Saturday, November 26, 2011

The Greatest Prodigality

A friend finally convinced me to join Goodreads. I'd heard about it. I'd seen updates and reviews from the site, posted on various social media. Librarians and other booksellers, and even a few customers at the bookstore had mentioned the thing to me. Like a lot of the bookish bits on the Internet, I couldn't quite see, just looking at the thing, what the point might be. The friend who convinced me to sign on basically told me to look for him there. I don't see enough of him -- can't see enough of him ever, as he's handsome as hell -- so this was just another way to stay in touch, I guess.

Once I'd made an account then, of course, there were twenty other people I knew. Again, there were librarians and booksellers, but also a few authors and devoted lay readers, so to say, as well. Yet another virtual community I'm in, though by now, it's pretty much just the same game different fields.

In case you don't know, and might care, the site is yet another virtual hang-out for the bookish. Email updates will tell you what new titles friends are reading, or want to, or what books they may have reviewed -- there's a 5 star system as well as formats for writing notes and or full-length reviews, if so inclined-- and the more friends on the site, the more updates one may see. The site also functions as a kind of reader's diary, or even library catalogue system with which one may make inventories, lists, and all manner of other wonderfully time-wasting things. There are book clubs to be joined, places to promote activities... lord knows what all I haven't even looked at yet.

Most dangerously, there are all manner of quizzes and such like trivia to be play about with, including a perpetual quiz made up of literary questions devised by members of the free site. Within minutes of creating a profile, I was pissing away hours answering questions quaint and clever, obvious and obscure, and skipping the endless Harry Potter rubbish ("In book four, was Hermione's first pubic hair red or russet?" Blah, blah, bloody blah.) Important to remember that many Goodreads members are young readers, but let's just say, about the quizzes, in general, you may trust me when I tell you, the answer to every other question is either Boo Radley, when Little Women's Jo cut her hair, Mr. Darcy's first name, or quidditch.

Read a few more books, people.

The perpetual quiz has also taught me that while I am strangely confident answering most Shakespeare questions, I am wrong roughly as often as I am right. Shocking. Really? Sebastian? And that's from Twelfth Night, not... the other one? Lord.

What Goodreads really is then, is yet another marvelous excuse to do something online only slightly more productive generally than playing solitaire.

Have I mentioned yet that my friend quite sweetly pointed out to me, just days after he'd finally induced me to join, that I'd already committed a social embarrassment by just plowing through hundreds of titles and marking them as "read"? Seems this is seen as a kind of empty brag, and rather like "shouting" in CAPS, or "trolling" in stranger's comments fields. As I tried to explain, I did it to support any books I might actually review on-site, to show I wasn't just a flibbertigibbet who hadn't read but that one book, and so that I might contribute to lists, etc. Oh well. Besides, I like looking through the title recommendations made, I suppose, automatically by some algorithm or another, suggesting that if I liked the poems of Horace, I might also enjoy The Fundamentals of Ballroom Dancing. Actually, however it's done, the recommendations are a fascinating, and constantly renewing pool, a bottomless aquifer of like to like, in biography, and historical fiction, and poetry and on and on. If anything, reviewing the recommended titles is an even more entertaining waste of time than the quizzes or voting on the lists.

I already applied and was accepted by the powers that be, by the bye, as a"librarian" for the site. I decided to sign up for this so as to be able to update and or otherwise modify or improve the entries for individual titles or editions and or authors. I've already scanned in a dozen covers for books I own that didn't show a cover on the site. I've corrected the listed page count of an edition of Walter Scott that happened to be the one in my hand at that time, an edition that ran to 511 pages rather than the bare 259 originally listed for it. Correcting such small errors, and posting those cover illustrations and the like has felt well neigh useful, far more so anyway than anything else I've been doing at Goodreads.

I certainly didn't need another thing to look at besides porn, of an evening, but here we are.

I do think this latest exploration in social media offers me yet another chance to peep into a wider readership than what I might see otherwise, and I've seen some encouraging chatter -- some quite vigorous defences of print, for example, from quite young readers. Most encouraging, that. What has troubled me a bit, as I've already suggested, has been the astonishingly juvenile character of much of what's being devotedly read and reread by grown people, and an enormous reluctance among the young to read complicated prose, let alone poetry, but to be fair, I've seen nearly as much Austen about as anything, and I've already joined a reader's club for the Victorians, and two groups reading Dickens. (Started one too, to encourage people to read the great Boz aloud for his bicentennial this coming February.)

Nothing pointless about that, really.

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