In many ways, ebooks have given us expedited access to literature in a way that’s never been seen before in human history. You can purchase a book, just about any book, from nearly any location in the continental United States (provided you are within distance of a cellphone tower of course) at the drop of a hat. When you consider that only five centuries ago books were priceless heirlooms that could be reproduced only with considerable care and effort, it’s a staggering leap in the proliferation of information.
As marvelous as it is, ebooks don’t come without costs. While many of older generations like to wax philosophic about the missing smell and feel of holding a treeware book in one’s hands, I think one of the real unfortunate side effects of the digitalization of books has been the removal of the human element. Heading down to the local library or used bookstore afforded readers the opportunity to interact with other bibliophiles that is often lost in this newer generation. Gone is the chance to ask somebody what they are reading or to grill a librarian for suggestions in a new favorite genre.
But despair not! Stepping in to fill this void is Goodreads, a marvelous fusion of old-school book clubs, social media and book recommendation engine. The site is predicated on the notion that you’re more likely to pick up a book if it comes recommended by a real person, especially somebody you know and respect. Goodreads gives you the ability to track what friends and like-minded strangers are saying about their latest reads, so you can pilfer those suggestions for yourself. The site boasts 4.4 million users with more than 120 million books on their collective shelves, so nary a title can slip through their collective grasp.
What sets this experience above and beyond reviews on Amazon, for instance, is the that it’s tied to social media. Every time you put in a review it updates your Goodreads feed and, if you opt to allow it to do so, will post something on Twitter or Facebook as well. They offer a variety of widgets, which you can drop on to your blog or Facebook page to show off your ever-expanding bookshelf, recent favorites and/or reading challenge goals for the year. A budding competition with the latter has been a major driver of my own reading efforts this year.
There’s also no need to get together every week for a book club — now you can just start a group and get the discussion going online at your own pace in a nice forum style. The site even boasts a nice variety of lists, allowing you to see what people with similar tastes are reading at any given moment and potentially hit them up for new reading groups.
If you’re a serious reader, a Goodreads membership will get you a long way. Just being able to catalog the list of books you’ve read along with immediate post-read reviews of the material, goes a long way towards enriching your experience. The ability to weave your friends into the experience just takes it to that next level. It comes highly recommended.