The only hobby I’m more passionate about than writing is reading. Which makes sense, because reading is a lot less work. I guzzle books down like Captain Janeway drinks black coffee.
When I was a kid, my book-choosing strategy was to start at one end of the children’s section, look at all the books, and pick everything that looked good. My apologies to authors beginning with P to Z; I grew up before I got that far. Then I went to the adult SFF section and started at Asimov.
For years after that, I picked stuff almost at random. People would recommend things to me, but nine times out of ten, I forgot them. It’s so frustrating to be in a library and clueless, just picking things by covers and often getting disappointed.
But, in this age of the internet, it’s suddenly very easy to find out about good books and to keep track of them till you’re at the library or bookstore. Or to click right over and buy an ebook without getting off the couch.
The first way I kept track of books was Amazon. You can put things on your wishlist; a plus of this is that you can send people the wishlist when they want to get you something. The downside of Amazon is that you end up buying all your books from there. For those of us who don’t want to prop up a monopoly, it’s not the greatest.
Upside, though, is that almost everything is available there. The Kindle app is probably my favorite for ebooks. You can review books there, and that’s probably where you’ll find the largest number of reviews–of which some will be “one star, wrong book arrived.” There is no real social function beyond reviews.
Next I moved to Goodreads. Like Amazon, almost everything is there. People recommending books online often link to it, making it easy to add books to my list as soon as I hear of them. You can easily move things from want to read to reading to read. You can set reading goals–though, as I discovered, your books don’t count if you move them from “want to read” straight to “read.” They have to be on “reading” for a minute or Goodreads doesn’t know what year you read them in.
The social media aspect is nice–if you link it to your Facebook, you can see what your friends are reading and comment on it. I don’t use that function a whole lot, but I do write reviews for every book I read, and use the reviews to decide whether to read something. The star rating, however, isn’t much use. Everything seems to float around four stars, and some really terrible books have better ratings than absolutely amazing books. Some people get on there and zero-star books by queer or Black authors, just because. I hate that.
I moved to StoryGraph next. I was impressed by the idea of it learning what I like and suggesting similar books. You can go beyond star ratings, which is a real plus. However, the categories you can rate aren’t exactly the same as I would pick, and you can’t add any. You can add tags, however. I also like that you can give half stars. Along with want to read, reading, and read, you can mark a book “did not finish,” which is a nice feature. On Goodreads, if you want to remove a book from “currently reading,” you can only switch it to “read,” “want to read,” or take it off your list altogether.
There is a “community” aspect but so far, I’ve only found streams of what people are reading, not discussion pages. You can’t comment on other people’s reviews.
Just today, I downloaded the Library Thing app. It seems to work about the same as the previous two, though it has groups to talk about books, which seems handy. The UI reminds me of Ravelry, but for books. You can also scan books into the app. Owners of personal libraries can run their entire catalog through there.
A nice feature is that the page for each book includes stores where you can find it, and you can choose which online stores you can include. I believe you can also add libraries, though (alas) not my local library.
All three of the big book tracking sites allow you to export your data from one and into another, making it easy to switch or use them all. Though when importing my Goodreads data into Library Thing, it didn’t keep my categories. That’s a little inconvenient.
Moving on to book selling sites, I’m still looking for a perfect match. For hard copies, I’ve been using Bookshop. It supports indie bookstores, so I’m not participating in Amazon’s monopoly. It’s had everything I’ve wanted so far. But its ebook app (My Must Reads) is terrible. It lost my place every time I switched away from the app.
For ebooks, right now I’m using Kobo. The app works fine, though the shop doesn’t have everything. It can also be difficult to find things, even with the exact title. Sometimes I’ve been forced to go elsewhere, like Barnes & Noble or even *gag* Amazon.
Google Books is also an acceptable option. You can read any out-of-copyright book for free, though it’s usually just a low-quality scanned image rather than an actual digital text. Up to you if that’s too much monopoly for you.
I’m still looking for the perfect one-stop shop for books that doesn’t support a monopoly. Maybe there isn’t one; the whole reason we keep leaning on monopolies is they’re big enough to have everything.
But, thanks to book tracking sites and online stores, I’m reading more good books than ever, and I’m certainly thankful for it!