How I Use My Reading Journal

Part of being on Bookstagram means seeing gorgeous pictures come across my feed on a daily basis. Some time around the middle of 2020, I noticed that some of the people I followed were using their bullet journals to track their reading or had full journals dedicated only to reading.

Me being me, I wanted to try it.

My Brief History with Bullet Journaling

Bullet journaling in general has been part of my life since early 2017. I was introduced to it by Maggie (@writermags), one of my closest friends from college, when she did a blog post about it. Pretty sure I asked her about it the next time we saw each other in the hallway and she very nicely gave me an overview of what spreads she had and how she used it.

Cue me diving into hundreds of YouTube videos about it in the weeks leading up to finals.

I sort of tried and used a bullet journal that summer, but there wasn’t really a need for one because I rarely had anything going on. Mostly, it was a cheap notebook in which I figured out what not to do and what I didn’t like about the (overly-complicated) system I made for myself.

When school started that fall, I got myself the famous Leuchtturm 1917 journal and begin bullet journaling seriously. Haven’t looked back since.

What I Like About Bullet Journaling

Planners never worked for me. I tried them on and off in high school with little success. The one I got for myself at the start of college was okay, but it left no room for extra-curriculars or to-do lists that I needed to write down. Being able to create and customize exactly what I need with bullet journaling ended up being a huge reason why I was able to juggle everything I did in college.

Though I’ve never been an artistic or creative person in the sense of drawing, I do have pretty great skills with a ruler. Unlike a lot of images that you might see online of beautifully elaborate and colorful journals, mine leans heavily into the minimalist side and mostly consists of straight lines.

I like that bullet journaling is basically whatever I want it to be. If I need a place for meeting notes, it can go in my bullet journal. If I need a to-do list, that’s built into the way I use the system. And there’s room for me to do anything else I want. The freedom and versatility to change things as I go help the organizer in me fine-tune what works best for how I organize my life.

The First Reading Journal

The very first iteration of my reading journal came about in late 2020. I bought a cheap journal with the goal of figuring out if liked using one before considering a more expensive option.

It had some basic things that I’d seen in other people’s reading journals and was very colorful, which is unlike how I typically design my bullet journals. While I enjoyed having more than one or two colors on the page, it ended up being too much for my liking.

The main spreads I created were:

  • Physical TBR
  • Audiobook TBR
  • Reading Year in Pixels
  • Total Books Read
  • 10 Before Year End
  • 2020 Reads
  • Monthly Book Stats
  • Library Books
  • Monthly TBR
  • Daily Reading Tracker
  • Bookstagram Photo Challenges
  • Reading Notes

As I started planning out the spreads I wanted to have, it occurred to me that I never really thought about the greater purpose of the journal. Using it only for year-long spreads and monthly spreads would only fill out a few pages and be kind of a waste of a whole notebook. At that rate, I could use one notebook for years on end.

I decided to give reading notes a try to fill out the pages. Up until that point, I’d never been a note-taker while reading, preferring to go entirely by memory when I wrote reviews or talked about it later. But it turns out that I quite enjoy having a space to write my thoughts as I read and it helped a lot when I wrote reviews.

Using that journal for over a year gave me a pretty good idea of what I enjoyed and how I changed the way I use the journal as time went on. I’ve included some photos of this bullet journal right after I had set it up for 2021. It’s different from what my current journal looks like, but I did like what I intended back then.

old journal 1
old journal 2
old journal 3
old journal 4
old journal 5
old journal 8


My Current Journal & How I Use It

During a massive Black Friday sale last year, I was able to get several Archer & Olive journals at a major discount. I’d seen other people use and recommend it highly for a couple of years, and it was better suited to what I was looking for in a reading journal.

I wanted something with white pages, thicker pages, and had some kind of simple design on the cover. I also didn’t need as many pages as the Leuchtturm 1917 had, unless I wanted to use a journal for two years, which I didn’t. It felt like the perfect time to switch brands. Plus, Archer & Olive is a female-owned small business that does wonderful things to support female and POC creators and encourages discussions around mental health.

I use a blue A5 dotted journal with 160 pages. The cover is made of cloth and has a gold foil design embossed into it. The journal comes with the typical band to keep the covers shut, and it comes with a pen loop. I didn’t know how much I loved having a pen loop until I got this journal.

And it’s sturdy. I’ve carried it with me, thrown it onto my bed and desk, Tabby’s sat on it on multiple occasions. Other than some dust and fur that I can’t quite wipe away, it’s still in amazing condition.

While planning and creating this reading journal, I wanted to make it something that I’d use more intentional and update more frequently. Something that made it fun for me to fill in and update. The biggest issue I run into is being overly ambitious and then never actually using them.

