Reading has always been a primarily solitary activity. Sure, adults read aloud to young children, but in most cases that stops when a child gains the ability to read independently.
Just because we read the actual words alone, though, doesn’t mean that books aren’t meant to be shared. Discussions about literature in class, at book club, or over coffee contribute to people’s understanding of texts themselves. Word of mouth, including reviews by critics, is the main way a book becomes popular.
So it makes sense to have a social network based on reading.
Goodreads is one of my favorite social networking sites. It takes those discussions of a book’s merits online; you can compare ratings and reviews of a book, see what your network of book nerds thought about it, and then put in your own two cents upon completion.
It replaces scrawled notes of book titles on your bedside table and compiles them into a “to-read” list that you can navigate by title, author, rating, date added to the list, etc. That to-read list also helps Goodreads recommend books to you through its algorithms, or you can discover books through browsing friends’ and strangers’ reviews.
At first glance, social networking about books seems like it would simply detract from reading time. But using Goodreads has actually encouraged me to read more.
It uses subtle gamification to bring out my almost-always-dormant competitive side. Luckily it’s not a competition with other readers (I’d lose big time), but makes goal-setting and tracking progress with reading easy and fun.
It does this in two ways:
- For an individual book: Goodreads calculates the percentage of pages read, so each time you update which page number you’re on you get even more of a confidence boost and sense of achievement. It makes me excited to see that percentage go up and get closer to finishing, which can honestly be enough to make me read a few extra pages.
For overall reading habits: At the beginning of the year, you can set a goal for how many books you want to complete over the next 365 days, and the site tells you if you’re on track or not. It lets you know if you’re ahead or behind schedule, which is an incentive to read and catch up to your number. After all, how can you achieve a goal if you don’t monitor your progress?
The site has other features too. You can create custom bookshelves to easily keep track of which books you own, which are your favorites, which you put down but want to come back to–anything your little literary heart desires. Goodreads also has polls, giveaways, user-created lists, and a trivia game that is extremely addictive for book nerds like me.
Gamification and tracking hasn’t just upped the amount that I read, but also the quality of books that I choose because I peruse reviews and ratings before selecting a novel.
Maybe that creates unfairly high expectations for books, but it also leads me to read incredible books that I likely wouldn’t reach for otherwise (recently I read African Safari Papers by Robert Sedlack, which turned out to be fantastic but I probably wouldn’t have taken it off the shelf because of cover-judgement and lack of name recognition).
The other issue with Goodreads, like every other social network, is that you need to actually connect with people to make it worthwhile. With a more obscure site, that can be difficult, but it’s growing rapidly.
If you like reading, you’ll love Goodreads. December is really the best time to join–teach their algorithms now, get awesome recommendations and work towards your personal Reading Challenge goal in 2015. You can also solve the needing-to-have-friends issue by adding me, if you like. I’m always up to see what people are reading and share great literary finds with others!
Now it’s time to get reading…I’m 6 books behind schedule.