Friday, October 19, 2018

Goodreads and Bookish Memories

There are a lot of very good things about Goodreads. In this entry I want to talk a little about entering books read in the past on one’s bookshelves. This feature allows a Goodreads user to catalogue a lifetime of reading on the site. Over the past year or so, I have been slowly, and at times not so slowly, adding books to my shelves that I have read over the years. 

Engaging in this cataloging has gotten me thinking about books that I read in the past. I find myself remembering books that I read decades ago that I probably would never have given another thought about. When I first started doing this, I would easily recall books that I read in years gone by and then enter them into the site.  I added scores of books. After I entered the easy books to recall, things became a little more challenging. I now search my memories to remember books.  Sometimes I will remember a plot but not remember the title or author. I then began to Google search. Sometimes it takes me awhile but I will usually find the name of the book. A good example of this was Norman Spinrad’s Songs from the Stars. I remembered that I read it when I was 17 years old just before I started college. I also remembered that it was very lighthearted and involved a kind of hippie-utopia that existed in California long after the fall of civilization. I just could not remember the author or the title. It took me awhile, but I found it through internet searching and promptly added it to my Goodreads list. Sometimes when searching for a seemingly forgotten title, especially when poring over a particular author’s bibliography, I am reminded of other books that I read long ago. One case where this occurred is when I searched through Robert Silverberg’s bibliography in an attempt to find a particular book. I realized that I had read some other books of his. I now find myself waking up in the middle of the night and remembering a novel that I read long ago. 

Goodreads also has an ongoing discussion thread called What's the Name of that Book? On this thread one can post a description of the book that one is looking for and others can chime in with ideas on what the title of the half-forgotten book is. Thus far, I only used the thread once but have not found the name of the book. However, looking at other people’s posts, it seems that the thread has worked for many in their quests to find book titles. 

Several people that I know online have maintained reading journals going back years or even decades. In these journals, they record all of the books that they finished in past as well as when they finished them. I wish that I had the foresight to do this. Finish dates of books read would have been very valuable. 

This brings me to the date-read feature on Goodreads. Using this option, one can enter the date he or she finished a book. Thus, if one remembers the date that one completed a book, one can enter it when they enter the book, even if the book was read years ago or decades ago.  However, for me, determining the date that I completed most books is impossible, but there are a few titles for which I can come very close to determining when I finished reading them. There were a few books that I read almost immediately upon publication. This is true about some science fiction that came out in the 1980s. I mentioned Songs from The Stars above. I remember finishing the book shortly before I started my freshman year of college. Thus, I know that I completed that novel in July or August of 1985. It is neat that I can date a book like that. My Goodreads profile and bookshelves can be found here.

Goodreads seems to have a lot of other appealing features. There appears to be many forums where all sorts of interesting bookish conversations take place. Alas, I am unable to explore these forums due to a lack of time. 


There are many social media platforms that people are using to enhance their love of books. Though I do not have statistics, I suspect that Goodreads is the most popular of these. I will continue to use Goodreads to catalogue the books that I have read. Without a doubt, I will also continue to remember books that I read a long time ago that would have otherwise have been lost in the mists of time. 

44 comments:

mudpuddle said...

a fascinating post... i don't know much about Goodreads, but it sounds great. i'm too late, tho, for trying to remember 65 years of reading... i can recall authors fairly well, but i've read so many one-offs that it would be hopeless attempting to remember them; i've written down what i've read since the turn of the century, but the list is in no particular order, and i have to look thru a hundred pages or so to find out whether i've read a given text. no help for it: just go on my ambling inane way until the survivors find my withered corpse in the armchair, tome clutched in hand... lol

Brian Joseph said...

You made me laugh Mudpuddle. If only for the cataloguing feature, I think Goodreads is great. Though there are probably a lot of books that I am not remembering, it is interesting how many have come back to me.

Stephen said...

I think as best I can do is count for the books I've read since 2011. If I spot a book on goodreads which I've read, I'll probably edit it to correct, but there's no way I could guess the dates of most books. It's especially difficult when you consider that I used to re-read some books CONSTANTLY. I don't mean just Star Trek titles, either, but novels like Paul Zindel's "The Pigman" -- still a favorite after all these years. I read it numerous times during high school and had to buy a new copy after my old one was worn completely into ruins.

Have you noticed distinct trends in your reading over time? A falling way of certain genres, the sudden appearance of another?

Violet said...

Oh, the time suck that is GoodReads. :) I quit because I was spending too much time adding books that I'd read, or books that I wanted to read. I do wish I had a list of everything I'd read in my lifetime, though! My memory is terrible and I'm a bit hard pressed to remember what I read last month, let alone ten years ago.

