Friday, 21 December 2012

Reading networks

I must have some gene from my librarian great-aunt in me, because ever since I was a child I loved cataloguing books. This aunt gave me real index cards, and we indexed all my books - she writing in pretty "library handwriting", me, awkwardly, but proudly, in purple ink. This first index catalogue disappeared at some point, but in my early twenties I started cataloguing again, both books I owned, books I had read and books I planned to read. I had my own system of signs to indicate books that I liked or disliked, books that I read for work or for pleasure, fiction and non-fiction. I noted when I had finished each book, and I kept track of how many books in each category I read every year. In other words, I did, manually, what book and reading sites allow you to do today.

This catalogue was lost when I moved to Sweden, and I started a new one, but life caught up with me. I still kept track of all books I read, but on a modest scale.

A couple of years ago my clever children suggested Shelfari. What I wanted was simply convenient software to record my current and past reading. I didn't necessarily want to share it with anyone. It took some time to build up my shelf, and I am still adding to it when I remember books I read long ago. At the moment I have 2,251 books on my shelf, but I haven't even started adding the numerous Scandinavian YA novels. Since I joined, I have recorded every single book I have read. Shelfari helpfully provides me with statistics. It even tells me that I am behind my pace this year as compared to last yar. It does not differentiate between a picturebook and a 800-page novel.

I have 442 tags for my shelf, and I tag every book carefully with at least 4-5 tags. My top tags are Children's Literature, Classic, Fantasy, Picturebooks and I Have Written About It. I have a top-ten category and top-hundred category and children's top-hundred and picturebooks top-ten. Sometimes I write very short reviews. I don't supply ridiculously short synopses or character descriptions. I don't note where I bought the book and which edition I have and whether it is signed by the author and all other stuff Shelfari allows you to enter.

Building up the shelf retrospectively is illuminating. It made me realise that some books that I value exceptionally high I hadn't actually re-read for quite a while. So I re-read them, and most of them were still great. It made me remember books I had no memory of. It made me aware of books that I had read and still had no memory of. In short, it was a very interesting exercise.

I have some Shelfari friends, but it's nothing like Goodreads. I have a shelf on Goodreads, and I keep adding to it, but I don't really have time to maintain two sites. What is fascinating about Goodreads is that it automatically adds all my Facebook friends, so suddenly I know what my colleagues and students are reading and how they rate the books. (And they know what I am reading and how I rate). Something I view as brilliant gets one star. Something I think is garbage gets five stars. I wish I had time to have a discussion with all these friends and ask: what did you like about this horrible book? How could you give one star to this masterpiece? And: oh, I am so glad that we like the same book. But the greatest surprise is that so many colleagues are reading and have read books I have never heard of. Now, if I look at the most popular books on Shelfari and state that I haven't heard of any of them, I am not upset, because I seldom read commonly popular books. I don't read crime or romance or autofiction. But when I see a colleague's shelf with author upon author I haven't heard of, then I must hade missed something. As colleagues in the same field I would expect us to have more in common.

I also know how colleagues have rated books that I have written.

1 comment:

Stroppy Author said...

I stay away from Goodreads because of its reputation for bitchy reviews, and although I started a Shelfari account I forgot about it. But you have made it sound interesting again, so perhaps I will blow the dust off. The prospect of looking like I've read nothing, though, is rather off-putting, if I start with what I'm reading now.