Dear Queer Diary: We Are What We Read

Dear Queer Diary_Rory Midhani_640px

If there’s one thing I love more than journaling, it’s reading. And if journaling is a warm and crusty baguette, it seems like reading should be a nice wedge of Trader Joe’s brie — these are clearly a) two great tastes that taste great together and/or b) the ingredients for a night of extremely classy romance.

This outrageously attractive couple met at Trader Joe's, and although I don't know for a fact, I bet they love brie and journaling. (Via On A Bicycle Built for Two)

This outrageously attractive couple met at Trader Joe’s, and although I don’t know for a fact, I bet they love brie and journaling. (Via On A Bicycle Built for Two)

In any event, it should go without saying that when I am not journaling about my unrequited loves or questionable graduate school prospects, my pen has often turned to the books I have read, the books I am reading, and/or the books I hope to read next. I am sure you will not be surprised to learn that, if I wanted, I could even get a specially themed Moleskine for these ruminations—but for my purposes, my regular old notebook seems to work just fine.

Flipping through the pages of my past diaries, I find dozens of underlined titles scattered across the pages: everything from school assignments (Wuthering Heights, Wide Sargasso Sea, and A History of Women in America) to children’s classics (The View from Saturday and Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs). Perhaps you were wondering what I thought of Forever In Blue, the final installment in the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants series? Don’t worry! I recorded my impressions in my journal back when I first read the book in March of 2007.

A beautiful journal made just for book-ing. (Via Julianna Swaney)

A beautiful journal made just for book-ing. (Via Julianna Swaney)

Pamela Paul, one of the editors of the New York Times Book Review, describes her longstanding relationship with “Bob,” her “book of books” that she has been keeping since 1988: “With 24 years of data, Bob reveals as much about my literary foibles, passing curiosities and guilty pleasures as any other diary.” It’s not hard to understand why. Those bibliophiles in our midst must agree that the books we read have an awful lot to say about how we are feeling and what we are doing—even if we don’t necessarily have a special journal to record our literary conquests.

Bob himself, beginning way back in 1988. (Via New York Times)

Bob himself, beginning way back in 1988. (Via New York Times)

If I had started keeping track of my own reading adventures back in kindergarten, I wouldn’t be at Pamela Paul’s level for another few years still. Even at the ripe old age of twenty-something, I have trouble keeping a consistent record of the books I’m reading — I will make lists and then abandon them, begin elaborate rating systems and forget to continue using them, and start Goodreads accounts and then lose my password. Rather than offering complete archives that stretch across decades, my journals contain lots of lists like this one, from July 31st:

“Books I Have Read This Summer, in no particular order and with little regard for prestige and/or quality and/or importance: that picture book by Audrey Niffenger (sp?) about the suicidal librarian woman; Longbourn (so good!); Otherwise Engaged (a downright CSI-like Amanda Quick); Can’t & Won’t; This Is How You Lose Her, Junot Diaz; Never Let Me Go; The Rehearsal, by Eleanor Catton and I think that’s it. Is that it? I feel like I must have read more than that.”

It’s not just the (inevitably incomplete) lists that make my diary bookish. In fact, I am far more fascinated by the way what I am reading intersects with what I am doing in any particular phase of my life. On March 13th, 2008, in the throes of my high school’s A.P. English class, I wrote that, “During A period, I read To The Lighthouse aloud to Anna as we sat on the library balcony”; a little more than three years later, I wrote from a hostel in the Cotswolds about being “DEEPLY UPSET” upon discovering that “my copy of Fellowship of the Ring suddenly and unexpectedly skipped from page 128 to 225!”

The pages immediately prior to my tragic discovery.

The pages immediately prior to my tragic discovery.

Earlier that same semester, I contemplated the danger of checking out too many romance novels: “I am conflicted about whether I should go to the library and get more “fun” books out… I think it has an adverse effect on my study habits and lowers the stakes in my attempts at socialization — because such an attractive alternative is always available.” (You will, dear reader, be glad to know that I did eventually find a way to read books, make friends, and finish all my classwork.)

Are the pages of your journals festooned with book titles, my dear queer diarists? Or do you keep a separate list of every piece of literature you love? What at the habits of a great reader-journaler? Tell me your ways!

Dear Queer Diary is a column about the joys (and occasionally, the pains) of journaling. We crack open our tiny notebooks and break out the rainbow-colored pens on the regular, so get ready to limber up your writing hands and document all your beautiful feelings!

Header by Rory Midhani

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Maggie is a freckly, punctuation-loving queer living in the Boston area. She supports her book-buying and tea-drinking habits by teaching America’s youth how to write topic sentences and spends her free time writing postcards and making sandwiches for her girlfriend.

Maggie has written 53 articles for us.


  1. oh so timely! i just finished a book and will add it to the list in the back of my current journal, which i started doing a few years ago. i usually forget to journal about books as i read them, but their titles are in the back and therefore while not specifically referred to, are associated with a 6 month-ish period in my life.

  2. Awww, I was just looking over an old sketchbook, where I did a page or two of this little chart where I would write the title, do a tiny sketch, give it a category (Angsty Vampires, FrouFrou Decorating) and write a little paragraph of my impression.

