Sunday, August 16, 2009

The Book of books

Back in June 1982, when I was attending college and living in St. Augustine, Fla., I decided to begin keeping an ongoing log of every book I read, noting the title, author and whether it was fiction or non-fiction.

Why I did it, I'm not sure. But I still have that original black-and-white composition notebook - even though it's falling apart slightly - and list every new book as I finish it. I break the lists up by year, drawing a demarcation line every June to make it easier to keep track of the titles and be able to tell what books I'd read in a given (June-to-June) year. Nowadays though, when I look back at earlier pages, I sometimes see titles I have no memory of reading at all - they ring not even the slightest bell.

Looking through the lists now, I can see that I read a lot of junk over the years - paperback action series, movie tie-ins and the like - but a lot of good stuff too. It's also a walk down Memory Lane. I can remember where I was and what I was doing in specific years based on the books I read. I see the first book I ever reviewed (Stephen King's THINNER, review published in the Asbury Park Press in Feb. 1985, shortly after the news of the "Richard Bachman" pseudonym broke). I also see books I remember vividly - as if I'd read them yesterday, instead of 20 years ago - listed right next to books I have absolutely no recall of whatsoever, and if you'd asked me if I'd read them, I'd answer no.

Here are some sample pages (click on images to enlarge):

From 1987-'88:

From 2001-'02:

And here's a quick by-the-numbers run-down:

Total Number of Books (June 1, 1982 to Aug. 10, 2009): 1,358

First Book Listed (June 1982): THE WAGES OF FEAR by Georges Arnaud (French suspenser about dynamite-hauling truck drivers, basis of 1953 film).

Most Recent Book Listed (Aug. 10, 2009): BREAKFAST IN THE RUINS by Barry N. Malzberg (a collection of essays by the N.J. science fiction/mystery author).

Most Read Year: June 1985 to June 1986, 81 books. (I had a lot of free time on my hands, I guess).

Least Read Year: June 2005 to June 2006, 20 books (Hey, I had other things going on).

Yearly Average: 50.2 books

Ratio of Fiction to Non-Fiction: 21 to 1

Complete Listing of Titles From a Single Page Chosen at Random, in the Order I Read Them:

From 1983-'84:

THE SIEGE OF TRENCHER'S FARM (source of the Peckinpah film STRAW DOGS) - Gordon M. Williams
THE TIN CRAVAT - Jack D. Hunter (second sequel to THE BLUE MAX)
THE REVOLT OF THE COCKROACH PEOPLE - Oscar Zeta Acosta (fictionalized memoir by Chicano activist immortalized in FEAR AND LOATHING IN LAS VEGAS)
I MARRIED A DEAD MAN - Cornell Woolrich (deep into my Woolrich phase by this point)
ASSIGNMENT: BLACK VIKING - Edward S. Aarons (No. #25 in the Sam Durell action series published by Fawcett Gold Medal)
MASTER-AT-ARMS - Rafael Sabatini (one of my favorite novelists)
TOMOE GOZEN - Jessica Amanda Salmonson (samurai fantasy fiction)
THE OUTRIDER - Richard Harding (first of a futuristic series in a ROAD WARRIOR vein)
SCOUNDREL TIME - Lillian Hellman
THE STRANGER - Albert Camus
GONJI #3: SAMURAI COMBAT - T.C. Rypel (more samurai action)
THE BIG GRAB - John Trinian (pseudonymous caper novel by screenwriter/author Zekial Marko. Filmed in France as ANY NUMBER CAN WIN)
THE HUNTER - Richard Stark
THE MAN WITH THE GETAWAY FACE - Richard Stark (the Avon Stark reprints were starting to come out)
THE DOGS OF WAR - Frederick Forsyth
HORRIDO! - Col. Raymond Toliver and Trevor Constabile (profiles of WWII Luftwaffe fighter pilots)

I guess it doesn't get more eclectic than that. And that's just one page.

Anybody out there do something similar?


pattinase (abbott) said...

I've done this off and on for many years. When I was home with the kids, I read 3-4 books a week. Now it's one a week at most. Interestingly to me, I just listed any "mystery" at the back of the book for years. The rest were "literary" or non-fiction. But over the years, the mysteries took over. I also list the movies and those I rate.
I originally included a line or two about each book but stopped at some point. I guess we take it seriously enough to keep a log. But maybe now I'm just afraid of reading a book again.

tintin said...

Does it smell like liquid smoke?

Jmags said...

I read Talked to Death: The Life and Murder of Alan Berg by Stephen Singular sometime in the 80s, in paperback. I think it was during the talk radio boom of the late 80s, it was the basis for the Eric Bogosian play and subsequent Oliver Stone film. Also I notice you don't write using a lower case "a", instead always using a capital "A".

Will Errickson said...

Absolutely; I've kept a record of every book read and movie seen since 1988 or '89. In the last year or so I haven't written them down because I use sites like and Flixster/NetFlix to keep track of stuff. I also write my name & the date when I read the book inside the front cover. Lots of book geeks do these kinds of things!

Bill Crider said...

Didn't do it. Not organized enough. I wish I were, and I wish I had.

wstroby said...

Will Errickson said...
Absolutely; I've kept a record of every book read and movie seen since 1988 or '89.

I used to do it for movies I'd seen in their entirety, ie. theatrically (or in a class screening) as opposed to on TV. I stopped in the early-80s though, because the proliferation of home video was making it too hard to keep up with what I'd seen.