Using Book Covers

One of the things I started doing last year and really enjoyed was printing book covers for my review notes. I knew I wanted to carry that into this year’s review notes too, but also add more book covers to the journal in general. It’s a fun way to add color in a natural way and requires zero artistic skills from me, just the way I prefer to have it.

I print out a new set of covers each month when I’ve decided what my TBR will be. They are clipped together and kept in my desk until I start reading the book, then it gets glued to my journal. By using the covers to distinguish my review notes, it makes it easier when I’m looking for my notes because I have covers to look for rather than walls of text.

A few people have asked me about the sizing of each cover, so I’ll write them out here. I have a little cheat sheet for myself inside the front cover of my journal. For someone who does this every month, I don’t always remember the sizing for each different kind of book cover.

Review Notes - 3cm wide by 4cm tall
Books Read - 2.5cm wide by 3.5cm tall
Buzzword & Bracket - 2cm wide by 2.5cm tall

Genrally, I try to keep 1cm of difference between the width and height of the book covers because they look best that way, but for the smaller covers, it doesn’t look too terrible with only 0.5cm difference.

However, this only applies if you have a dotted journal where the dots are exactly 0.5cm apart. I know that all Leuchtturm and Archer & Olive journals having this spacing, but I can’t say that about every brand. Especially the super cheap ones from Amazon.

If you’re interested in using covers in your journal and want to follow my sizing guide, you’ll have to make sure that your dots are 0.5cm apart or they won’t align properly. Unless you don’t care about alignments, then run wild and do whatever makes you happy!

Annual Spreads

I have seven spreads that span across the whole year. These are mostly trackers and reminders for myself regarding all the things I want to get to. They’re quite self-explanatory as you look at them, but they each serve a diferent purpose.

22 in 2022

If you saw my blog post about the reading challenges I’m doing, you’re already pretty familiar with this. It’s a list of 22 books I’d like to read this year. Sure, that makes up nearly half of my reading goal, but it’s mostly a way for me to finally pick up some of the books that have been sitting on my shelves for years.

Coming up with this design took awhile. I needed to find a balanced way of showing 22 different book covers. The initial plan was to have it all on one page, but that left it far too crammed and there was no mathematical way to fit everything perfectly.

Splitting it into a full spread allows me to see the books better, especially if I’m glancing quickly while picking out my TBR each month. Because I sort of planned this as I went, I didn’t fully think through how much space I’d have in the middle. The spread’s title could have been bigger, but I kind of like that the whole thing is quite minimal and nothing calls too much attention to itself.

The idea was to use some kind of indication that I’ve read a book as I go through the year. Still haven’t decided if I want to use star ratings to indicate it, but I think I’m going to eventually settle for the date I finished the book. Keeps things simple and I think that makes the most sense.

2022 Bookshelf

One of my favorite spreads to see in other people’s reading journals is the bookshelf. There are so many different ways to use it and I’ve switched it up a couple of times. My first journal had the title of each book I read during the year and was filled in with different colored markers depending on the month I read them in. A good plan, but I ended up not liking how it looked.

Changed that in 2021 and kept the same method for 2022. The bookshelf has the all the dates of when I finished a book, and then its colored in depending on the format of the book. I have four colors on hand for this: light green for e-books, orange for audiobooks, purple for hardcovers, and light blue for paperbacks.

When filled in, they not only make a colorful shelf but also allow me to quickly see how many books I read in each format. Because I try to balance out the way I read, it serves as an immediate visual cue that I might want to pick up more books in a specific format or change how I was intending to read a book. The difference between hardcover and paperback isn’t as big, but I still like making the distinction.

Currently, there are 66 books on the shelf. As of writing this, 11 books have been filled in, though I think I took the picture before that. Anyways, it’s not fully accurate because I’ve read 12 books so far this year, but that’s because I’m waiting to film another Reel where I fill in the books I’ve read.

Will I read 66 books? Highly unlikely. The most books I’ve read was 60 in 2015, and nothing has come close since. But it was easier to do a full shelf rather than stopping at 52 drawn books, so I have room if I somehow manage to surpass my goal.

If not, it’s still pretty to look at and I think it’s one of my favorite reading spreads I’ve ever made.

Favorites Bracket

I’d seen this both as Bookstagram story templates and in other people’s reading journals, so I thought I’d give it a try. Of all the spreads, finding the math to make this look nice and have room for multiple book covers took me the longest. I went through about four drafts before finally settling on this.

The idea is pretty simple - I pick my favorite book from each month, print out the cover, and stick it in. At the end of each quarter, I have to decide what was my favorite of the quarter. This continues throughout the year and eventually, two quarters are pitted against each other.

