Saturday, November 3, 2007

Goodreads: addressing the "what do I read" problem

At the close of each semester, I inevitably have a handful of students who ask me for a suggested reading list--you know, the "what should I read" or "what should I read that is like..." questions. I'm always struck with what great questions these are, yet, time and time again, I forget to think about them myself until the end of the term. In the past, I've asked students to bring at least one suggested book to last day of class. Each student then has the opportunity to share their selection and explain how it has impacted them. Typically, though, only a few students jot down titles or authors based on the recommendation of their peers. Short of generating tedious amounts of book lists, how else might we address this need on the part of students (or the general public of readers)?

I recently came across a great alternative to this method with the site goodreads (notice my widget on the left side). Goodreads' similarity to social applications like Facebook, MySpace, and Friendster makes it an especially appealing interface to students. I'm told there are many sites like this--community-based, social networking sites that allow you to see what your friends are reading and what reviews they've given the books. As such, applications like goodreads are perfect for demystifying the "book selection" process. In my mind, this is one of the biggest barriers not only to students, but to readers everywhere, leaving bestseller lists, "classics" shelves in bookstores, and mildly-questionable-celebrity-run book clubs to the job of--dare I say?--contemporary canonization. And, for those of us who are already book-obsessed, there's no more entertaining way to add even more titles to the already overwhelmingly, sometimes frighteningly large "to read" lists.

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