Reading has a reputation for being an isolated activity. We often think of people in their pajamas or bathrobes, sunk into a massive armchair in front of a roaring fire, with a mug of hot cocoa in one hand and a page-turner in the other. Books have the unique ability to suck us into a whole new world where our imaginations are the only limit. So how can reading be social?
Discussion, that’s how. I know that when I finish reading a well-written book, I need to go out and tell somebody about it. I need to find someone else who’s read that same book so we can talk about it, maybe for hours if the book was that good. Reading may be an individual activity – nobody sits around in a circle and reads aloud, right? – but the social aspect afterwards is what truly completes the joy.
So, yes, reading is an intensely social experience. One way to partake in that experience is to join a local book club, but if you’re looking for more of a technological, modern medium for reading socially, then here are some great communities that you should consider joining.
It’s impossible to talk about “social reading” without mentioning Goodreads. Launched in 2007, Goodreads started off as a cataloging website that acted as a database for books, book reviews, and annotations. Within one year, Goodreads boasted over 650,000 members and 10 million books. Within five years, the member base increased to over 10 million and the database is constantly growing.
When you sign up on Goodreads, you can manage something called a “bookshelf”, which is just a collection of book titles that you’ve read, are currently reading, or plan to read one day. Once you’ve read a book, you can give it a rating and an optional review. The social networking aspect involves the ability to make friends with other readers so you can see each other’s bookshelves and discuss certain titles together.
Based on what you’ve read and liked, Goodreads helps you discover new books that fit into your interests. Personally, I’ve been using Goodreads for about two years and I’ve found dozens of great books that I never would’ve read if I hadn’t joined. Highly recommended, and not just by me: check out Erez’s article on why Goodreads is a must for readers!
LibraryThing is like a less hip, more cerebral version of Goodreads. Even though it debuted nearly two years before Goodreads, their minimalistic interface and their refusal to catch up with the times has kept their community from blowing up. Depending on your viewpoint, that can be good or bad. Still, LibraryThing has over 1.6 million users and 78 million books.
With LibraryThing, you can create and manage your own personal library of books: books you’ve read, books you’re reading, books you wish to read. You can tag, rate, and review books. Since everyone builds their own personal libraries, you can browse them and interact with other people through comments and forums. LibraryThing gets their book data from Amazon and over 700 libraries globally.
Most book-related social networks will let you read and write reviews and leave comments, which LibraryThing does, too. However, the big draw of LibraryThing, in my opinion, is their Talk forum section where you can have high quality book discussions. And let me tell you: their forums are extremely active.
One cool feature is their Early Reviewers program, where you can receive free books in exchange for well-written reviews. In addition, they have a version of their site that’s optimized for mobile devices so you can participate on the go.
BookLikes is a newer social network that focuses on allowing users to share their thoughts on books in their own space. In a way, you can think of it as MySpace for books: everyone can create a shelf of books that they’ve read/are reading/will read (nothing new here) but everyone also has a blog for expression. The networking aspect is that you can search and browse the blogs of other users.
Honestly, it’s a great concept when you want more substance than simple book reviews and forum threads. The blog format allows for deeper thoughts while giving users the freedom to follow whoever they’d like to follow. Being able to see the shelves of your friends is useful, too, especially when you want to start reading the favorites of someone who thinks like you.
The only downside is that they’ve currently limited registration. Instead of instantly creating an account, you have to request an account and wait for them to approve you. Perhaps they’re still developing some features behind the scene and will open the gates soon. If you don’t mind waiting a bit, go ahead and request an account now.
Let’s say you want to be a social reader but you don’t like dealing with social networks. Sounds a bit contradictory but it’s entirely possible. If blogs and social networks aren’t your cup of tea, then what about good old-fashioned forums? Forums are great for digitally enacting the oldest form of social reading: book clubs.
And Online Book Club is aptly named. Their forums are quite active with daily threads that cover topics such as: book discussion, author discussion, reviews and recommendations, e-book discussions, books of the month, and there’s even a subsection for aspiring writers. You’ll find a lot of reading enthusiasts at the Online Book Club and it’s an entirely free community.
Reading is both an isolated and social activity. Sure, you can enjoy your book and lose yourself into the mind of a compelling protagonist, but who are you going to talk to when you’re done? Sharing in the experience of that book is just as important as reading it, so use the communities above to find like-minded readers with whom you can discuss stories.
Know of any other social reading websites that I missed? Please share them in the comments. I’d love to check them out and see what I’m missing out on.
Image Credit: Reading Girl Via Shutterstock