To make this more challenging and interesting for myself, I decided to pit Quarter 1 and Quarter 3 against each other, and Quarters 2 and 4 against each other. That keeps me from immediately deciding if I have a favorite in the first half of the year because they’re unlikely to end up against each other.

I wrote the names of each month in the boxes so I could remember what went where and which quarters were battling each other. It’s my first time doing something like this, but I think it’s a much more fun and thought-provoking way of figuring out what was ultimately my favorite book of the year. Right now, I think Portrait of a Thief stands an excellent chance at being my favorite, but there are plenty of months left to de-throne it.

12 from 12

I already did a whole blog post breaking down what this is and how I got my friends to send me recommendations. The spread is effectively another place for me to choose my TBR from each month. A lot of the books aren’t physically owned by me, but that’s what libraries and audiobooks are for.

Had I thought through the spacing of this spread a little more, I would have included room for something like dates or star ratings, but I put everything too close so it’s really just a pretty spread for me to refer to each month. 

While the spread isn’t actually 12 recommendations from 12 friends (I didn’t have 12 friends), the sentiment holds.

I do need to get through more of these and find them at my library. Maybe I’ll do a whole month of reading recommended books and see how far that gets me on this TBR.

Buzzword Reading Challenge

This was also in the blog post where I talked about my 12 from 12 challenge, so you can go read more about it there if you want to know the details of what this is and what books I might read to accomplish the challenge.

The idea behind this spread was to have a space where I could “fill out” the completed challenges with book covers. I created a space for each challenge to have a correlating book cover and then marked them with what month’s challenge it would complete.

Since I’m not checking off the challenges on a monthly basis, I’m filling them in whenever one of my reads fits.

This is something I refer to each month as I think about my TBR. The competitive side of me wants to get all of these filled in, and I’m not letting myself use more than one book per challenge. It also makes me look through my bookshelf more to take stock of my TBR and pick up books I might otherwise put off.

Ignore the fact that it’s wrong. I accidentally stuck a book cover in the wrong place despite not having completed the challenge and will need to cover it up with the correct book once I’ve finish the prompt.

2022 Reads

I love this spread so much. It’s a visual representation of all the books I’ve read this year in the order of when I read them. At the bottom of each cover is a star rating. The simplicity allows me to do quick checks of what I’ve read so far and how I rated each one.

Each page of this spread has room for 16 books and ratings, but I preemptively drew out 64 because I like things to be fully even. It would have bothered me to have a single row of four books drawn out and then have to draw more each time if I managed to exceed my reading goal. There are also two blank pages in case I read more than 64 books.

By no means is this an original idea of mine. I’d seen it around YouTube and Instagram when I was looking for inspiration for my reading journal. I knew I wanted a place to track what I was reading and their ratings, but I didn’t want to repeat the list-style I had used in 2020 and 2021.

Printing out the covers of each book I read and sticking them into the journal has become a nice recap of my bookish accomplishments at the end of each month. Rather than printing out the covers first, I wait to see what I actually read in a month and then print those out at the same time I print out my TBR covers for the next month.

I also use a pencil to quickly write down the name of each book I finish so I don’t forget what order I read them in.

Honestly, this spread was also an excuse to use my star stamp more. I love that little stamp and will take any chance I get to use it in the pages of my reading journal.

Review Tracker

Because I’m terrible at keeping track of the reviews I need to write (evidenced by me only now getting to 2022 reviews), I wanted a spread that would track which books still needed reviews.

Every time I finish a book, I write down the title. Then I get to make an X in each box as I accomplish the things each thing on my checklist. Because I have several platforms that I use, this also helps me see what has been done on each one.

The headings for the checklist are: P, GR, SG, IG, and B. Respectively, they mean photo taken, Goodreads review written, StoryGraph review written, IG review posted, and blog review posted.Some steps can’t happen without other ones first being done. Most of the time, the GR and SG boxes get checked first because they’re the first places I update after I’ve finished a book. Though I’m using Goodreads less and less now, so it might not be around in next year’s iteration of this tracker.

Photos have to be taken for Bookstagram reviews to be written, and I use the same photo for my blog reviews. Knowing what I’ve read, what still needs photos, and whether reviews go up in the right places help me keep up with my constant backlog.

It’s also an effort to keep me accountable since I’ve started doing short reviews of each book I read on my Bookstagram. It’s nothing like the detail and length I go into on my blog, but it helps me engage more with other readers on the platform and works for people who don’t follow my blog.

If my counting skills are correct, I have room for 70 books. Very unlikely to use them all, but I wanted to keep everything in one place so I made the whole spread at once.

Quarterly Most Anticipated

This was intended to be a quarterly addition to my reading journal to help me keep track of books I was excited about and wanted to pick up. While I did like having it for the first quarter, I rarely looked at it and never felt inclined to make one for the second quarter.

