For many years I maintain a text file of mostly everything I read. At one point I added literature dating back to adolescence and childhood. At least anything that I consider somewhat valuable finds a place in this master list. I’ve even documented unfinished books, although the number of these that I could recall, found valuable, and yet chose to abandon for independent reasoning remains comparably small.
I grouped the list into three broad categories: fiction, non-fiction, and unfinished. Within each, I group the books by author, adding the title along with optional metadata. This can include the language (or list of languages if read in multiple translations), translator if relevant, specifics to the edition, and whatever else I may deem useful. Beyond that, no special ordering takes place, not chronological, not genre, not alphabetic.
In a way the list supplements a journal. I browse the entries, notice a certain title, and often recall not only detail pertinent to the book, but the circumstances surrounding the reading and what emotions it then evoked. Now, I may no longer find valuable the swarms of Science Fiction I devoured between the ages of 18-21, but it held much meaning at the time. Beyond serving referential purposes, having this data enables me to better assess who I was.
The master list also compensates for a physical library I don’t have. Since I spent the last 10 years switching residences more often than one changes a toothbrush, I eliminated a severe majority of possessions. At one time this included one to two handsome looking bookshelves, although that period bears a semblance to a gradually fading dream. (Additionally, I’ve done a portion of the reading electronically and a portion with public library lent books.)
Notwithstanding, I’ve lost hardly anything. Having the master list at my disposal facilitates a simple means to peruse my now virtual library and yet reproduce much of the benefit the physical copy once rendered. And for the portion of the books I’ve read electronically, the marginal difference fades entirely. Ultimately, any meaningful reading sowed the necessary seeds where need be. A simple glance at the reference suffices to trigger the complex neural pathways.
The master list doesn’t limit itself to books. It also houses a film section. Originally intended for just the favorites, the list expanded to much beyond. Unlike the literature, where a simple title spawns the necessary context (unless you read pulp literature in the hundreds), films generally occupy the more ephemeral confines of my memory. I tend to insert more elaborate queues with each film entry (director, country, language, genre, cross-genre, sometimes principal actor, year, etc).
The list of films serves primarily for referential purposes. But a mighty useful reference it indeed facilitates. I may wish to re-watch some classic film noir long faded from memory. And no über-intelligent recommendation system prevails over your own notes.
The master list houses additional, although possibly superfluous content. It contains an out-of-date music section, which probably still serves a purpose. 90% of the section references Jazz albums. There are simply more fusion and avant-garde artists than I manage to maintain in working memory.
And even more superfluous is the section on video games, the interest for which abandoned me around the age of 20. However, I felt the yearning to document and be able to recollect such wonderfully spent adolescent years in the broad spectrum of fantasy worlds.
All of that resides in one easy to maintain and query plain text file.
Incidentally, I also maintain a separate reading or prospect-reading list. This one I actually pay greater care to organize, compared to the ‘having read’ list. Similar to the writer Umberto Eco’s notion of Anti-library (a library of unread books carries greater value), I consider my unread list an even more valuable piece of property. So much untapped erudition awaits to potentially be explored!
Glancing at the list presently, I notice the following sections: classic philosophers, (sparsely populated) ancient history, literature - priorities, literature - secondary, literature - magic realism (my beloved genre transcends priorities), science fiction (a handful of titles I probably won’t read), success-related, biographies, scientific, psychology (least promising), and miscellaneous (on the road to extinction).
You may ask, why maintain your own lists when cloud solutions (ie LibraryThing, Spotify, Netflix.) offer the same due diligence? I tell you. Speed, simplicity, flexibility, resilience. I don’t wish to maintain online accounts or depend on external providers, social networks, or even the internet for something as basic, transparent, quick-to-manipulate and search plain text.
The master list proves a fairly simple endeavor. And many have expressed their regret to me for not having one. Does it even warrant a deliberation? Create the bloody list.
Questions, comments? Connect.