Readers Rave About Their Libraries - Part I
Winter, 1997: In a recent column I described my personal library and accompanying database. As someone who is generally a mess-pot, I thought I had taken my system to anal-retentive heaven (does anyone remember Phil Hartman's hilarious turns on Saturday Night Live as the Anal-Retentive Handyman?).
Clearly, I am not alone among book lovers. I have received many e-mails since Issue 18 of Laurie's News & Views went on line at The Romance Reader describing readers' systems and thought it would be both fun and illumininating to share them. There are some very good tips presented here. If you have been grappling with what to do with your own books, you might get some help here.
First, I'll once again share with you my system, as excerpted from Issue 18 at The Romance Reader. Then read on to discover what fellow readers have done:
I maintain an "already read" library and a "tbr library". Books in each library are stored alphabetically. To keep track of what I own, and to prevent me from buying duplicates, I set up a database on my p.c. using the following categories:
- Author's last name
- Author's first initial
- Publish date
- Type of romance - ie, VR for vampire romance, TT for time-travel, etc.
- Have I read it yet? Y/N
- Rating of 1 thru 5
- Is this to trade? Y/N
- Is it part of a series? Y/N
With this database, and a second one I began to compare my ratings to those found in Romantic Times, I am able to keep track of all my books and to keep them all nearby, in my study. I keep a print copy of my database with me for when I'm wandering around stores that sell books, and keep a second list next to my computer for easy reference.
I don't keep review and/or synopsis information in my database because I have tremendous recall. If I can't recall a book from seeing it on my list, just looking at my "already read" bookshelves is somehow enough to remind me of the story-line.
There is something very satisfying about this system. I truly enjoy logging in new purchases and making room for them on my shelves. I enjoy entering the rating of books and adding another to my "already read" shelves. It gives me a sense of accomplishment.
Author Denee Cody (DeneeMCody@aol.com) (Denee is well-known for her historical accuracy - I hope you'll read her Write Byte on research):
I don't even try to catalogue my fiction, but out of necessity I have my research books catalogued. I own several thousand, mostly hardcover. I can't remember everything I have. While I try to keep them organized on my library shelves, sometimes a book might fit in two or more places (do I shelve a book on Medieval Jews in Spain under Spain, Judaism or Medieval history??). There are more times than I want to admit that I've bought an expensive research book more than once (a few times thrice) because I didn't remember I already had it.
I modified a mailing list data-base program. I have the books
cross-referenced by title, author, and subject (s). Since most are history books, they are also catalogued by era, country or area. I have separate categories for Medicine, Science, Daily Life, Clothing, Food, Architecture, Art, Reference, Languages, Philosophy, Women's Studies, Geography, Animals, Plants, Mythology, Religion, etc, etc, with many of these categories broken down into sub-categories (ie Religion: Catholic, Orthodox, Protestant, Muslim, Hindu, etc).
Of course, the list is not up to date. I keep adding books. Talk about TBR piles!
When I'm working on a novel I put the research books I think I'll need or find most useful on my desk where I can get to them easily. For the book I'm working on now, the research books include:
The History of Currency 1252 to 1898
- A History of Costume
- All Manner of Foods
- Medieval Wordbook
- Travel Guide to Europe 1492
- Burke's Dormant & Extinct Peerages
- Private Life in the Fifteenth Century
- The Hound & the Hawk, The Art of Medieval Hunting
- English Society in the Later Middle Ages
- The Shell Guide to the History of London
- The Birds of Britain and Europe
- Tudor England
- Lost Country Life
- The War of the Roses (three different books)
- Biographies of Richard III
- Biographies of Henry VII
Did I read all these books before I started writing? No. I've read
about half of them all the way through. Others I use more like dictionaries, looking something up when I come to it in the writing. Like what kind of bird might live in southeastern England in November (and would have been there in the year 1499).
Sorry, I wandered off topic. Even though I'm terribly disorganized in most ways, I've found that to get the books written the way I want them done, I have to at least be able to get my hands on my research material when I need it. So that part of my work seems to be organized (out of dire necessity). The cataloguing comes in handy when I'm ordering new books, to check if I already have something.
I think maybe the reason I buy my research books, instead of using library books, is because I am so disorganized. I'd have to make notes, then keep them somewhere, then (horrors) find them again, if I used library books. Plus, I'd have to return the books in time. (bg). Plus, and I know this is blasphemy to some of you, I underline and highlight and mark the hell out of my research books, to help me find things again after I've read them. Can't
do that with library books.
