Reading Journals: Making the Most of Your Books

We all know that reading is fundamental to a splendid life.

But what about writing about what you’ve read?

That’s right amigo – I’m talking about reading journals.

Some people consider them tedious, but I respectfully disagree.

Rather, I believe they’re a crucial and oft-overlooked part of the reading process.

Not only do they help you to remember what you’ve read, but provide a chance to reflect on the author’s intentions and your own reaction to the text.

So let’s grab a pen and a notebook, and start journaling our way to infinity and beyond.

What is a Reading Journal?

A reading journal is a delightful way to torture yourself with introspection and creativity simultaneously.

It’s a place to document your thoughts, reactions, and insights about the books you read.

It can also serve as a log of the books you’ve read, characters you’ve met, and quotes you want to remember.

Some people like to do this digitally, while others prefer the traditional self-flagellation of writing with pen and paper.

The Benefits of Book Notes

Point number one is that reading journals allow the forgetful bibliophiles among us to actually remember what they’ve read and identify books we want to revisit in the future.

Secondly, you’ll know from my previous grandstanding on this humble digital canvas that I’m a huge proponent of writing therapy.

Journaling about your reading helps process and analyze the material, decipher the author’s intention and create a deeper understanding of the text.

With this contemplation and reflection comes a more enriching reading experience.

One of the topics I bang on about a lot is bibliotherapy, which is basically a therapeutic book recommendation service.

Maintaining an up-to-date reading journal allows us all to become mini bibliotherapists, sharing book recommendations with our fellow flawed humans and helping them in their own psychological struggles.

“Books help us understand who we are and how we are to behave. They show us what community and friendship mean/ they show us how to live and die” – Anne Lamott

Types of Reading Journal

If you’re a reader, chances are you’ve kept some book notes at some point in your life.

Whether it’s a notebook you carry around with you to jot down your thoughts on the latest bestseller, or a meticulously maintained Excel spreadsheet, tracking your reading habits can be a fun and informative way to stay engaged.

But what kind of reading journal is right for you?

For the old-school reader, there’s nothing quite like the tactile experience of writing in a physical journal.

You can choose any notebook that tickles your fancy, and there’s no need to worry about batteries dying or losing your work if the computer crashes.

On the downside, lugging around a heavy book can be cumbersome, and it’s easy to lose track of your place if you don’t have a dedicated spot for it.

If you prefer something a little more modern, there are plenty of digital options available.

Goodreads is popular among book lovers for its ease of use, ability to connect with friends and for the literary voyeurs, to spy on what they’re reading.

For the more data-driven reader, an Excel spreadsheet might be the way to go – you can track everything from when you started and finished a book to how many pages you read per day.

In addition, there are obviously apps that do some of the analytical heavy lifting behind the scenes, so you don’t have to. Here’s one example, or if you prefer the more privacy-based option, you could always use something open-sourced like Nomie.

The downside of digital journals is that they can be less personal than their analog counterparts, and it can be easy to get lost in the numbers rather than focusing on the joy of reading itself.

But no matter what type of reading journal you choose, the important thing is consistency – an area I constantly fall down on – yes, despite running a book-themed website.

Use Cases

Reading journals differ depending on their application and who’s actually using them.

1. For Students

  • Taking note of important points or quotes for later studying or essay writing – oh, the joy!
  • Building a repertoire of texts for future research projects – having all this in one place is incredibly handy
  • Keeping track of required reading for class

2. For Book Clubs

  • Remembering plot points and characters for group discussions
  • Recommending books to other members
  • Keeping track of which books have been read

3. For General Book Lovers

  • Reflecting on and processing the book for personal growth
  • Building a record of your reading habits
  • Recommending books to friends or creating a personal “to-read” list

How to Start Documenting Your Reading

First, you must find a splendid notebook to serve as the physical embodiment of your creative anguish.

You’ll want to make sure it’s small enough to fit comfortably in your purse or backpack, in case you have a sudden and at times inexplicable urge to journal about the latest book you’re reading.

Once you’ve found the perfect notebook, it’s time to start filling it up with your deepest, darkest thoughts and feelings.

  • What did the protagonist’s motivations remind you of in your own life?
  • What themes were present that you noticed?
  • How did the author’s use of symbolism make you feel?

Try to be as specific as possible in your reflections, so that future you will actually have a vague idea of what you were thinking when you wrote them.

And most importantly, don’t agonize over whether or not your writing is good enough before finally putting pen to paper.

We’re not trying to be the next Hemingway – this is a project for personal exploration.

Reading Journal Ideas

Many would-be journalers are intimidated by the white screen of death and good old writer’s block.

Some journals include handy templates to help you escape your creative stupor.

However, if you prefer more flexibility, I recommend creating your own template and re-using it for each book for ease of comparison.

One way to do this is to brainstorm a list of questions or writing prompts to use as inspiration for your entries.

Some ideas include:

  • How did the setting impact the story?
  • What connections did you make to current events or history?
  • Did any quotes stand out to you? Why?
  • Did the ending surprise you? How did it make you feel?
  • What do you think the author’s message was?
  • How did this book change or reinforce your beliefs or perspective?

Remember – there’s is no right or wrong way to do it.

So get out there, grab a notebook, and start scribing.

Examples for Inspiration

Obviously, everyone’s style differs when it comes to writing and reflection, but here’s a reading journal example from a fictional Pride and Prejudice entry:

“It’s been a little over a week since I started reading Pride and Prejudice, and I must say that I am enjoying it immensely. The social commentary is quite sharp, and the characters are so well-drawn that it is easy to become invested in their lives. I particularly enjoy the scenes between Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy, which are often both funny and touching. It is clear that they have a great deal of respect for each other, despite their initial misunderstanding. I look forward to seeing how their relationship develops in the remaining chapters of the book.”

Would you add anything?

If so, pick up a pen and start writing – and send me some entries – I’d love to read them!

Reading Journal Templates

There are a number of different reading journal templates available online, each of which offers its own benefits.

Here are some common features though:

  • Author information and reading log entry area
  • Space for readers to rate each book they read
  • Note-taking area for what you liked and didn’t like about the book

Choose a template that best meets your needs as a reader.

If you’re not sure where to start, check out Etsy and Pinterest for inspiration.


In short, reading journals are a powerful tool for enhancing your literary experience and expanding your freaky little mind.

Don’t be afraid to get creative with your journaling process and prompts.

Then share the results with me so I can improve this article 🙂

Happy writing!