Reads Good?

I’m a longtime user of Goodreads. For the most part, I really like it. I once tried to keep a notebook where I jotted down reflections of books I had read, because I read enough that I’ll see a book, know that I’ve read it, but be unable to tell you anything about it, and I find that unsettling. As with many journals, I didn’t keep up with it, but I always thought it would be a help. An Internet-enabled version is totally a great alternative, especially now that I have a smartphone, so I can add books to my “to read” list as I see or hear about them, and I can refer to my reviews to answer the question “what did you think of that?”

I even like the friend thing— seeing what other people are reading, getting ideas for books we have in common and books I should read from their lists/reviews. Some of my friends do reading challenges— x books in a year. I’ve resisted that because I get stupidly competitive, and I don’t want to make myself feel bad for how many books or how few I get through in a year, but it’s kind of a fun goal, and I’m on track for my goal of 30 this year (a few more than I read last year. “Compete against yourself and mind your own business” is the road to sanity for me.)

I don’t know if it was a great idea— in the last place I worked, staff was friendly with members of the association. So we are friends on social media. I’m happy to see things about their lives, but pretty early on, we were told not to share too much with them, so I’ve greatly restricted what members can see on my social media accounts that are not primarily professionally-oriented.

And then, they started friending me on Goodreads. I’ve observed that a lot of people join Goodreads and never add any books— they just collect friends. I don’t really understand this impulse— are they “lurking” to see what others are reading? Compulsively friend-collecting? It’s about books— how do you not talk about books, there?

And it’s starting to make me self-conscious. I got friended by a member of the association I used to work at just after I’d been looking at books I’d read recently. I accepted the request, and then I started to think about what he reads… and what I’ve been reading lately. I know he reads some pretty cerebral stuff, because he writes and speaks about it, and that’s what we talk about when we’re together. I started out as an admirer of a column he wrote for the publication I worked on, and very far beneath his notice, but over the years, I worked my way up in his esteem, which is not that easy to do. And now, he sees that I’m in a “People Magazine” type phase of my reading life. There’s been kind of a string of comedy memoirs— NPH and Amy Poehler and Patton Oswalt, especially over the summer. Honestly, it’s been a summer where I’ve been consciously keeping my spirits up, and this is part of how I’ve done it. This and TV that makes me happy. “Hollywood Game Night,” anyone? Normally, I read something more self-help-y, or business-y, now and again, but this year, it’s been lots of light stuff. And Great Expectations and Persuasion.

Honestly, there are more than 500 books on my read list— and there’s a great mix of stuff on there— highbrow, lowbrow, stuff from several genres— maybe a little longer on classics than some people’s, thanks to my English major, but not all one thing at all.

Back when I started on Goodreads, a colleague at that old office was telling me that she’d suggested that another colleague friend me on Goodreads. “You both love books as much as I do,” was basically the thought there. The other colleague said no, that I’d judge her about the books that she read. I can’t say that I never have thoughts about what other people are reading (which would make the situation I find myself in what we’d call “karma,” and don’t think I don’t recognize it,) but for the most part, I’m only interested insofar as we have overlapping interests. Read whatever you want. Free country. But it is hard not to go “I’d better not read Mindy Kaling’s new book now, because I just finished another comedy memoir, and people are going to start downgrading my intelligence if I don’t start reading something headier…”

And I know that’s silly. But I’m still likely to move “As You Like It” and Alice in Wonderland up on my reading list, and maybe choose one of the nonfiction, non-memoir books as the next thing I read. These things were definitely on my list anyway (the first two are related to theater stuff I’m excited about this fall), but I’m torn between “nobody cares what you’re reading” and “if nobody cared what you were reading, why would they be here?”

ETA: It occurs to me that the TED Radio Hour podcast is doing a series last week and this week on how our screen lives intersect with and overtake our real lives, and this is a great example of that. So if you’d like to get meta about it, check that out.

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