Denee (wondering where the hell she just read that really interesting thing that might show up in a story someday..............)
From Yvonne Payne (email@example.com):
Reading romance for about 18 months and accumulated 400 titles of about 100 keepers and 300 TBRs in that time I needed to get a handle on what I had so I started an Excel database 4 months ago. Besides the usual stuff:
I also track:
- Type (Amer, Reg, Contemp, Hist, Medv, Fut, TTrv, Vamp)
- Pub Year
- Status (K for keeper, NO for not keeper, NA for library copy)
- Date of when I purchased
- When I read it
- Rating (1 to 5)
- How much I paid for book
- Book's list price
- Where I bought it
- Brief comments re: book
The date and price thing is probably a bit obsessive but I like to know what and when I have read a book and the price thing helps track if book is newly bought or second hand. Books bought for .25 at Goodwill are more likely kept than not as they don't usually trade well. I do seem to be spending more time researching authors and titles, persuing books to obtain and then recording them in my little database then reading. But I believe I am becoming more selective in part due to various web sites that have given me knowledge, great insight and perspective on romance writers and books. My TBR shelves will always be there awaiting me but the newest treasure in romance or some older gem such as Edith Layton's early 1980's regencies may not always be available so grab it while you can is my motto.
From Jennifer S. Gerrish (firstname.lastname@example.org):
I wanted to jump in an add my two cents worth to the discussion regarding storage and tracking of books. I am in the process of moving and have very little space in which to display my books. I have been forced to keep them in five computer paper boxes. Fortunately with the help of a macintosh shareware program, I know which books are in what box and what books I have purchased. The shareware program is known as Bookcase and made by Sema4Graphics. I downloaded the program from http://www.shareware.com. It's a FMP program requiring the use of FMP 2.x or newer. It's fields inclue Title, Author, Publisher, Length, Type, copyright date, rating (0-5), date read, location, ISBN, Book #, Series, and Genre and a place to put your own comments. It's a very nice looking program and allows you to sort and search by keywords you may have put in the comment field. You can print report-like pages with whatever fields you choose, like author, rating and location. I even put in the books that I want to read but haven't found (like old Linda Howard romances) and sort for those books I haven't purchased and take it with me to garage sales and paperback book sales. I highly recommend it. I am sure that there are other pograms for PC compatible programs. I great place for freeware and shareware products like Bookcase is shareware.com or Zdnet.com
From Tania Marshall (XRTP38B@prodigy.com):
I use the spread sheet in Excel and list title, author, pub date, comments, status and "other".
"Comments" are limited to 4 or 5 words, since I limit each entry to one line. I just indicate if it's a comtemporary, historical [i.e., 1820, New Orleans], Regency, time travel, vampire. Status is limited to want, have, read, and keep. This way I can sort more easily. Want means buy it, Have is my TBR, Read is have read and traded it, and Keep means it's somewhere in the house. I reserve the Other column for indicating whether or not it's a series title [i.e. , SIM 526.]. My list has almost 800 entries and is 14 pages long. I print it out about every three months and make changes to it in pencil as I go along. I go back to the computer when the hard copy gets too messy. I take my list with me when I go shopping so that I do not get anything I already have.
Unlike many people on the list, I have trouble remembering specifics about books even though I've enjoyed them very much. About two years ago, I started writing a one page summary of every book I've read or reread. I keep these in a notebook [daytimer size] and reread my comments when the book is under discussion on the list, or when I pick up another book by that author. With this memory trigger, I have been able to remember how I felt when I read that book, which has also brought pleasure.
From Marilyn Heyman (email@example.com):
I probably don't do it the easiest way but since I have severe CRS, I keep a book by author listing all the books I have read or have yet to read. When I have read a book, I mark it with my rating (1 to 5) and with either a T (trade) or K (keep). One reason I do this is so I remember which author I do not want to buy (i.e. if they are 1-3's). I always use the code 1 for a book I did not finish. I should tell you these books (I have two now and because of this list I may soon be making a third one) are very small, 3 1/2" x 5 1/2". I type up my lists alphabetically and use rings to hold them together (my rings keep getting larger). I have a special book for my listing of books that I am looking for. This has all served me well (as long as I remember to check my books before I buy!!).
A couple of years ago I started a book binder in which I list all the books I have read by author, title, rating and a very short synopsis of the story. I've enjoyed doing this and it helps remind me what I have read so that my CRS doesn't seem as severe when I can look books up.
I have fun doing all this -- it is all part of my book reading experience.
