Thursday, July 30, 2020

More Things to Do at Home: Start a Book Journal

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I've been reading so many excellent books over the past few weeks: Children of God by Mary Doria Russell; When We Were Orphans by Kazuo Ishiguro; The Lying Game by Ruth Ware. The only problem is, thanks to isolation and social distancing, I don't have anyone to talk to about these great reads!

I'm sure that like many others in my predicament, one of the things I'm truly missing right now are book clubs. Of course there must be plenty of clubs online and chances to share opinions on review and similar sites, but in-person book discussions (and yes, all those passionate, intense "my-favorite-book-is-better-than-your favorite-book" arguments!) will still always be the best for me. However, there's still one good trick up every reader's (and writer's) sleeve: keeping a book journal, and if you haven't already started one, now is the perfect time to begin.

A book journal can be tailored to any format that suits you best, but I personally like to divide mine into sections and I prefer using lined paper for the simple reason that this is one type of journal that requires order over creativity. My favorite notebooks to use as book journals are those ruled composition books you can find anywhere from the grocery to the office supply store. They're cheap and I can collage and decorate the covers to my heart's content. But after I've put away the glue sticks and scissors it's all business and my next task is to create my various sections with things such as:
  • What's on my TBR pile? (Or Kindle line-up if you've switched to reading on a device.) Listing what to read next, and when, can help you from feeling overwhelmed from buying or owning too many unread books.
  • Answering the questions sometimes printed at the back of a book in the form of a "reader's guide." When I was able to attend in-person book clubs, I was often assigned the task of finding these guides on publisher's websites if they weren't included in the actual book.
  • Listing and writing about my favorite books: books from my childhood; books that motivated or inspired me; how-to books; books that marked significant moments or passages in my life.
  • Favorite authors and notes about their lives together with places I might like to travel to in order to visit their homes, museums, or archives.
  • Creating a reading wish-list for both myself and lists of books to give to friends or family as gifts.
  • Book club selections with records of what we've read, how the group responded to the book, and lists of books for future meetings.
  • Lists of books I've given away in case I want to reference them again one day, either by purchasing them or borrowing them from a library.
  • Books I didn't like, and why! It's fun to vent about a book you truly dislike, but it's also very revealing to discover the real reasons for liking one book over another. Note: I never think it's a good or wise decision to write one-star or very negative book reviews for publication on sites such as or Goodreads. But in the privacy of your journal you might want to express why a book bothered you so much. It's also a good way to discover more about your own writing: what genres appeal to you? What styles, voices, and types of characters are the ones you can--and want--to keep learning from? What mistakes do you want to avoid
  • Another tip for writers is to have a section in your journal that can be used for classifying and categorizing "comparison titles," books that you can offer to agents or editors as the ones that influenced you, or that your own book is similar to.
  •  Fan fiction. How would you continue the story or plot line if you could? Who were your favorite characters and what more would you like to discover about their lives? Use your imagination and write it down! I especially love doing this when the conclusion to a book is "open ended" and I'm left hanging: do the characters stay friends or become enemies? Are they able to create happier lives? Escape a war zone? Meet new romantic partners or give up on relationships altogether? Enquiring minds want to know!

Whichever way you want to go with your book journal always remember to write for yourself and never worry about what anyone else thinks about your taste in reading material. Go deep and ask yourself what you honestly loved, hated, or wished was different about the story or the way it was presented

Tip of the Day: It's lonely out there, but books can still be a great way to connect with friends. As a special treat for someone you haven't seen for awhile, how about making a book journal as a gift? Section off pages with questions and areas for them to fill in and complete. Be sure to include a list of some of your favorite titles and authors to recommend for future reading.