I did mark a few books that were coming out this quarter, but I never made a spread for them and by the time I realized it, April was more than half over. Plus, I’m not really the kind of person who has a lot of new releases that I look out for. Usually there are a few highly anticipated books in each quarter, and then I spend the rest of my time catching up on backlist titles.

Perhaps it’s the format of it or that I’m too bad at keeping up with new releases, but I haven’t found another way of making myself refer to it more. I’m planning to try again for the third quarter cause fall is always a great time for new thrillers. Maybe I’ll come up with something else that I’ll refer to more.

Monthly Spreads

Aside from the annual spreads, I have monthly spreads that get created as I near the end of the month and start planning my TBR for the next month. These are the easier ones to set up, mostly because I didn’t want anything complicated to do each month. My reading journal is supposed to be a more relaxed version of my personal journal, which takes far more time to set up.

#AngieWay TBR

Every month, I set up my TBR using the #AngieWay method. Created by Angie (@readwithangie) during her college years, it’s every planner’s dream way of organizing what books get read.

The basics are that you take all the books you’d like to read in a month and add all the page numbers together. Divide that by the number of days in the month and you’ll get the average number of pages you have to read each day to finish all the books.

From there, you decide what order you’re planning to read the books in and give them a little initial. This can be the title or the author’s initials. I prefer to use the title since I’m more likely to forget the author’s name and sometimes I read more than one book in a month by the same author. It helps keep things clear for me.

It sounds more complicated than it really is. I think the photo does a pretty good job of explaining how I use the method and what that actually looks like. The gold circles are for me to fill in small check marks on days when I hit the goal. It’s rare, but sometimes I manage to do it.

While this isn’t something I recommend for everyone, it works well for me. I like knowing how long it’ll roughly take me to finish a book if I read the same number of pages each day. And it means I get to use my book darts to separate out the chunks I’m supposed to be reading each day. It makes for pretty photos.

Review Notes

When I start a book, I stick the cover into my reading journal and write out some of the notes I like to keep for myself.

I like to know what I finished reading the book, and that helps me determine the order the covers go in when I fill out my 2022 reads spread at the end of each month. It also guides the order of books for my review checklist and serves as the reference point for the dates on my 2022 bookshelf spread.

Since I also have a spreadsheet for all the books I read in a year, I take note of things like the book’s page count, read time, and format while I’m going through it. Makes it easier when I fill out my spreadsheet later.

I also have a section for trigger warnings because they’re important. Making sure to write them down as I go helps me when I eventually get to my reviews. Trigger warnings should always be made clear in case readers with certain sensitivities want to pick them up.

Though I try not to spoil the book with the trigger warnings listed, I’d rather give away some things than misguide other readers and accidentally lead them to pick up a book that could severely affect them in a negative way.

My review notes used to be written while I read, but I’ve since turned it into a Reel series for Bookstagram, so I save all my thoughts until the end of the book and write them out all at once. I do miss making notes as I read, but I like having a regular thing I already do that can easily transform into a Reel.

When writing my Bookstagram and blog reviews, these notes are what I refer to, along with any comment I might make on StoryGraph while I’m reading and updating my progress. Having them has helped me write about more things than just the plot of the story and the characters.

That’s it! That’s how I use my reading journal.

It’s absolutely not a necessary thing if you’re a reader. I used my personal bullet journal for years to track my reading. Dedicating a whole journal to my reading felt like an extension I wanted to have.

A reading journal is absolutely the physical iteration of the spreadsheet I keep about my reading stats each year. More than that, it’s nice to have a place to write down my thoughts about the books I read and what my TBR is each month.

Some of my Bookstagram friends do much more elaborate things with their reading journals and it makes me jealous that they have the artistic skills for it. Others have journals simpler than mine, using it only for notes and reading lists. Both are valid and both are great. Neither is better than the other.

As someone who can’t whip out fifteen different fonts and draw beautiful spreads, I’ve often felt insecure about sharing my journal. I love what it looks like, but it doesn’t look like the literal art pieces I see other people post. It’s taken awhile to be confident that mine journal is perfect because it’s mine and that’s all that matters.

The way I use my reading journal and how it looks has evolved to fit my needs over the last two years. It’ll continue to change as I think about adding more or changing the way I track things. But that’s the beauty of creating my own reading journal, it doesn’t have the be the same thing all the time.

If you’re thinking about starting one, I’d say it’s a lot of fun to do. It doesn’t have to be elaborate or colorful or even in a dotted journal. You can make it whatever you want as long as it makes you happy. No expensive journals needed.

I hope you enjoyed seeing how I use my reading journal. I had a great time sharing it with you. It’ll show up again in future posts for sure, but for now, that’s it’s for me and my reading journal!

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