GOODREADS AND SOCIAL READING: IS IT REALLY JUST ABOUT THE NUMBERS?

13 November 2013

By Elizabeth Campbell

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logos_1For the past four years, I’ve been keeping track of everything I read. It started when I joined LibraryThing and now  I am primarily a GoodReads user.  On both sites, there is a certain satisfaction to being able to go into my profile and know exactly which books I read two years ago, or find out what books my friends have recently read. One thousand, one hundred and nine books!  That’s a lot of books. Books that I’ve either read, classed as ‘to read’, or have been tagged in another way. But what is the appeal of tracking your reading in this way? Why do it? Does it turn reading into a competition? And is this a good or bad thing? Read on for a glimpse into the world of social reading!

drakenfeld1_1I find it oddly satisfying to know that in June 2012 I preceded a book about fonts with a novel about baseball, and followed it with an ebook about cycling. I can’t help but enjoy the numbers. I can take the books in my ‘library’ and catalogue them however I want – by genre, rating, length, year of publication… I have the type of brain that enjoys the chance to play around with data and see what patterns emerge when I organise them in different ways. If I want, I can take the information from my profile and create an infographic or word cloud, just because. I’m also a GoodReads librarian, helping to update and maintain the book records to keep them accurate.

Before 2010, I simply read a book and put it on my shelf. But now, it’s not enough. I want to know exactly when I read it. What book did I read before? What did I read afterwards? As an immediate reaction, how did I score it from 1 to 5? Upon a re-read, do I still agree with my original opinion? Did I read it in hardcopy or as an ebook? Exactly how many words did I read last year? I’ve also got the habit of making sure – where possible – that the edition displayed on my profile is the one I actually read, showing the correct cover (there’s one TV tie-in edition of Anne of Windy Willows that is eluding me on GoodReads…).

great-north-road-uk_1Now, I’m not saying this sort of activity is for everyone..  Talking to friends, more often than not, once they’ve read a book it’s out of their mind (either for good or for ill), and maybe even off their shelf, unless they really loved it.. They have other uses for social reading sites – getting recommendations, participating in groups and book clubs, finding out what their friends are reading. You can also vote in the annual awards, running at the moment (we’re thrilled that Peter F. Hamilton’s Great North Road is nominated for Best SF).

Of course, tracking your reading is nothing new. You can still buy beautiful journals specifically designed for making notes about your reading. I wish I’d started tracking my reading long before I did, in the days when I would have used a notebook rather than a website. I’ve never been good at keeping a regular diary, but I would love to have a collection of notes about all the books that I have read.  

So what about you? Do you use social reading sites to record the books you read or to discuss books with others? Or perhaps keep a physical book journal? And if you do, what’s the appeal? Is it to keep track, to show off to friends etc? My stats are below - how do yours compare?

reading-challenge_1Here’s the all important numbers section: in 2010, I read 108 books; in 2011, I read 97; and in 2012, I read 137. Within this time frame my most intensive month of reading was October 2012 (17 books), closely followed by June 2011 (16) and August 2012 (14).  I took part in, and 'won', the 2012 Reading Challenge on GoodReads, having set myself a target of 100 books. Sadly, this year isn’t looking so great for me and I’m 45% behind schedule!

During 2012, I read seven books to which I gave 5-stars, and two books which I felt deserved only 1-star. This was significantly better than 2011, when there were only two 5-star books.  In my collection there are 380 ‘fantasy’ books but only 25 ‘science fiction’ (purely a reflection of my reading tastes, though I’m trying to improve my genre balance); and six books that I started but did not finish.  I keep telling myself that it's not a competition but now I've begun, it's very difficult not to judge myself against my previous achievements. Unfortunately, unlike the Reading Challenge, I don't think this is a competition I can ever win!