Last week Armchair Traveler and Itinerant Bookworm agreed that virtual books are best, but there’s also a sense of satisfaction that comes from gloating over a well-stocked bookshelf. Goodreads, LibraryThing and a few other competitors seem to offer a solution. Virtual bookshelves! All gloating and no dusting!! No pages disintegrating or separating from their bindings!!! Traveler and Bookworm agreed to test that reality, under the nym of Anne Fenwick.
A week or two later and mostly, it’s been a blast. The gloating is going great! Nothing delights AT and IB more than a well stocked electronic bookshelf with an array of book covers all across the screen. They’re even thinking of copying it and making it into wallpaper!
Nice things have happened too. They found the book club of their dreams (more on that some other day), they got YA Reader to sign up as well – so now they have a friend and she gets to track her reading. They have a shelf for each of their reading challenges and a tracker for one of them… It was great when they went to the library and just pulled out the handy list of books-to-read on the iPad instead of trying to remember them. It’s fun to just click the green ‘Want to Read‘ button, instead of making a-note-which-will-get-lost.
So is everything perfect in the land of virtual L-space?
The truth is, Armchair Traveler and Itinerant Bookworm aren’t sure. Already, there is an obvious tension between the private and public functions of a site like Goodreads – especially Goodreads, perhaps. AT and IB joined up for purely selfish reasons: to gloat over their books, ideally in like-minded company.
Amazon, on the other hand clearly own Goodreads for equally selfish reasons – so that we can all sell books to each other. There’s a balance to be found here. Traveler and Bookworm are all for sharing their book enthusiasm but they don’t want to feel like unpaid advertising executives. That feeling, if it became too well developed, would cause them to leave and do other things.
But it’s not just Amazon’s priorities which can make Goodreads a bit… strange. It’s the mere fact of having something as private as a book collection take on an unavoidably public dimension. In the private world, nothing could be more natural than having a bookshelf mentally labeled ‘books-that-suck-!‘. If we are in the habit of writing notes in our books fly-leaves to say what we think of them, those notes might well say things like ‘What was (insert author name) on??!!! S/he needs to be taken out and (insert horrible fate)‘ or ‘I have no clue what I think of this book‘. In Goodreads, these little notes make their way into the world like a débutante turning up to a ball in a leather thong and carpet slippers. They take on an anti-social aspect because Goodreads is, inevitably, a branch of social media.
The task of writing reviews which are sensible, helpful and coherent is one AT and IB are willing to face – or else they won’t write them at all. They’re aware some people have concerns about censorship, but they don’t yet know what kinds of things are being censored. They do do a certain amount of shuffling, editing and mind-changing which could be frustrating to any other user who happens to notice. They tried to do a little more research into bookshelf naming, and came across a suggestion that bookshelves named after authors are disallowed! Say what?! They can hardly credit it, but think it would be a deal-breaker. Sorting one’s books by author is such an obvious and logical thing to do.
In the meantime, there are a few things in their Goodreads life which are taking up space they require for other purposes. Just because Itinerant Bookworm read Twilight while visiting Olympic National Park, doesn’t mean they both want to participate in games and discussions about it for the rest of their lives. Yet there it is, at the top of their update feed. Better language filters would be nice because although travelers are in favor of multilingualism many of the world’s languages are still just squiggly lines to them. Still there they are, in reviews of English-language books, probably because the reviewers imagined themselves to be writing only for themselves, in their private virtual libraries.
Verdict: Goodreads is pretty good but minor concerns abound.