Why Goodreads Might Revitalize Your Interest in Recreational Reading

Thursday, November 17, 2016
by Kate Stericker

In my last post, I discussed how adopting a reading habit can help you strengthen your academic skills and become a better student in any discipline. However, making a commitment to recreational reading is often a challenging task. A common misconception seems to be that not reading regularly is a personal failing, as expressed in this simply-worded Tumblr post which resonated with hundreds of thousands of people:

Tumblr post:

Image Source: Tumblr

However, I disagree with the idea that just wanting to read should make it easy to adopt the habit. Throughout elementary and middle school, I read voraciously, but, once I reached high school, my interest began to wane. Free time was suddenly more scarce, and, when I had it, I was more likely to be on the internet or hanging out with friends than devouring a book. As time went on, I lost the habits that had made me a regular reader, and recreational reading gradually lost its place as a significant part of my life. This gradual lapse in reading habits over time appears to be a very common experience, and it’s important to note that these changes are not inherently negative. For instance, there are all kinds of fascinating, creative, and productive things to get involved with online, and rhetoric that preaches “books good, electronics bad” seems to be missing the point. In my mind, the ideal scenario would be one in which you have time to pursue your interests and participate in whatever activities you enjoy while still making time to read on a regular basis. I finally managed to strike this balance in my second year of university, and it’s been amazing to have reading play a major part in my life again without sacrificing the other things I care about.

So, if you find yourself relating to the story above, how can you reintroduce reading into your life and start enjoying the benefits? There are a huge number of articles online providing advice about how to cultivate a reading habit. The advice tends to tread similar territory and usually includes the following points, among others:

1. Carry a book everywhere you go so you can pull it out during unexpected downtime.
2. Set aside a certain amount of dedicated reading time each day.
3. Put away all your electronic devices when reading to improve your focus.

All of these are excellent tips and can be very effective if followed. However, since this kind of general advice has already been covered quite extensively, I wanted to discuss a more specific strategy. You may have heard of the website Goodreads, which allows people to track the books they read and network with other literature enthusiasts. Although Goodreads gets a fair amount of publicity as a great online destination for book lovers, I feel more emphasis needs to be placed on its potential to restore a commitment to reading in people who feel they may have lost interest. Without a doubt, my choice to join Goodreads last year was the greatest contributor to my renewed reading habit. Maintaining an account on the site is motivational for a number of reasons, but these are the three I find most significant:

1. Goodreads is the perfect place to discover the kind of books you’ll be eager to read. During the years when I wasn’t reading regularly, a major part of the problem was that I couldn’t think of anything I was dying to read. As much as I advocate recreational reading, I’m not in favour of slogging through novels that you don’t find interesting or entertaining just for the sake of having a book on the go. I suspect this stance may be the reason why so many people read almost exclusively popular books; people are curious about high-profile novels, but, when it comes to lesser-known books, they’re either disinterested, unwilling to take a chance on something that could easily disappoint, or just unaware of what’s out there.
Goodreads provides the perfect remedy to this problem. Their database contains over 1.5 billion books, most of which have their own page featuring technical information (such as page number and publication year), a detailed summary, and a selection of ratings and reviews from other readers.

Goodreads page for Lucy Knisley's

Image Source: Goodreads

If that number of books seems overwhelming, not to worry--Goodreads has plenty of tools available to help you find books that are likely to be appealing. Their ‘Listopia’ feature includes a wide selection of user-curated book lists, from those that may satisfy certain reading preferences (such as ‘YA Books Without Romance’ and ‘Best Realistic Animal POV Books’) or just pique your curiosity (like ‘Books That Everyone Should Read At Least Once.’) Similarly, visiting the pages for specific books you’ve enjoyed leads to a series of suggestions for books with similar themes, which can keep your momentum going when you’ve just finished a book and aren’t sure what to pick up next. 

However, the most helpful feature is likely the Recommendations tool. Once you’ve entered ratings for at least twenty books, the Goodreads algorithms analyze your preferences and produce lists of books you’re likely to enjoy. As you continue to use the site, these recommendations get more and more precisely targeted until they achieve an almost alarming level of insight into your literary tastes. I’ve discovered plenty of incredible books while browsing on Goodreads that I would never have stumbled on without the site, and exploring all the available options has become an enjoyable pastime in itself.

2. Tracking your reading habits cultivates a sense of pride and creates a tangible reward system for reading. One of Goodreads’ most basic functions is to serve as a record of the books you have read, are reading, and plan to read in the future. The first thing you’re invited to do when you join the site is to add the books you’ve read in the past to your profile, with the option of sorting them into custom lists like ‘Favourites,’ ‘Book Club,’ or ‘Read for School.’ Over time, this database develops into an exhaustive record of your reading habits. Personally, I appreciate this feature because I consider my interest in reading to be an important part of my identity. Scrolling back through the books I’ve logged to watch my preferences evolve and remember favourites from years ago is a always an engaging experience. It can be amusing, too; for instance, when looking through a summary of the books I’d read in 2016, I found that I’d picked up everything from a graphic novel about Edward Snowden to an anthology of Seinfeld scripts to the classic Victorian novel Pride and Prejudice. As bizarre as my tastes may be, having a record of them allows me to take pride in my unique identity as a reader.

You’re probably familiar with the feeling of accomplishment that comes from crossing an item off a to-do list. Goodreads provides an amplified version of this feeling every time you finish a new book and log it on the site. Not only do you get the satisfaction of confirming your achievement in a tangible way, you also get the opportunity to rate and review the book and see what other people said about it; in essence, by completing the book, you unlock new ways to engage with it. Goodreads’ yearly Reading Challenge takes this idea of accomplishment even further. Each year, you’re prompted to set a goal to read a certain number of books, and you can monitor your progress as the year goes on. There’s nothing more motivational than watching a progress bar slowly fill up, particularly when all you have to do to keep it climbing is to relax with a good book!

3. The ability to interact with other users makes reading an engaging social experience. Although we think of reading as a solitary pastime, I’ve always found it most enjoyable when I can share the experience in some way. Fortunately, Goodreads is a very socially-oriented site, and it provides a variety of ways to connect with other readers. As with most social sites, you have the option of adding other members as friends. Once you add someone as a friend on Goodreads, you can see what they’re reading, recommend books directly to them, and even run an algorithm that compares your reading preferences. As someone who loves to get recommendations from people whose taste I trust, this feature is one of the most exciting things about the site. 

It’s well known that people who love reading books usually love talking about books, and Goodreads provides plenty of forums for those conversations to take place. Extensive debate often erupts on the review pages for popular books, and there are a number of discussion boards for sharing thoughts, opinions, and suggestions with strangers from other segments of the Goodreads community. A number of authors are also active on Goodreads, and there are often opportunities to ask them questions and share your admiration for their work. In short, Goodreads provides an engaging way to interact with all sorts of reading enthusiasts, from book-loving strangers to your favourite writers.

Reading recreationally is a rewarding experience, but sometimes it takes a little encouragement for the habit to stick. Whether you’re a former recreational reader who wants to get back in the game or a committed enthusiast who wants to engage with literature in a new way, I highly recommend making an account on Goodreads. With the New Year coming up, it might be the perfect way to achieve your resolution of reading more!