Last December a number of bloggers I enjoy following started posting their top reads of 2023. I was excited to read those blog posts but it quickly became obvious that I had two problems. One, I had no place to jot down these book recommendations for future reference, aside from something like a random piece of paper. It's pretty hard to go looking for a notebook and pencil while nursing the baby, which is when I do my blog reading.

The other problem was when I tried to think back to what my own top reads of 2023 were, I couldn't remember. I knew I'd read a lot of books. I mean, I basically spent February-April lying on the couch feeling nauseated and reading novel after novel. But my memory wasn't keen enough to remember all of them. Or -- let's face it-- most of them. Some of the literature giants stood out, like David Copperfield, Beloved, or Cry, the Beloved Country. But I knew there were many others, more small time books I'd enjoyed that were escaping me.

I don't use Goodreads. The fact that Goodreads is owned by Amazon has always made me a little uncomfortable. Also, I really didn't want a social catalogue or any app where I had to make an account and password and give personal information, but just a simple, private reading app for my own use.

I did a search and found Openreads on F-droid. F-droid is an open software app repository for Android. After using it for a month, Openreads turned out to be exactly what I was looking for as a solution for the two problems mentioned above.

First of all, it is free, there are no ads, and you do not have to give your email or any personal information.

You can add books by entering them manually, scanning a barcode, or searching for them in Open Library. So far every time I have searched for a book in Open Library I've been able to find it easily, so I haven't had to add any manually or try scanning a barcode. Except I could not find one specific collection of stories by Flannery O'Connor, but that might be simply because there were so many entries for Flannery O'Connor and I didn't want to spend longer than ten seconds looking.

Once you search for and select the book you want to add, you can put it under one of three categories: Finished, In Progress, or For Later.

I love that if I see a book mentioned that I am interested in reading on a blog or maybe someone mentions a book recommendation in a conversation, I can quickly go into Openreads and look it up and add it to my For Later list. I've already referred to the For Later list many times at the library or while browsing Libby and Hoopla, our library's lending apps, or even while I was looking at secondhand books in a thrift store.

I don't bother with the In Progress list. That's not a feature that interests me. There's also an option to tag a book as Unfinished in the Finished list. I don't bother with that either, though I might in the future. I can see how that would be useful if I purposely quit reading a book before the end.

On the subject of unfinished books, it's hard for me to concede defeat on a book and leave it unfinished but I've realized over the years that there are a lot of wonderful books in the world, too many to read in one lifetime. So generally speaking, there's no need to finish a book you're not enjoying. (This is also to clarify that there's a difference between In Progress and Unfinished.)

You can move books from the For Later list to the Finished list just by selecting the edit option.

Once a book is in the Finished category you can rate it 0-5 stars, put in the reading time, write a review and add notes. I love that I can do those things quickly on my phone after I finish a book.

First I give it a rating. I am trying to be frugal with my 5 star rating, saving it for the gems you come across every now and then, those books that really stand out. So 4 stars is a great rating. That means I genuinely enjoyed the book and would gladly recommend it, likely even read it again given the opportunity. Of all the new books I've read this year, not counting books I've read before, I've given a 5 star rating to just one. Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro.

Then I put in the reading time. I just do a rough estimate in days by clicking on the calendar.

I've found it so helpful to quickly type out my initial reaction to the book in a few sentences under Review. As days and weeks pass by I think more deeply about what I've read but having those initial thoughts blurted out, whatever they are, even something like "it made me uncomfortable" has been helpful in processing the book in my mind and learning from what I read.

Under Notes, I try to note how I found the book or who recommended it, if I remember. Sometimes if the book has been sitting on my For Later list for awhile I can't actually remember how I discovered it.

The Finished book list is organized alphabetically by title, but can be sorted other ways, such as date finished. I love that feature and I'm sure it will come in handy as the list gets longer.

I'm sure there are other app features that I haven't discovered yet.

Being able to see the book covers, titles, summaries, and my notes are perfect for jogging my memory about what I have read. I am glad that if I read a good young adult or children's book I will be able to recommend it to my sister, who has two elementary school daughters who love to read.

One con is that if I lost my phone I presumably wouldn't be able to retrieve the information on the app. I'm okay with that for now but might try to find a way around it later.

I am happy that I found this app. I would highly recommend Openreads!

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