  All of them allow a reader to keep his/her booklists on their sites.  All allow the reader to shelve (e.g. group by books read, books currently reading, books waiting to be read) and also to rate and review books. And all give readers the chance to be part of a community of readers sharing ratings, reviews, comments, recommendations.  (Anybody out there want to tell us why they prefer one or another of these sites? I just don’t know them that well.)

OK everybody, tell me how you keep track of what you want to read and what you’ve read.  I’d love to hear.

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