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It was something like...

It's funny how the mind works.  Picture this: you're having lunch with your best friend.  A few weeks ago, you finished a book that you absolutely LOVED, and you think she'd really like it, too.  But now that you have the opportunity to recommend it to her, you find that a few key details (like the book's author and title) have slipped your mind.  You can wax rhapsodic about the plot.  You can remember the color of the dress the heroine is wearing on the cover, and you remember her name-- Rose.  (Or maybe it was Violet?  A flower, anyway.)  You know she has an eccentric older relation.  You sit there wracking your brains, feeling a little embarrassed over your lapse, and assure your friend that you're almost positive the word "Scoundrel" is somewhere in the title... or maybe it was "Scandal"?  (If you're a regular romance reader, you're probably laughing in pained sympathy by now.)  Anyway, you got the book from the library; you're sure the librarian could help her find it.  (Librarian's answer: "Maybe?")  Sound familiar?  I can assure you, you are NOT alone in this difficulty.

The librarian will try.  We want to help, and a broad vote of confidence like yours makes us really, really want to prove worthy of it.  Truthfully, I have found books on a lot less, but luck and wild leaps of logic played a large role in those cases.  Librarians do have a lot of training and finding aids at our disposal (including each other-- we each have strengths in different genres) to help us track down books, but sometimes we just don't get enough to go on.  The color of the cover isn't a lot of help, since the book spine won't always match and the catalog doesn't have the cover art for every edition.  Settings and plots can narrow down the search, but will only get you so far in the library catalog.  We won't be able to find a title by searching your library record; once you return an item, it's gone from your record (except in a few odd cases, like an outstanding fine on the item).  If you really want to find a book again, you'll need to remember the title and author.  Of course, that information comes with its own pitfalls (I've heard a lot of close-but-not-quite variations on Lisa See's Snow Flower and the Secret Fan), but it remains the quickest and most reliable way to find a book in the library.

Above all, don't beat yourself up over having a bad memory.  We have ALL done this, myself included.  A few months ago, veteran romance blogger Sarah Wendell shared her personal list of "Must-reads in Romance" as a guest entry on the Kirkus Reviews blog. (If you're not familiar with Sarah's work, go check out the article-- she's got some great recomendations!  Go ahead, I'll wait.)  I've always been interested in people's enduring favorites, what some reviewers call their "D.I.K." reads (for "desert island keepers")-- as in, if you were stranded on a desert island with ONE shelf of books for the rest of your life, what would be on it? *  Looking at Sarah's D.I.K. shelf made me aware of how skimpy my own romance keeper list is.  I really needed to start reading more broadly in the genre, and Sarah's list looked like an excellent jumping-off point for me-- I was familiar with the authors in a general way, but the titles were all new to me.

Well... not entirely new.  One of the first books on her list was Loretta Chase's Lord of Scoundrels.  The back cover hadn't rung any bells, but by the end of the first chapter, I realized this was the book I'd been looking for since my first serious encounter with the romance genre.  Not in the abstract "I'm looking for an outstanding read" sense (although it certainly was that), but in the more concrete "I read this fantastic romance, but darned if I can remember the author or title now."  I'd read it years ago; in fact, this had been one of the titles that convinced me romances were worth reading.  I'd forgotten to make a note of it when I read it, and I'd been trying to find it again ever since.  Oh, the shame, the shame! 

I recognized the problem, of course.  I'm a voracious reader, but not a very disciplined one.  (I had to reread six romances featuring women in yellow gowns before I rediscovered Connie Brockway's The Golden Season.)  I do try.  I'll jot authors and titles on little slips of paper and carry them around in my pocket until they go through the wash.  I copy and clip reviews.  I print out lists of books I have checked out, and put a star next to the ones I want to remember.  I've started at least four book journals.  (Is any of this sounding familiar to the rest of you?)  Of course, the genre itself is little help here-- romance publishers produce a large volume of titles every month using a fairly narrow vocabulary (go ahead, do a keyword search for "scandal"-- I dare you).

Luckily, there's a growing array of tools out there to help you organize and share your reading.  Instead of offering a reading list this month, I thought I'd share a few of these tools with you, along with the basic steps involved in setting up a reading tracker.

Step One: Determine what sort of information you want to track. 

At a minimum, you'll want to make a note of the author and title of everything you read, and the date you read it.  If you think you'll need to refer to the book later in a paper or bibliography, also make a note of the place of publication, publisher, and date of publication.  If you want to purchase a title later, get the ISBN (International Standard Book Number, the 10- or 13-digit number assigned to every published book).