  3. I don’t often write about my literary conquests. However, I do find that some books influence my writing. For example, after a 9 month Victorian stint, I found myself discussing propriety and using flowery language. The book that influenced my journaling the most is Anne Frank’s Diary. After I read it in the 8th grade, I became acutely aware of the possibility (however small) of my journals being read and possibly published after my death, so I changed how I wrote to reflect the mature, insightful voice that Anne Frank possessed.

    For as long as I could remember, my grandmother used to keep a list on steno pads of every book she had read. I recall one time after we returned from our weekly trip to the library, she checked her list and discovered she had already read all four books she checked out that day.

    • Funny — I do the same thing. Virginia Woolf makes me flowery, D.H. Lawrence makes me florally specific (saxifrage! auricles!) and Eimear McBride all stream-of-conciousness-y.

      I have also noticed how certain books leak into my general day to day speech, which has led me to say things like ‘an evening of carousing’ out loud, much to the bemusement of surrounding people.

  4. There are random lists all throughout my journals and one of them is of my favorite books. I’ve tried keeping track of all the books I’ve read before and it’s so hard. Sometimes I’ll remember that I read this one book and think “how could I have ever forgotten” and then I forget to write it down.

  5. I always write in my journal about whatever book I’m reading. I always end up finding ways that that book relates to my life at the time.

  6. I don’t really ever include what I’m reading in my journaling, but for a little while I had a separate journal specifically for writing quotes and thoughts as I made my way through books. I should get back into that. I also keep track of my reading with shelfari which I love because charts and hate because of this: “last year you read x amount of books. this year you’ve read y. you are behind your pace.” uggghhhh.

  7. I’ve always been horrible about remembering to write about what I read. I started a new journal specifically for books in the hope that it would help, but unfortunately it hasn’t. On the plus side, I have been pretty good at keeping a simple list of what I’ve read, but I wish I knew more about my reactions to everything.

  8. I often write about my feelings about books and on and off I try to get into the habit of weekly book entries where I round up what I’m reading. I use Goodreads to keep track of what I’m reading, but I’m also starting a paper notebook to keep for taking notes and writing down all my feelings while I’m reading.

    “I am far more fascinated by the way what I am reading intersects with what I am doing in any particular phase of my life.”
    Me, too. There are some books I can’t reread (my favorite bookish vice) because of where I was emotionally the first time I read them. More’s the pity – some were (as I remember) very good books.

  9. I’m so excited about the Bob idea! I’m going to start doing that immediately. Luckily, I already have several blank journals on hand that I can use. I might have to come up with a name other than “Bob,” though. Maybe I’ll call it something official-sounding like “The Register.”

    My current journaling kick is that I begin all new entries with a “Soundtrack” line in which I list whatever music I am listening to and/or what other random sounds that I can hear. It always helps me to get started if I have a format for beginning each entry. For a while, when I was doing a lot of my writing in a diner, I would always begin by writing what I was eating or going to eat. My love for huevos rancheros has been thoroughly documented for posterity.

  10. I tend to write as I read and though I frequently purchase books for the specific purpose of keeping up an archive of books read and books to read like some sort of Benjamanian literary goddess, I more than often abandon these lofty projects for scraps of paper I have to hand.

    Ted Hughes (sorry to bring him up) used to write in the abandoned half-filled books of his students at the University of Massachusetts because the first blank page of a new book was too intimidating, which is a story I’ve always enjoyed.

  11. I kept a list in my filofax for ages but I had to start another one and I haven’t been very good at doing it because I either get through a book a day or don’t read anything for months. I also have a goodreads but again, I don’t keep it up. I really want to keep a consistent list of books I’ve read! Sometimes I do a ‘currently reading’ and my thoughts about it in my diary but my diary is mostly just me angsting and having feelings about uni/ladies/food/life and there isn’t enough book stuff in there. *sigh*

  12. I’m a devoted Goodreads user. Prior to Goodreads, I kept a spreadsheet with basically the same information that Goodreads tracks. That being said, books and journaling intersect two ways for me:

    1. When I’m traveling, I record my reading habits in my journal so that I can put them all on Goodreads when I get home.

    2. I have an Evernote notebook that’s just filled with quotes from books that I like. (I like the romance of it being a paper notebook, but I take a lot of quotes from some books, and I type a lot faster than I write.) I consider it an extension of my journal.

  13. Totally late to the party on this one, but I just did a research project at uni about this exact thing happening in the diaries of young women during the second world war. Turns out, in France at least, there were a bunch of girls who were like “listen, this war is super boring but even though we had to black out our windows and lay on the ground for 45 minutes tonight and we’re living off carrots and a measly amount of wine (quelle horreur), I still got some wicked reading done, here is a list of all the books I’m into right now…”. They were all pretty much BAMFs.

  14. I keep an ongoing list for the year–I go through journals faster than I go through books, so if I just kept the list of what I read while I filled that notebook, it’d be short and I like the wider scope of a year-list. I also take a cover pic of each one and put it on instagram so that I can remember what I read even if I forget to make the list!

    Recently, because I do reviews now, I’ve started making a list of like “what I learned” or “first impressions” after I finish a book so that I can sort out my thoughts before I do the review! Sometimes I copy out quotes and write down impressions and stuff, but other times I read way too fast for that mess and do all my notes after.

    I LOVE that WWII story! That’s the best thing I’ve seen all day.

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