One Customer’s System for To-Read Lists

Elizabeth Bluemle - April 5, 2016

I love being surprised by customers. A couple in their sixties wandered into the bookstore last weekend and spent quite a bit of time in the mystery section. The male half of the couple eventually approached the counter in search of a new author to try. He’d had to take one off his ‘list of twenty,’ he said, because that author’s books had declined over the past several, and this gentleman was finally giving up on him.
“Your list of 20?” I was intrigued. If there’s anything I like, it’s hearing how different minds process information, or organize themselves.

“I read quickly,” my customer explained, “so I find if I have a list of 20 authors I want to read, that usually keeps me in books for the year.”
He explained that he makes himself read a ‘serious’ title every fifth book or so — “like Manchester’s book on Churchill,” or something highly literary — not only to make sure he read more than escape fiction, but also because if he doesn’t salt his ‘list of 20’ with extra titles, he runs out of books before the year is out.
He turned his phone around so I could see his list, which he created in an app called Paperless. The list looked something like this:
Except that his page was fully populated with his 20 authors. (The one above is a bare-bones example I created to give you the general idea.) The numbers in front of the authors’ names are a code to make sorting the list easy.

  • “0” means the author is untried,
  • “1” means he’s read the author and considers him/her top-notch, and
  • “2” means he considers the author second-tier, though still good.

Here’s where the list-keeping gets really cool, at least to fellow-OCD-lovin’-list-keeping fools like me. Tap on each author’s name to find a sub-list of all of the books by that author. And yes, there’s another code:

  • An “x” in front of the title means he’s read it.
  • A “-” means he’s bought the book but hasn’t read it yet.
  • If there’s nothing in front of the title, he doesn’t have the book yet and hasn’t read it.

We spent a while talking about the Longmire series on Netflix, and he said he gets hooked on mystery series there, as well. “My wife has Acorn,” he said, “and she loves that, but we have different tastes. She likes the kinds of mysteries where people sit in a room watching the paint dry on the wall while they solve the mystery. Mine have things blowing up and people chasing each other around. High octane.”
His wife smiled, not at all perturbed by the (fairly hilarious, if slightly unfair) characterization of cozies. The three of us talked about books for a while, they found a couple of new authors to try, and then they ambled back out into the chilly sunshine.
It was a delightful conversation. And I got a new app out of the exchange, and possibly a new book tracking system, to boot.

6 thoughts on “One Customer’s System for To-Read Lists

  1. kathy

    You might like this as well…..extracted from another article in today’s PW.
    “Another speaker at Tech Forum was Kaya Thomas, a student at Dartmouth College who created an app called We Read Too. The app, which Thomas created in 2014, provides a directory of hundreds of children’s and YA books written by authors of color and featuring characters of non-white ethnicities, a resource Thomas noted was severely lacking when she was a child.
    “My parents always encouraged me to read, and often they went from bookstore to bookstore trying to find children’s books that featured black girl characters,” Thomas said. “I yearned for stories about other black girls, but often, when I found those stories at the library, they were urban drama fiction with a tale that was tragic. I wanted the same fun, romantic, adventurous stories I’d always been reading, but I wanted them with characters who looked like me.”
    Thomas emphasized how important it is for children from minority and marginalized backgrounds, as well as those who are not, to be exposed to books featuring diverse characters. In doing so, she made several calls to action for those working in publishing, a predominantly white industry. She suggested publishers should include metadata about authors’ ethnicity, so these books would be easier to identify; publishers should make a concerted effort to diversity their staff; and books by authors of color should be marketed more heavily, so that they have the opportunity to grow their audience.

    1. Elizabeth Bluemle Post author

      This sounds like a wonderful app! Thanks so much for alerting me to it. My diversity database has slightly different criteria, so this is a fabulous resource. Thanks again.

  2. Rachel

    Fun post – makes my hand-scribbled lists seem primitive! I’ll bet your customer would like Adrian McKinty’s Sean Duffy mysteries. There are lots of things blowing up and people chasing each other around. There are also great characters, a really interesting setting, dry humor, and vibrant prose. I wonder if he already has that author on his list? Given that our tastes seem similar, I wouldn’t mind getting some recommendations from him.

  3. Cresson

    I love his system, but too high-tech for me!
    As a child, I had index cards first with unread Nancy Drew mysteries, then classics to read. As an adult reader, I maintain my reading list on either Excel or Word, which I can sort by author, add and delete at will. I print it in duplicate for trips to the library, bookstore and travel (use the backside to track vacation expenses).

    1. Elizabeth Bluemle Post author

      I admire folks who come in with lists and spreadsheets!! The best I can do is to keep notes in my phone and hope I remember to look at them. Printing in duplicate is a whole added layer of organized!


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