Creating and Sharing an Online Reading Journal

For years I tried to keep a reading journal next to my bed, ready to record my reading adventures. I'd start one, lose it, and begin another. Last Christmas I purchased Nancy Pearl's Book Lust Journal with high hopes of chronicling my 2008 book list. I haven't seen it for a while now, but I seem to remember the two-year-old running away with it, Sharpie in hand.

Obviously, this mom of four needs a different solution--something that a toddler can't deface with indelible ink and is not easily absconded with. So I looked for an online solution. It turns out that there are several rich social networking and personal-library-recording Web sites out there. I am going to talk about my two favorites: LibraryThing and GoodReads.

LibraryThing is for the true bibliophile. Its focus is on cataloging and categorizing your personal library, but it has the flexibility to be used in many different ways. It is free for up to 200 books, and after that it is $10 for a year or $25 for a lifetime membership.

It is extremely easy to add a book, and LibraryThing efficiently searches the Library of Congress' and Amazon's records for a match to your input. When you add a book you can take an extra minute to rate and/or review it. You can also put in your own tags (keywords) that allow you to combine your books in different ways. Mine include such tags as "read in 2008," "own it," "world war II," and "vampires."

LibraryThing also has a social component. You can see other people's libraries if they are made public, get member recommendations, and link to books that share a particular tag, You can also see which members have a library most similar to yours. There is a statistics page (called "Zeitgeist," meaning "the general intellectual, moral, and cultural climate of an era" according to the dictionary) that tracks the most popular authors, books, members with the largest libraries, and other fascinating breakdowns. There is also a "Conversation" area where members chat about various books.

If there is a con to LibraryThing, it is that only books are allowed. Sometimes I would like to keep track of the movies we watch, but that is outside the mission of this site. Also, since I am a FaceBook (a social networking Web site) user, I am (im)patiently waiting for a Facebook application to be released from LibraryThing, but it's not there yet.

GoodReads has more of an emphasis on social networking. Similar in function to Facebook, you have "Friends" and can received updates about what they are reading. You can also "Meet People" and become part of a "Group." Your friends' avatars are listed in a sidebar in your profile.

The interface is less cluttered than LibraryThing, but it is also less feature-rich. One thing I prefer about GoodReads is that it is very easy to see how to add a book as something you "Read" or are "Currently Reading" or is "To Read." You can achieve this same thing with LibraryThing via the tagging, but the added flexibility means added confusion.

GoodReads also sends out an online newsletter each month that I enjoy. This past issue had interviews with fantasy author Neil Gaiman and science fiction writer Neal Stephenson. The newsletter also highlights the most popular books in its "Movers & Shakers" category, which helps me to keep a pulse on what other people are reading.

For me, it is easier to find my next read via GoodReads, but the "Friend" portion leaves me cold. I doubt many of my friends share my somewhat quirky reading tastes, so this part seems artificial. It would be a very nice feature for members of a book group, who are all reading and discussing similar things. GoodReads does have a working FaceBook application and is free.

For now, since I find these both such useful sites with slightly different purposes and strengths, I am updating my profile on each. But I plan to pick one in the next few months and dedicate the rest of my time to - what else? - reading.