When you think of reading, you think of a solitary activity, don’t you? I do. Reading has always been a solo venture for me. Of course, in the beginning, I had to have help with it – my mother would read to me, or help me read for myself by pointing out errors in pronunciation or helping me with context by either explaining words that I didn’t understand, or later on, pointing me towards the massive Concise Oxford that sat on the bookshelf. Still, none of that was particularly social. It was more a matter of supervised, or guided rather than being social. So the whole notion of social reading seems a bit alien.
Enter the concept of Goodreads.com and it begins to make sense. It’s like a Facebook for readers; sort of. The idea is to share what you’re reading with your friends (and the public at large if you choose), and be able to recommend something to someone else, or find recommendations from other people. It’s more like a world-wide-web book club – and we all know what book clubs are like. So that term “social reading” takes on a whole new meaning for us. A world-wide-web book club made up of our friends, acquaintances, and strangers from around the world who may or may not share your reading preferences.
Recently, a group of Facebook acquaintances of mine and I joined together under a Facebook group (a closed one) for a cyber book club. The idea is to pick a book a month for each person to read. Since it was somewhat spontaneous, I’m not entirely sure what the expectations are for members once either the book is finished or the month comes to an end. A Facebook group is a convenient spot to create a virtual book club. Most everybody you know has a Facebook account. I’ve met very few people in my daily walkabouts who do not have one. (Wouldn’t it be interesting to note how many people have a social reading network account but not a Facebook account?)
Goodreads.com is one of the more popular social reading platforms out there. But there are two other websites that are very much like Goodreads – LibraryThing and Shelfari. Unfortunately, with the acquisition of Goodreads by Amazon, there is one remaining competitor in the social reading website business (LibraryThing) because Amazon already owns Shelfari. It is interesting to note that Amazon had launched a shelf listing website of their own at Kindle.Amazon.com, but I suspect it hasn’t gained as much popularity as they had hoped. Certainly not enough to run Goodreads out of business. I have to say I like the idea of a bookshelf website that is tied into the books I buy online; whenever I purchase a book from Amazon.com, the title is added automatically to my bookshelf at kindle.amazon.com. That’s quite convenient compared to the other social reading sites where I have to manually add a book once I’ve acquired it.
Book clubs are not a new phenomenon; they’ve been around since books were first published. If you read classic literature, or view classic films, you might have noticed that some of the stories include groups of women who meet regularly to either read or discuss a book that they have read. In my high-school years, a book club was a very unofficial lending library; simply a group of people who shared books. If one person was able to get their hands on a particular book, that book would be passed around amongst the members until everybody who wanted to read it got a chance with it.
Social reading has its advantages. Different people are exposed to a variety of books at different points in their lives. There isn’t always an overlap with the kinds of books everybody gets to read, and when you can come together in a group and share those experiences with others, it only makes reading that much more fulfilling. And that’s not including the added benefit of making friends based on similar reading interests.
What do you think of social reading websites? Are you a member of any? What has been your experience with them? Share your thoughts with us in the comments. We’d love to hear from you.