I was talking to someone the other day about favourite childhood books, and after much googling I found the titles and authors of three books I re-read many times and absolutely loved: Elephant Bill, by JH Edwards, I Flew for the Fuhrer, by Heinz Knocke, and Bwana Game, by George Adamson. I think that tells a bit about what sort of a kid I was. Hahaha. I'd love to get hold of those books and read them again.

JacquiWine said...

I'm very much a latecomer to GoodReads, having only started using it around 3 years ago. It is useful as a way of seeing what everyone else is reading, a form of window shopping if you like as one scrolls through the feed of updates. That said, I don't think I could reach as far back into my reading history as you are doing - my memory certainly isn't up to that!

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Stephen - I believe that Goodreads allow for one to put in multiple dates for books that one has read multiple times. With that, I have almost no dates entered for my books. Except for a few unusual cases like the Spinrad book that I read, it is impossible for me to determine dates. I do sometimes spend a couple of years reading a particular genre or non fiction subject. For instance, for a while I was reading a lot of history involving human space exploration.

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Violet - I tend to let things suck up my time too. I have actually not been too bad with Goodreads as I tend to enter a book that I remember and then move on. I do not enter books in the want to read category as the list would be too expansive. I have not really gone back to childhood books. I think that rereading them would at least go fast as most are not that long.

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Jacqui - Though I have been on Goodreads awhile, I have not used it that much. Over the last few years I have been building list of previously read books. I find that when one gives it some thought, old books come back to me over time.

Marian H said...

Didn't know you were on Goodreads; just added you as a friend! I love the site, but for old books, I don't bother with adding dates or even ratings...I've only been monitoring my reading since 2010 or so.

One of my favorite features (when I remember to use it) is the "export to spreadsheet." If the site ever goes down, at least I'll have a backup copy.

Jonathan Wright said...

I use GoodReads on a daily basis. I use it to keep track of books I want to read and categorising them. I still finds books that I read years ago but aren't on my GR shelves. I like the 'My Year in Books' feature which is a nice way of looking back on your own or others reading over a year - it only works if they add 'read dates'.

In the past I had thought about keeping a record of what I'd read but I never actually got round to doing it—maybe I thought it was just too nerdy. :-) I wish I had though.

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Marian - Thanks for adding me as friend on Goodreads. I was also just adding new reads myself but going back and remembering old books has become something of a game. Thanks for letting me know about the spreadsheet option. I will utilize it.

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Jonathan - I am bad with dates, even for books that I just read. I should get on top of this. I so wish I kept a record going back to 6th grade or so.

thecuecard said...

Oh gosh Brian my memory is terrible -- about pre-blog books I read ... from the 80s & 90s. I remember pieces of those I read but not in full detail. That's the main reason I started my blog -- so that I could write them down & remember them. It appears I joined Goodreads in 2012 (the same year as you). I find it a useful tool in keeping track of my books and the number read each year. As for pre-blog & pre-Goodreads books, I feel like I almost want to re-read quite a few of them. Your cataloguing sounds very good.

Lisa Hill said...

Here's a tip to help you remember your books from a while back: every time someone want to be my friend there, I use the 'compare books function' and (not so much now, but when I first started) I would nearly always find a book that I knew I'd read but hadn't added. I think it's because our generation did tend to have read many of the same books because there was more consensus about what they should be.
I don't spend a lot of time at Goodreads but I do use it as a data base, and provided you follow good reviewers rather than just the people who write 5 star reviews of a book they got for free, it can help you decide whether to bother with a book or not.

Kathy's Corner said...

Hi Brian, Thanks for your post about Goodreads. I just signed up because I also would like to catalogue my books. It's a function of age I guess but I can't remember many of the books I read when I was young and particularly in my teens and twenties I read alot so it's time to begin listing what I can still remember.

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Susan - It has taken me awhile to remember a lot of these books and I probably will never rememberer them all. I find that working on this project over time has jogged my memory.

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Kathy - So cool that you are on Goodreads. Hopefully you will remember a bunch of books.

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Lisa - Thanks for the tip. I have compared books with friends but I will try it for this. I think that most of the books that I have yet to remember are pretty obscure. I do occasionally read Goodreads reviews but I have not thrown too much time into it.

Suko said...

Brian Joseph,

Very interesting post! Goodreads is a very good site, one of the first sites that encouraged discussion about books, I believe.

Computers, the internet, and sites such as Goodreads make book finding, and other book-related activities, easier, faster, and more organized. Another way to gather book details is to simply google bits you recall about a story in order to find more details about a book, such as the title and author. (I've discovered the names of songs I've heard and liked, in a similar manner, simply by typing in a line or two.)

My book blog is a nice record of my reading over the past ten years, although I do not review--or even mention--every book I've read over the past decade.

My problem with spending too much time on book sites is that I spend more time reading about books, and less time reading BOOKS.

