No matter how much we love reading those old-fangled pieces of technology we call books, the temptation of the Internet–Facebook! J. Crew! Dear Prudence!–can be hard to resist. The Internet is also more convenient than books, since it’s way easier to appear productive when you cruise the web, rather than pull out your Kindle or paperback, at your cubicle.
But the Internet can still make you a better reader. Enter Goodreads: the social networking site for bibliophiles. It has a lot of features that help you find books, discuss books, remember books, share books, and get books. In short, it’s revolutionized the way I read. Think of it as a highbrow Facebook where no one can post yet another not-clever someecard. Here are some of the perks:
Cataloging: Goodreads has a really extensive database of books and lets you tag them as you see fit. The default shelves are Want to Read, Currently Reading, and Read. Thus, you can always remember what page you are on in what you are reading, that book that your friend mentioned loving, and whether you finished The Life of Pi. You can add your own shelves, whether they are basics like “owned” (if you, like me, accidentally bought three copies of Andrea Levy’s Small Island) or “at library” (Oh bibliotheque, I couldn’t afford my three-books-a-week habit without you!) or really creepy, like “M-M-M-M” or “Med-Fetish.” You know what? Forget I ever used the word “highbrow.” You can also give a book a one-to-five-star rating, which I find helpful, but limiting, since so many books are 3.5ers.
Free and Cheap Books: I only recently discovered Goodreads giveaways, but I have still managed to win a dozen books in three weeks. Not too shabby. You have to sift through self-published erotica, etc., but you can get an advanced readers copy of a soon-to-be hip book or a quirky biography of a long-dead circus star that’s right up your alley. If you can’t get the book free, the site has a comparison shopping tool that helps you find a book’s lowest price, both used and new, from several online stores.
Recommendations: Goodreads has a semi-reliable recommendations feature based on what you have added to your shelves. Like Pandora, it’s unable to understand nuances like: I read multiple holocaust memoirs in high school but don’t read them exclusively, or I’ve read enough novels about Anne Boleyn’s sister, thanks. There are, however, other ways to get ideas on what to read: user-created-and-maintained lists (“Downton Abbey-esque Books” and “Best Literary Mysteries” have been inspiring to me), user reviews (sometimes useful, sometimes comical—but I find the overall ranking tends to be pretty reliable), a news feed that shows what your friends are reading, and a similar books feature that’s far more useful than the one on Amazon, since it recommends books that are similar in style and substance, and not just popular during the same few weeks.
Encouragement: I enjoy setting and meeting milestones and the Annual Reading Challenge on Goodreads is really helping me with my goal of reading 100+ books a year. You pledge to read a certain amount, add them as you read, and it lets you know whether you are meeting your goal at the pace you are reading. Sometimes it’s annoying, like when you pick up a weighty non-fiction tome and feel forced to read a trashy book to balance it out and stay on track. But, more often than not, it helps motivate me to step away from the television and computer and do something I actually enjoy more. It also calculates the total number of pages you have read for the year (although it assumes I read the indexes and dedication pages…oops!).
You can contact Betsy, the author of this post, at firstname.lastname@example.org.