Why use a spreadsheet at all?
I started making a note of the books that I was reading after I got about three chapters into a book and realised that I had read it before. That was back in 2002 and I began by keeping a list in a Word document. It dawned on me a while after that that I really should be keeping that information in Excel and I transferred the data over in 2009.
I see those who use all manner of different methods to keep a track of what they are reading and a list of books on their TBR list, but for me, a spreadsheet is the best method. It works similarly to my brain, and I can compartmentalise the blocks of data in a way that suits me. It is also a great way of getting lots of pertinent facts out about my reading habits and the way that they have changed over the years.
My different spreadsheets
I have two main spreadsheets that I use. One is called New Books Read Dashboard and the other is TBR Master. (I need to sort the names out…).
New Books Read Dashboard has five tabs:
Overview which is my dashboard for this sheet
Running Sheet, so I can keep a track of everything that I have read in the current year
Main Data, which is where I have a list of every book that I can remember having read, as well as my yearly reading lists which I have kept since 2002. (There are several books from childhood reading missing, some of which I must add, but there are some that I know I will never be able to recall).
Stats where I use pivot tables to drag information out from the Main Data tab and the final one i
Lookups which is now common across all of the spreadsheets.
TBR Master has evolved from two sheets. One had a list of all the library books that I had on loan and another sheet had a list of review books that I have been sent. I had since added to it quite a lot and it now has eight tabs! These are:
TBR Dashboard which is mostly pivot tables of the information in the tabs,
TBR Plan which is where I attempt to pull together the books that I want to read for the coming month.
Library Books is the list of books that I currently am borrowing from the library.
Review books is a list of books that I have been kindly sent by publishers (And is way too long!!).
Own book is something that I have started recently, where I have been logging the many many books that I buy.
Borrowed books tab is also self-explanatory and believe it or not, only has two listed on it.
Virtual TBR is where I log books that I want to read but as yet have not got a copy. I really need to tie this in with my Good Read’s want-to-read selection.
Lookups which is the same as in New Books Read Dashboard and other sheets.
Those are the two main spreadsheets that I use day in and day out. I also have three specifically for reading challenges; a general one, a natural history one and one for my World From My Armchair challenge. I then have a further 17 spreadsheets that are for awards, such as the Wainwright, Stanford Dolman, Portico and so on. There are then numerous others that contain lists of books from authors, publishers and other random lists that I haven’t quite got around to sorting out yet.
How I Use Spreadsheets
When I first moved over from a list in a document to a spreadsheet, I only had four columns, author and title, year read and so on, but as time has gone on I have added extra columns to be able to get meaningful data out.
I now have ten columns of information that make up what I call my core set. These all appear in the same order in each (ok most as I still haven’t updated them all yet) of the spreadsheets that I use. This means that I can copy information easily between each spreadsheet without having to change anything. I know that it is always going to be the same.
Title: Pretty self-explanatory really, it is the title of the book.
Author: Also, self-explanatory. I use Ed. for editor and Tr. and translator where necessary
Gender: I have a dropdown that is either male or female. I haven’t included the various other genders out there at the moment.
Publisher: This is the name of the publisher. I rarely read self-published books now, but I use Self in that column when I do so.
Pages: This is how many pages the book has, including indexes etc.
ISBN: A record of the ISBN of the edition I am reading.
Publication Date: This is the date that the edition I have recorded was published
Binding: I have three choices here, Hardback, Paperback and ebook.
Price: This is the price of the book on the cover, not necessarily what I paid for it!
Genre: I have three choices on this dropdown, Non-fiction, fiction, and Poetry
It is all very well having the data in my spreadsheet, but it isn’t much use if I cannot extract meaningful or useful information. I have started using simple dashboards now in some of my sheets as I have found this is a good way of summarising the data. Most of this I do through pivot tables, these are a clever way of taking big dollops of data and distilling it into easy-to-read information. I also use various formulas to sum and count very specific pieces of information, normally to do with reading challenges.
In my TBR Master sheet, I use most pivots so I can see how many books are on my reading plan for the month, review copies that I have got outstanding, books on my virtual TBR and how many books I have. It kind of works at the moment, but there are gaps in what I want from this sheet at the moment.
One of the key parts of each of the spreadsheets is the tab titled Lookups. This sheet is now being included in all new spreadsheets that I am doing and this is what it looks like:
In this tab, all the data is in specific named areas and are formatted as a table. This makes the data validation fairly easy to do and the dropdowns in each spreadsheet match each time. It might not be for everyone, but I find it helps me.
Pros & cons
When I first set about thinking about the ways that I wanted to improve my spreadsheets I set about it using good old pencil and paper. It took a lot of thinking and sketches before coming up with the current solution. I have been using these modified sheets for just over a year now and mostly this has worked really well. However, I have seen ways to make improvements and that is going to be covered in the next post on this.