Whispering Gums said...

I started doing all this on LibraryThing back in around 2008 because LibraryThing enabled me to export the data I entered as a spreadsheet - which future proofs the data should LibraryThing go down. I entered a lot of books on LibraryThing. Then I discovered that most people were on GoodReads, so I have started entering my reading there, but it is not as complete as LibraryThing - and I don't really engage in discussion or groups there because I give most of the reviews uninteresting (in terms of how I like to think about books).

I have a fairly good history of my reading for the last few decades: I know what I read for reading group back to 1988 because I maintain our group's list. I may not know exactly when I finished the book but I know which month and I know that we met at the end of the month, so I can enter the last day of the month and feel that's pretty accurate. And then, about 2006 I started maintaining a database of what I read, and there I enter the year and month read, so again I used that to enter my reading into GoodReads, and chose a middle or end of month date for those. Also, since 1994 I've been writing snail mail letters to a friend in California and I would always tell her what I was reading. That picked up a few more books that were non-bookgroup ones and before the database. So now, my reading is scattered in LIbraryThing, GoodReads, my database and various other places but at least I have fairly good records for about three decades!

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Suko - Electromic media has really opened up the world for those of us interested in books. It also helps bookish people to connect. I have used Google with some success in my quest to find older books.

I also face the dilemma of spending too much time doing bookish things on social media instead of reading.

Brian Joseph said...

Hi WP - It had been awhile since I used Library Thing. I played around with it a few years ago. I just looked at it again and it does look like a better site then Goodreads. It is too bad that almost everyone is in Goodreads. As I mentioned though, I tend to just use these sites to catalogue books and not use the other features because of time constraints.

The fact that you have maintained a reading group since 1988 is impressive. I have a lot of social connections going back to that time too but nothing as organized as a reading group.

Maria Behar said...

What a WONDERFUL post, Brian!!

I LOVE Goodreads!! It's my "wishlist in the sky", lol. If only I could read ALL the books I have listed on my bookshelves....sigh.... Every time I find a book that sounds appealing, I add it to my virtual shelves. I currently have a grand total of 4,236 books listed, in various categories. Sounds crazy, doesn't it? It's just a never-ending story! Lol.

When I first became a member, I started with books I read in the past. It was not always easy for me to remember which books I've read. So I began adding those that really stood out in my memory, such as the classics -- "Jane Eyre", of course, was one of the first ones I added. And "A Tale of Two Cities", "Crime and Punishment", "Treasure Island", "Tess of the D'Urbervilles", "The Count of Monte Cristo", and so on. I also added the Bradbury titles I had read -- "The Martian Chronicles" and "The Illustrated Man". Later on, I would also add that AWESOME paean to books, "Fahrenheit 451"!

Gooodreads has many interesting features, including, of course, the forums. I don't have the time to participate in them, either.... The one thing I do NOT like about the site, though, is that the staff members allow people to post reviews containing profanity. So I sometimes come across reviews that are peppered with "the F bomb". I find it incredible that Goodreads would allow this sort of thing!

I LOVE the cover of Spinrad's novel!! I think I'll feature it in my next "Shelf Candy Saturday" post!! As for the Silverberg novel, I LOVE that cover, as well. I own this book, and, you guessed it, haven't read it yet!! Lol.

Thanks for posting about this AWESOME book site, Brian!! I'm going to go check out your shelves, to see what books I might want to add to mine! Hope you're enjoying your Sunday!! <3 :)

Brian Joseph said...

Thanks Maria. I do not use the want to read feature. If I did I think that I would have aboy as many books listed as you do.

I find it easy to remember the classics. It is not so easy to remember the obscure ones. I wish I had more time to delve into Goodreads features including reading reviews.

That Spinrad cover is neat. The book premise and tone of the book was lighthearted but I remember it being fun. That Silverberg book is part of the Majipoor series which I highly recommend. I will also take a look at your shelves. I am sure that I will get some great reading ideas.

Andrew Blackman said...

Nice post, Brian! I love the idea of cataloguing all my reading. That was the initial intention of my blog, but it quickly got away from me. Sadly, although I've been a member of Goodreads since the early days, I've never managed to be consistent about recording my new reading, let alone going back to earlier years. Like Maria, though, I do have an enormous wishlist! And, for some reason, when I pick a new book to buy or read, it never seems to be one from the list...

Kat said...

I love Goodreads! I didn't see the point at first because the forum discussions tend to be expressed in just a few sentences per post, but I do enjoy the consumer reviews and am impressed with the quality of many.

