Why I Goodreads.

I’ve always loved reading. A number of my friends read voraciously too, but haven’t yet dove into Goodreads, an online book-tracking community that I use. To explain why I think they (and you!) should join Goodreads, I wrote this. If you enjoy reading too, you may find it relevant.

Filter through friends

Goodreads is a (quietly) social site, and a book review from a friend always, immediately trumps a stranger’s book review. I don’t necessarily agree with my friends or share the same taste — that’s not the point. Rather, I know my friends and so I understand their biases and loves and hates, where they over-rate and under-rate; the fault in their star ratings, if you will.

An encouraged reader keeps reading

Where Goodreads really shines is in simple game mechanics to get and give encouragement to keep reading. Things like Reading Challenges and “Pre-Encouragement” (see below) make Goodreads feel like the polar opposite of Twitter, a place where polarized, partisan invective flies like grapes in a food fight. Goodreads, on the other hand, is a community where you can gently encourage a friend to read a book she hasn’t even bought yet! How cool is that?

  • Goodreads lets everyone set a personal “Reading Challenge” for the year, and get a progress bar as you motor through books on your way to a goal. Maybe you only have time to read one book, or maybe you want to read 100. Either is great. American children of the ‘80s may fondly remember Pizza Hut’s delicious Book It reading program, where young rascals read books to earn progress toward free personal Pan Pizzas. A better idea was never launched. Goodreads is like that, for adults, substituting personal pride for pan pizza. My 2015 Goodreads goal was to read 13 books: one a month, and one for good luck. Despite this being a banner year for me — got married, reproduced — I managed to beat my goal, and felt proud as hell to be able to say so.
  • Integration into the Kindle apps means tapping the “g” icon shares your incremental progress on Goodreads: “John is 23% done reading Barbary Coast.” Pressing that Share Progress button has become habitual, like instinctually pressing “Save” after typing a sentence, to the point that now reading a paper book feels slightly funny because I miss what that button does — it tells my friends, “yo let’s read!”
  • On Goodreads, it’s easy to share encouragement on intent to read. How beautiful is that? When, say, Evan clicks “Want to Read” on a book that I’ve also read, I can say “great!”” and “Like” that action. Evan gets more encouragement to read something he might not even own yet. He might be more likely to remember that book, or more likely to just impulse buy it on Kindle and start reading it today. That little celebration of intent is like browsing a bookshelf with a tiny literary friend perched on your shoulder saying “oh yeah that one!” when your finger brushes a certain book spine.

The “Discogs Effect”, AKA an A-Z collector’s paradise

I use Goodreads the way I use (the nerdier but amazing archivist site) Discogs: to build a digital record of things I’ve loved without the physical freight of a collection that gets waterlogged, throws out your back, or gets misplaced by the movers. Memory is visual and I’m a visual person — for me, the height of nostalgia isn’t triggered by riffling pages of a certain volume or the smell of paper. It’s the visual matter, the cover art, the name, the idea of the book, that trigger my memories and open up the nostalgia K-hole. I’ve parted with crates of records and boxes upon boxes of books because I know I’ll never lose them — they are archived in my Discogs / Goodreads (and exported as a text file, of course, in case those sites disappear — belt-and-suspenders, my grandpa calls it).

Align lists with what matters to you

Think of how Foursquare (now Swarm’s) original purpose was to curate “urban mixtapes” of your favorite city spots to share with friends and guests. Goodreads enables that for literary journeys. I make lists (Goodreads calls them “shelves”; other sites call them “tags”)

  • “books that inspired me to become a professional balloonist”
  • “books I gave to friends that went unread that I then resented them for”
  • “books I literally hurled out the window”, etc. can all be lists that you manage, sort, and share. they can be books you’ve read, or want to read.

Adapts to your actual collection

Have an old obscure book that’s not on Amazon? Magic textbook from the ‘40s? Rare shakuhachi flute manual? No worries, just type in a few fields and you can add it to Goodreads. Wrong / blurry cover art? Snap a photo, upload it, and it’s fixed. Very satisfying and baggage-free, compared to the ponderous content editing and review processes on sites like Foursquare, Wikipedia, Genius, etc.

Judge your friends from the books they brag-share

Just like a physical bookshelf or record collection, it’s natural and healthy to judge our friends by the books they choose to display on their shelves. No longer are you limited to judging just the friends in your city — with Goodreads, you can judge the books of complete strangers!

Better quality reviews from people who love to read

Amazon* has over 250 million customers; Goodreads has less than 10% of that, and anyone who knows book sale statistics wouldn’t expect those numbers to shift dramatically. Amazon is now “The Everything Store,” while readers are A Close Community. I grew up in libraries after school. I relate to readers and bookworms; we are of a tribe. Goodreads users (“goodreaders”?) choose to spend time on a website dedicated to past, present, and future reading, and so in my (highly biased) opinion, citizens of Goodreads are less likely to be the raving lunatics sometimes found elsewhere. *Amazon purchased Goodreads in 2013 but runs it as a separate community.

Low barrier to reviewing means reviews multiply like bunnies

Reviewing on Goodreads is as simple as clicking “1 star.” While you can of course write long-form reviews, and many people do, just knowing that a friend gave a book 2 stars might make take a second look, and the fact that Goodreads doesn’t require a long review means, in my non-scientific survey of my friends, almost every book that gets read on Goodreads gets reviewed. Also, you can flag spoilers in reviews, which is nice.

That’s why I use Goodreads. If you like reading, you can friend me there, and follow me here. See you in the shelves.