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Why you should keep a list of every book you’ve ever read


The process of reading is imbued with personal meaning, so much so that fiction forms a capillary of hidden signposts to our lives.

Re-visiting a particular book will bring back memories associated with the time we first drank in that story, whether that was a beach holiday in Ibiza circa 1998 or the French school exchange.

And now a best-selling author has suggested that we keep a list of every book we read as a “baring of one’s soul”. 

Read more: Coming-of-age teen books that changed our lives

Writing in the Financial Times, Nilanjana Roy argues that keeping a formal tally of your reading habits not only reveals “your truest loves”, it’s also an illuminating act of honesty in an age where digitally enhanced perfection rules. 

While we’re happy to showcase The French Lieutenant’s Woman on our bookshelf, for example (some without actually reading it – just sayin’), we may not be quite so proud about binge-reading the Sweet Valley High series again that day six weeks ago, when we were sick and it was raining outside.

Would you keep a list of every book you'd ever read?

Would you keep a list of every book you'd ever read?

Roy, the author of The Wildings and The Hundred Names of Darkness, uses Pamela Paul, editor of the New York Books Review, as an example.

Paul recently published My Life with Bob,  “a bound record of everything I’ve read or didn’t quite finish reading since the summer of 1988”. This includes Nancy Drew, “cheap romances” and self-help books, as well as weightier tomes.

“It is quite heroic to list with honesty everything that once appealed to you, without snobbery or discomfort,” notes Roy. “Even for the most fearless of diarists, much of the shadowed truths of their lives lie in what was not recorded.”

Read more: 10 books to guide you through every chapter in life

Your life’s reading list, she says, uncovers “your most instinctive urges, as well as more thoughtful, curated appetites”.

“In an age of Facebook and selfies, people don’t even realise that they might be ‘lying’ by curating a flawless (or at least less imperfect) version of their lives,” the author writes.

Compiling a list of all the books you can remember reading and sharing it “seems a more authentic way of revealing — and perhaps even being surprised by — yourself”.

Photos: iStock


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