If you have the inclination, you can do a bit more.  A rating system can make it easier to track which authors you like and avoid the ones you didn't.  Do you trade a lot of recommendations with friends, or get them from multiple sources?  Add that information to your list-- a simple "from NYT," "libr. rec.," or "perfect for J.!" is enough.  (You could even check it off later, when you've passed on the information.)  Do a mini-review-- jot down a few particulars about the book (plot, characters, genre, series number, what you loved or hated about it). I know someone who tracks page counts, so she can total them all up and impress herself with how many pages she's read that year.  Don't assign yourself more than you think you can finish; you'll need to get into the habit of doing this for everything you read!

Step Two: Choose a method of recording your books.

There are a growing number of options here, and you'll probably need to experiment a little before you find the method that suits you best.  Some will work better than others according to how much or how little information you want to track, and the level of technology you're comfortable using.

  • Memory

   Some people can do this-- just keep a mental list of everything they have or haven't read.  I am not one of them (though I'll usually recognize something I've already read within a few pages).

  • Paper

   This seems pretty simplistic, but it's the easiest method.  If you already keep a diary of some kind, you can use the margins to make a note of books as you read them.  You can use a paper bookmark, a notebook, a book journal-- as simple or as structured as you care to make it.  It's easy to keep track of your "to-be-read" titles this way, too-- just start a second list (some people will use the back of their reading notebook for this, and work forward), and check off and date books as you finish them.  One person I know keeps a filebox of 3x5 cards for this purpose, so she can alphabetize-- you can do this with looseleaf and a tabbed binder, too.

  • Author's list

   Okay, this is also paper, but it's a slightly different technique.  This method works well for people who like long-running series, or have a limited "stable" of authors they follow.  The front pages of authors' books often contain lists of other things they've written.  Photocopy the "other titles" page from a recent release and start checking them off!  As the author writes new books, you can add them to your list, or simply update your photocopy every so often.  Library databases like NoveList (accessible from home with your library card number) or series-tracking websites like Fantastic Fiction or FictFact can not only help you with lists like these, but also suggest similar authors or titles you might enjoy.

  • Computer or smartphone (offline)

   Just like the paper version, this can be as easy or as complicated as you want it to be, and you don't need web access.  You can use the "organizer" space on your smartphone, keep a simple list as a word processing document, or create a spreadsheet so you can re-sort your list easily.  There are also programs you can download or purchase (designed for organizing a small home library) that allow you to add in dates and comments.

  • Built-in tools in our library catalog (online)

   Right now, you have two options at New City Library.  In the classic catalog, the "My List" option is pretty simple.  It will allow you to create, reserve from, and email lists of titles in our catalog as long as you're logged in to your account with your library barcode number. This information will only be visible to you (and only when you're logged in).  When you're searching the catalog, just use the "Add to My List" button to add a title, and use the "My List" icon in the top right corner (above your name) to manage your lists.  The AquaBrowser layer offers a separate "My Discoveries" link.  This allows you to create an account (which is NOT linked to your library card account) that you can use to create lists, tag titles in the catalog with keywords, add a star rating, or write mini-reviews.  (Note that this information will be visible to other catalog users.)  You can create an account and log in using the "My Discoveries" link on the top right (if you're already logged in, it will display your user name).  To use it, perform a search in the catalog and then click on the "Save or tag..." option at the bottom of the item's description in the results list.

  • Social reading sites (online)

   The options here are many, and they're continuing to grow.  The two big ones at the moment are GoodReads and LibraryThing.  Sign-up is currently free (though LibraryThing will charge a small fee to go over 200 titles).  They're both easy to use and offer a wide variety of ways to access them (their web site, FaceBook apps, apps for your smartphone or iGadget of choice).  The two sites have a slightly different focus-- LibraryThing is designed towards library cataloging (you may have noticed that some of the supplemental information in AquaBrowser comes from LibraryThing's tagging system), while GoodReads concentrates more on the social aspects of reviewing and sharing what you read.  Not only do both sites offer a vast array of organizational tools, searches, and review and rating tools, they also come ready-made with a community of fellow readers eager to share and chat about books. (If you prefer, though, you can keep to your own circle of friends-- the privacy controls on both offer a good deal of flexibility in that regard.)   A lot of authors use these sites, too, so you can find out what's on their reading shelves as well!

  • And more...

   There are even more options out there.  For example, if you have the time to spare and you're comfortable in the virtual sphere, you could start your own reading blog.  If you've got a smartphone, there are apps for book-tracking, too (be warned, though, many are platform-dependent).  Whichever recording method you settle upon, don't forget....

Step Three: If you read it, write it down!

This is the hard part.  Once you've chosen your method, use it!  Every time you read a book, make a note of it.  The simpler your requirements and method, the easier it will be to get into the habit.  The next time a friend asks you, "Read anything good lately?" be prepared to dazzle her with something you loved!


* (For the wise guys among us: yes, solar-powered e-readers exist, but they haven't made it to market yet, so they cannot count as part of your D.I.K. "shelf."  Besides, we're going for the shortlist, here.)  (BACK...)

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