August 23rd, 2014

Discussion Question: Bookish Websites - Where do you go?

This is a re-post of an entry I originally wrote in 2012.  It's been a couple of years and the topic seemed ripe for revisiting.

Discussion Question: Bookish Websites - Where do you go?
As I was looking over my browsing history last night, I couldn’t help but notice how many of the websites I visit on a daily basis are book-related. (Big surprise, right?) It’s weird to think that I spend so much time reading about reading, rather than staying offline with my nose in an actual, physical book. Here are some of the websites I frequent – I’m curious if any of you guys use them as well, and what other book-related webspaces you visit regularly?
I’ve been using BookCrossing the longest of the various websites I’ll mention today – since April 2005, according to my user profile. BookCrossing is a tracking website, akin sites like Where’s George?. Basically, users register a copy of a book, write the ID number somewhere inside the book (usually on the inner front cover or title page), and ‘release’ it so that future users can read it and add journal entries to the book. Over time, this can create a dialogue between new readers and the original owners that can just be enlightening and fun – plus, it’s really neat to see where books travel! I’ve had books ‘disappear’ anonymously (I’ll leave them on a bookshelf or trade them with another reader) and they turn up years later in other states and other countries!

Most people only register books that they plan to get rid of through trading, giving away, or selling. I personally register my entire book collection, because I don’t mind writing or bookplates – but I know that some people would be driven absolutely batty by such book ‘defacement’. Some people think that if a book has a label in it, you have to give it away for free since a lot of the site’s language is geared towards the idea of ‘wild releasing’ – leaving the book in a public place so it can serendipitously find its next reader. But that’s not true. Your books are still your own – so do whatever you want to do with them. I’ve found that some of the most interesting journal entries have come from old textbooks I’ve sold back to the school bookstore or to buyers.

It’s the perfect website for answering the question, “What happens to a book when it leaves my hands?” Strangely enough, knowing that the book survives in a digital format on my Bookcrossing bookshelf has actually made it easier for me to ‘release’ the physical copy to a new reader. Funny how that works…
Although has an active forum, most of my bookish talking takes place on The website is a social book cataloging website similar to Goodreads, which it predates by about a year. In fact, I’ve had a lot of people ask why I don’t use a Goodreads account, and the simple answer is that I was already established on Librarything when Goodreads launched, and maintaining two accounts on websites that served similar purposes seems silly. Although it’s older, Librarything is the smaller of the two websites, and it is less geared towards the social networking so critical to Goodreads success. Most books will have fewer reviews than you’d find on Goodreads, but in my experience the reviews generally tend to be of a higher quality. But that could be my personal bias. The discussion forums on Librarything are a lot of fun – groups exist for just about any topic you can imagine, and compared to other forums I’ve been a member of the discussions remain largely drama free.

Librarything can be quite fun for a book nerd. In addition to cataloging and forum discussions, they have a variety of statistics-based memes to explore. What’s your ratio of male vs. female authors? If you stacked all your books in a single pile, would it be taller than the Sphinx? (My stack rises to a height somewhere between the Taj Mahal and Big Ben.) You can compare your books to ‘legacy libraries’ and see how your collection compares to President Jefferson, Mark Twain or Tupac Shakur. Sure, it’s silly, but it doesn’t make it any less cool.

The one drawback of Librarything is that you can only list 200 books for free; after that, you have to pay a one-time membership to add more books. Officially, this costs $25, but they offer a pay-what-you-can plan so that if $25 is too much, you can make a smaller payment. Honestly, though - $25 isn’t even that much. I’ve been using the site for six years now, so that would break down to less than $5 annually. The site isn’t as intuitive as it could be, I’m told; honestly, I’ve been using it for so long that I can’t judge this fairly anymore, but I know it isn’t the easiest site to navigate.
When you have books to get rid of and the local used bookstore won’t take them, what do you do? Toss ‘em up on Paperbackswap! This book-trading website (one of several out there) allows you to mail out your old books to a new reader, earning a point for your troubles. This point can then be used to ‘buy’ a book from one of the millions currently posted into the system. The site has some basic standards that each user should meet: no mildew, no water damage, no torn pages, no highlighting or writing unless the recipient agrees to accept it, and if you like you can add further stipulations like no books that have been in a smoking environment or only hardcovers with dust jackets. You’re guaranteed to get a book in reasonable condition – although keep in mind they are used books, and if you order a book published in 1973 it is unlikely to be brand-new.

The biggest pro and con of the website is that books are first in, first out. This applies both to sending books out and adding books to wishlists. So if you’re posting a book that already has five hundred copies in the system (think something that was a popular seller several years back, like The Da Vinci Code or Twilight) then no one can request your copy until the first five hundred copies have been taken. Depending on how popular the book is, this might not take very long…but it can be a drag if you want points to spend right away. Likewise, when you add a book currently unavailable in the system to your wishlist, you join a queue, and if it’s a popular new book there can be hundreds of people in line before you. Sometimes the lines move pretty fast…but sometimes you’re just in for a long, long wait. But then again, there are thousands of other titles to choose from, so you needn’t be without a book for long.

An alternative to Paperbackswap is Bookmooch, a website that has greater flexibility on what you can post (Advance Reader Copies of books are considered OK, for example) as long as you fill out ‘condition notes’ so that anyone who requests a book from you knows what he/she is getting. Bookmooch also disposes with the first-in, first out rule: when you get a book is added to the system, it’s a free for all and whoever happens to be online snags it. Bookmooch is also one of the few trading websites that allows you to exchange books overseas; I’ve sent to and received books from Italy, Ireland, Japan, Australia, Israel, and many other countries. But in my experience, the book selection at Bookmooch is much smaller, and in the past year activity at the site seems to have dropped considerably, so I haven’t been using it nearly as much lately.

What are your experiences with these and other bookish sites?

2014 Update: Since this post was written, I have created a Goodreads account - and never really touched it.  A lot of my friends on Facebook were actively using it, so I felt obliged to sign up, but like I said, Librarything continues to fulfill that need so I haven't posted much.  It is nice to have to see what my friends are reading, though, and it often inspires me to pick up something I might not have otherwise found.

Compared to previous years, my swapping on Paperbackswap and especially on Bookmooch has slowed considerably.  I'm not sure whether this is due to the fact that fewer books are being posted (although I'm sure that's a contributing factor as more and more people move to e-Books) or if I've simply managed to acquire the "easy" titles with plenty of copies available.

Peeking into the in:
2013: Thieves of Book Row by Travis McDade
2012: Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend by Matthew Dicks
2011: Photos: 20 Celebrities with Stunning Home Libraries
2010: News: Press “Pause” on the Piranha
2009: Three Chinese Stories Giveaway WINNER!