From Poisin Ivy (firstname.lastname@example.org):
Well, it seems I'm not the only one who catalogues her books! My ex-boyfriend, downloaded the "Smart Tracker Books" database for me. It seems he was tired of my endless notebooks and re-refiling my books. I catalogue my books alphabetically by author. I then organize by:
- Year Pub
- Category (romance, etc)
- Book Type (paperback, etc)
- Whether or not I've loaned it out, and if so, to whom
I'm really glad to see all of yall who do the same things and collect as many books.
From Terry Lindstedt (email@example.com):
I just started reading Historical Romances in 1993 and decided to keep a record - after buying a few duplicates (hate it when that happens!!), as I don't always remember titles (wish I were more anally/retentive at times). I used Microsoft Excel spreadsheet to enter the following columns:
My husband, Randy "The Macro King", then took my database, created a "Look" button and made it possible to look at any book on a cardfile card (beats the heck out of scrolling back & forth).
- Key (Genre)
- Published Date
- Era (Years)
- Main Characters
- Brief plot description
- Reigning Monarch or Party
- Series (if it is or isn't part of a series, and series name)
- My feelings on the story
He's also working on "Sort" functions for any one of the columns (ie, looking up books by Era, rather than alphabetically by Author - which is my current format). Why am I doing this? At first it was for my own organizational perfectionism. Soon, I realized it was a great way to learn Excel - by doing. I also share my books with my sisters and a couple of friends, and giving them printouts let them choose at leisure which books they might wish to borrow. (They probably think I'm nuts - if the truth were known!)
I update the list after reading each new book and currently have 265 entries, probably small potatoes by your own standard. After I had this program in place, I realized that I needed something to keep track of books I wished to buy, so I went into Microsoft Word and created "Book Buy". This is a simpler list:
If it's a prolific author, I try to list all of her books, then put an X by the ones I already have. When I go to the bookstore, this list goes with me; and when I come home, I update it on the computer. Every time I read a new book, I watch for the blurbs touting other books and sometimes add these to my list. Of course, review magazines are another great source. Now that I'm online, I have the internet as a resource!
- alphabetical by Author
- Book Titles
- Other Information (for Era or expected date of release, genre, or locale)
As for storage of books, the ones I can't make myself take to the second-hand bookstore to trade-in, are stacked in alphabetical order on 2 small bookshelves in my clothes closet. Sooner or later I'll have to come up with a better solution. Books waiting to be read are in my bureau door, in no particular order, as I like to surprise myself(!). OOOh! I agree with. . . .
Keep up the great work! Yours is a very organized, open, and well-thought-out column.
From Lostroses (LostRoses@aol.com):
I just discovered The Romance Reader and am delighted with it, news, views, and reviews! Though I feel like a mere babe-in-the-woods when I read some of the comments and lists of favorite novels. People have actually read that many authors? And how do they keep the stories straight? Which author wrote what? And what was the storyline? I have visions of readers keeping notebooks with crib notes on favorite titles. I should mention that I only recently re-discovered romance novels after a hiatus of over 20 years, in that time disdaining romance novels and those who read them. As a cataloger at a public library, I see them all the time and was never once tempted to give one a serious look, rather I'd read the back cover "blurb" aloud to co-workers for a little light relief!
And that's how I got hooked on romance - I read the summary of The Lion's Bride by Connie Mason and realized that this was a medieval romance, a genre I didn't know existed, and which fit in nicely with my interest in medieval history. I see from the archives that Ariana of Cragmere and Lord Lyon of Normandy didn't get very good reviews but they certainly did from me, and it remains my all-time favorite! I found Julie Garwood next and liked her light-hearted style of writing immediately. I mainly stick to medieval though I have ventured out of the time period and found some satisfactory ones also. I couldn't tell you who the other authors were or name the characters or relate the plots, because here I encounter difficulty keeping them all straight. . . .
From Lynn (firstname.lastname@example.org):
I keep a binder( loose leaf) where I keep track of the books I've read. I keep two sections, one for series romance (Harlequins,etc.) and the other for the rest. I write the book title, the author's name and I rate the books after I've read them, 1-4 stars. By doing this I've been able to note trends of authors I really like or dislike, as well as keep from buying duplicates. I only keep the books that I rate 3 1/2 or 4 stars. I haven't kept track of my to-be read books and that has been a problem!