How fascinating to try to remember everything you've read! If only they'd told us to keep book journals: we wouldn't be in this position now. I have kept a list for perhaps 10 years, and it is very nice to keep track. As for remembering way back: I would never be able to track them down. As a child I loved a book which was (a) either in the form of a diary or letters, and (b) had rose in the title (I think). Somehow I don't think a title would come from that. But how could it have made an impression and yet be so vague?

Good luck with your cataloguing! It sounds like great fun. Plus I like the way the pictures of the books come up when you type them in at Goodreads.

Sharon Wilfong said...

Hi Brian. Such an interesting post. Of course I should have realized you were on Goodreads as well. Do you post the same reviews? You may have noticed I cut and paste my reviews onto my blog from Goodreads.

I have found googling the description of a book has helped me get a lot of the books I was looking for.

I use the "want to read" on Goodreads just so I will remember the book. It's the same reason I put books on my Amazon wish list.

Also, I have to put the dates I read a book inside the flyleaf because it saves time and I don't get through a third of a book and realize I've already read it. Not that that's a bad thing, but right now I'm trying to plow through my TBR pile.

HKatz said...

I'm toying with the idea of being a more active Goodreads user. The fear that it will take up a lot of time though is what holds me back (because I know I could get lost in those discussions and other people's rec lists).

In any case, I'd use the site to keep track of books I've read and maybe do themed lists of recs. Maybe also a to-read list (I have a Word doc of many pages as my to-read list, and I wonder if I should transfer it onto Goodreads). We'll see...

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Sharon - Somone else suggested that I also post my reviews on Goodreads. I should start. I have found a bunch of old titles through Googling. I am afraid that if I used the “want to read” function that I would get way out of control:)

Sharon Wilfong said...

Well, heh, heh, I can't argue against that. I've never been in control in regard to buying books.

Brian Joseph said...

Thanks Andrew - I have found it so easy to just remember books and add them to the site. So far I have avoided the avalanche that adding to the “want to read” list would entail :)

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Kat - The search for that book that you read that you only remember a few details about sounds like it would be fascinating. So many books that I read when young, some them probably not so good ones, have left an impression upon me.

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Hila. I think that, because I just use it for cataloging, I have avoided letting it suck up too much time. There are so many interesting features I could see becoming so involved.

James said...

Thanks for sharing your take on Goodreads and cataloging your reading. I use Goodreads for recording all my reading and have done so since 2007. I added my prior reading based on my personal journals (since 1991) and from memory before that. I've read a lot of books over more than six decades and hope to read a few more.

Brian Joseph said...

Hi James - I wish that I had kept reading journals. With that, it is an interesting thing to search through ones memory for books.

JaneGS said...

I love GoodReads--I'm a poor journal keeper myself, so I definitely like having a tool that makes it easy and fun to chronicle my reading life. As a rereader, there aren't too many books that I don't remember the title of, but sometimes I get stumped. I didn't know about the name that book section, so good to have that nugget in my back pocket.

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Jane - Rereading really cements titles in ones mind. But when I was young, I read some very obscure books.

Rachel said...

I kept a journal of all the books I've read since I was in the third grade. lol I guess that was a foreshadowing of the future, where I would spend hours planning out what books I will read for the next couple of months just because I am so fascinated by books. :)

I have not done a good job of cataloging on Goodreads, though I am completely cataloged on LibraryThing. I know there are more people on Goodreads, and I should spend more time on it. But I have a group of friends on LibraryThing, and it's hard to keep them both up at the same time. Either way, I totally agree with what you have to say about cataloging. It's a fantastic way to think about the books we've read in the past.

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Rachel- It is so cool that you have kept a reading journal for so long. A lot of bookish folks love Library Thing. I signed up for an account a long time ago and then did not use it. I wish one could export books between the two sites.

Brian Joseph said...

PS Rachel - It looks like there is a way to transfer books from Goodteads to Library Thing. I will likely do so.

Caroline said...

Goodreads never appealed to me. I can see why you like it but I'm more old-fashioned. I note things down in my diaries and since I still own most of my books, I just go over my real shelves to look up something.
I still forget many books or their content. What you say about the forums is true but they are so time-consuming. Sadly. It would be nice to be able to participate more. But then there's also Library Thing and others.

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Caroline- I wish that I kept reading journals. I also do not have a lot of books from my youth. Library Thing seems to be a great site. I plan to export my Goodreads shelves to it soon.

The Bookworm said...

Hi Brian, I am a fan of Goodreads also, it's a nice way to keep track of reading and it is great for finding new books to read with the lists on there. I tend to add what I am currently reading then update the page that I am on.

Looking back on past reads does get you thinking and trying to remember the plots and storylines. Sometimes I loved a book but can barely remember plot details because it was so long ago.

Enjoy your weekend and your reading :)

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Naida - One thing that I could do without Goodreads for is to find more books to read! Otherwise it is a great resource.

Have a great weekend!