How to track what you’re reading (and what you’ve read, and what you’d like to read)

I love books.

In my family, good grades meant book money. For every subject you score a 90 or above, you get a pocketbook. As a kid this was how I fed my Sweet Valley High addiction.

At the time I was an only child and we lived in a bad neighborhood. My parents wouldn’t let me out of the house aside from school, so I never got into sports. My only pastime, pre- computers, was books.

My friends were mostly fiction; characters from whatever fantasy series I was into at the time.

One day, I made actual living human friends. And some of them loved books as well.

So we talked about books. Recommended books. Traded books with one another.

And then I learned to save money so I can buy my own books.

Over the years, this meant a lot of books. Books I read. Books I lent. Books I borrowed. Books I meant to read. And so on.

It was getting out of hand.

Then in 2009, Typhoon Ondoy (international name Ketsana) rolled into the Philippines. A flood rushed into our single-storey home. Our books were some of the first to go.

It was the universe’s way of telling us we needed a booktervention.

So of the books we managed to salvage, we sold. Of the books we couldn’t sell, we donated.

These days we still read a lot. But we’ve become a lot pickier about which books end up in our home.

As part of the pickiness effort, in 2012 I got the idea to track what I read. I wrote everything on a single list, making notes along the way if something was worth recommending.

In 2015, I decided to go visual and moved everything to Trello.

What is Trello?

Trello is one of those things that are easier to show than to explain, but I’ll try anyway.

Imagine a cork board. Those boards where you tack a piece of paper to make an announcement, or a photo to remember a special event in your life.

Next, imagine a Kanban board. Those boards that have three columns: “To-Do”, “In Progress”, and “Done”. They’re used for task management where everything starts in the To-Do queue and make their way to Done.

Trello is the two’s lovechild.

What is Trello for?

Trello is a tool meant to organize projects visually.

Trello is a collaboration tool that organizes your projects into boards. In one glance, Trello tells you what’s being worked on, who’s working on what, and where something is in a process.

“What is Trello?” by Trello Help

It’s popularly used as a project/task management tool similar to JIRA (on that note: Atlassian acquires Trello).

What does this have to do with books?

Everything.

I track what I read, what I’m reading, and what I want to read all via Trello.

library
My virtual library over at Trello.

Similar to a Kanban board, I have three primary columns:

  • Next (To-Do)
  • Now Reading (In Progress)
  • Done!

But I don’t track tasks. I track books instead. I track what status I am in reading them.

Over time I’ve added other columns as well.

  • Potential – Books I’m interested in but don’t have a copy of. These books are either recommendations or stuff I see in bookstores that caught my eye.
  • On Hold – Books I’ve lent, or dropped temporarily for one reason or another.
  • Dropped – Books I’ve dropped not-so-temporarily.

So, it just tracks what you’re reading? That’s it?

Yes… and no.

Trello has a lot of nifty features, and its those features that allow me to do so much more than just track. For example:

Comments

I can comment my thoughts on a book, post somebody else’s review (like Amazon’s or Goodread’s), or put a note to self if I borrowed it from/lent it to someone else.

Since I set the board to public, others can comment on the cards as well so if you want to feedback on any of the books go ahead.

Labels

I’ve labeled the books by genre and which ones I recommend.

Since Trello can filter by label, its easy for me to look for say, “books about fantasy” or even “books about fantasy that I highly recommend”.

It also gives me an idea of what kind of books I gravitate to. Trend says I read mostly nonfiction nowadays.

What does this have to do with the Ondoy story?

My family lost our library that day. We don’t intend to rebuild.

Instead, we’ve become more conscientious book-buyers. We try to borrow a copy or grab an e-book as much as possible. If we really have no choice but to go buy a physical book, its with the accepted risk that someday we’ll re-sell or donate it.

So the Trello board is the closest thing I have to a personal library. A virtual library. One that, at a glance, shows me everything I read. Whether its something borrowed, downloaded, or bought.

Trello has been really effective in tracking and organizing my books, so I would recommend this tool and method to anyone.

In the next post I’ll write about how I find what books I want to read next. That “Potential” list doesn’t populate itself after all.

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