From Princess (email@example.com):
My husband is going to wish I didn't read that page. Now I have so many ideas. I never thought of organizing by computer, notebook etc. At the moment we live in a small trailer so organizing the books physically is impossible. They aren't even all here. Most of our books are together on one shelf of a bookshelf my husband brought up when we married. The top shelf goes to my Jasmine doll collection, etc, second to his X-Men (we love collecting things), and the rest of our books are in boxes and milk crates and by my bed and under the bed and near the computer and in my daughter's closet in more boxes. I do think I will go through now and catalogue what I have. The most I have ever done was to set up the shelves alphabetically when I had my room and bookshelves before I married. I just can't do that here. . . but one day. . . . I do have a TBR *contains keepers to reread* case though and a bag of to trade or sell books.....
From Grace (GraceNA@aol.com):
I felt a kindred spirit when I read your column about keeping track of your books. I just wrote my intro to the Aarlist you moderate and told them I have 1,200 unread books, probably more.
I use a program called File Maker Pro. I was really anal retentive for a while but time sometimes is short or I go in spurts, kinda like a reading slump. My main list is of the books we have, borrowed, or have had and read or given away at some time. On the disc I have:
- Type - tt, contemp suspense, etc.
- Copyright year
- Rating from Romantic Times
- Read yet? (Y/N)
- Initials of either myself or my daughter
- Letter grade
- Is it a keeper ?(Y/N)
My daughter says it is now easier to shop with the wish list, which are the books we do not have but are looking for. I update it every month by reading the reviews in RT, and now The Romance Reader, I may need to add a permanent column on the 1st list for The RReader - what fun!
I also have a separate list under my daughters' name of her collection. They are not on the main list. That list has the Lindseys, McNaughts, Garwoods, Devereaux, Palmers and others she glommed to keep. She needs a couple of Deveraux's and Lindsey's still.
I envied you when you said you enjoyed making room on your shelves. I used to have room. The books have taken over my hall linen closet. I have them in soda cases. I filled my daughters empty armoire, I have an armoire in my room full, the computer bottom desk shelf is full, Cindy has boxes of romances, classics, Mary H Clark, P Cornwell, and who knows what else in her closet, and I have a couple of book cases around the house full of books. I did try once to alphabetize, but I kept getting more books. I do at least try to keep the authors together.
My daughter took about 200 romances with her to school, and I have not read at least half of them so they will be coming back. I used to enjoy putting the new books where they belonged and enjoyed looking at and through them, but we have become pack rats. We buy twice as much as we are reading, but we are compulsive. When I get a stack of new books, I enter them on my list. If they were on the wish list, then I have to delete them or we may end up buying them again.
I have not listed by publisher as you have. I never thought to, but in reading some of your back columns I am curious to know how our keepers break down. Oh, I have 2 keeper boxes in the coat closet too.
I am glad to know that I am not alone in doing this, my daughter is glad I keep track, but when I was having such a good time at it, she told me I was a weirdo. How rude!
I have read just about all your archives and have really enjoyed people discussing romantic fiction. It is always nice to find others like you. I do know a few people who enjoy romance, but none are like me and Cindy, so this has been great.
Did you ever announce in your column who wrote that hilarious purple prose from a few issues back? I have looked but haven't seen any names. My guess was Bertrice Small.
Oh, and when I read your archives you had taken a survey asking who cheated and read the back of the book - I loved it, because I do. My girl again was calling me a weirdo, but I cannot help it. I really try not to peek
Anyway, you and your colleagues do a great job, in reading the listserv I see it will always be hard to please everyone, but we all have different tastes. I have really hated some books others loved and I couldn't believe some folks hated books I thought were marvelous. I thought I was gonna love Justine Dare's new Hawk book cuz I loved the 1st one. I tried real hard but I was bored stiff - I think I am the only one. And in one of your columns you asked for authors or books everyone loved but you. Someone said they could not stand Nora Roberts, you could have knocked me over with a feather on that, but it goes to show you aren't gonna please everyone, but I like reading an honest opinion, good or bad.
I plan on reading your review of Love Me Not; my daughter e-mailed me she just picked it up.
I will look forward to your next column. Thank you for some enjoyable reading and kinship.
From Lori-Anne Cohen (firstname.lastname@example.org):
I compile my list this way:
- Authors name (first and last)
- Type of book
- Notes - This includes a small synopsis, other books if series and whether I've read it or should re-read it
Nothing fancy. . .I have it set up alphabetical by titles because the author may not jar my memory. I just started just recently and so far this is working for me.
What software are you using? I set up a books database on Microsoft Access and I like it so far.
Thank you for this oppurtunity to actually express something I have thought about for a while.