The Web-Enabled Reader: Two sites for bibliphiles

For years, I’d wanted to keep track of what I was reading. My dream was to reach the end of the year and have a way to review, at a glance, every book I’d gone through in the past 12 months. I tried to do this several ways over several years: paper journals, spreadsheets, Google Docs, and even a home-brewed online database and form – but I never seemed quite able to keep up with it.

Then I found Goodreads. At its most basic, Goodreads lets you “keep track of what you’ve read and organize your books into virtual bookshelves.” Whenever you start a new book, you can easily add it to your inventory by title, author, or even ISBN code. By default, it goes onto your “Currently Reading” shelf, but you can add it to additional shelves as well – for example, science, fiction, biography, and so on. As you read, you can update your progress by entering the page number you’re currently on (or the percentage of the book you’ve completed), and when you’re finished, you can rate the book and write a review.

These features alone would be sufficient for what I was looking for, but Goodreads makes itself even more useful by adding a social aspect to its offerings. You can follow other Goodreads users and have their updates, reviews, and ratings show up on your main page (like a Twitter feed). You can send private messages to other users, recommend books to them, and add the books they’ve read to your shelves (I’ve found the to read shelf very useful for remembering books I’d like to eventually read.

Goodreads addresses my desire to track my reading. The second site I’m discussing in this post adds value to books after they’ve been read.

If you’re like me, you hang on to books after you’re done with them, even if you know you’ll never pick them up again. For those books, I’ve turned to Paperbackswap, which – as the name implies – allows you to trade books you’re done with for books that are new to you.

When you first join Paperbackswap (it’s free), you’re asked to add books to your personal inventory. By entering the ISBN of books you own but are willing to trade, you allow other users to browse your collection and request books from you. When you add your first ten books, you receive one “credit,” which is good for selecting any book in any other user’s collection. Once you’ve selected a book, the user will mail it to you at no charge to you.

The other side of the deal, of course, is that you agree to send books to other users who request them. This is typically done through USPS Media Mail service, which costs under $3 for a typical paperback. Paperbackswap lets you print postage straight from the website, and you can mail the books from your own home.

Over the past six months, I’ve posted about three dozen books and mailed about fifteen. I’ve also selected and received about twenty books – from popular fiction to children’s stories to older books that I’d been looking for for a while.

If you’re inclined to check these sites out, please feel free to add me as a friend on both – and let me know what you think of them.

Here’s how to find me: On Goodreads On Paperbackswap