The Reader—Renoir

Reading Update: Goodreads

The Reader—Renoir
The Reader by Pierre-Auguste Renoir

I’m giving Neil Gaiman’s American Gods a longer chance than normal on Jenny’s advice. It is beginning to pick up, but I was preparing to put it aside. I am going to take Finn out of the rotation for the time being. Maybe I’ll pick it up soon, but I keep seeing all these other books I would rather read. I just purchased Madame Tussaud: A Novel of the French Revolution by Michelle Moran and One of Our Thursdays is Missing by Jasper Fforde, a favorite writer of mine. Today in the mail, I received my first “win” from Goodreads:

The Rebellion of Jane Clarke

Isn’t it pretty? The paperback comes out April 26, and I want to try to read it by then so I can share my review. I didn’t realize until very recently that Goodreads sponsored giveaways. What a great way for publishers to connect with regular readers! This book was the first one I requested, so I was excited to have success right off the bat.

If you are a reader and not a member of Goodreads, you should check it out. It’s easily my favorite reading social network. Shelfari is very pretty, but it doesn’t allow users to easily integrate their blogs like Goodreads does. I have my Goodreads profile set up to publish the feed to this blog. I don’t know whether any readers have signed on here because of my Goodreads profile, but it can’t hurt. Shelfari also doesn’t allow HTML in their reviews. LibraryThing limits users to 200 books unless they opt for a paid account. I don’t see the draw unless I’m missing something—Goodreads is free. I trust Goodreads reviews over other sites, too, as the readers can be more conservative in their stars and praise than, say, Amazon. If I’m on the fence, I read a few reviews on Goodreads, and I can often make up my mind. And now with giveaways, there’s no reason not to try them out.

I’m going to pick up The Rebellion of Jane Clarke tonight and go back to Massachusetts. I loved our visit there this past summer. But first I need to put the kettle on for a cup of tea.

Goodreads and Shelfari

Goodreads and Shelfari

Goodreads and ShelfariDo you use Goodreads or Shelfari? Or both? I use both services. Each has features I like, but neither one does everything I want a reading social network to do.

Sharing Progress

Goodreads gives readers the option to share their progress through status updates either with page numbers or percentage read, which is great if you’re reading on an e-reader. I really like this feature. I think Shelfari should add it. Both sites do a great job cataloging multiple versions of books so that you can add the version you are reading to ensure the descriptions, page counts, etc. all match your particular copy.

Linked to Social Networks

Goodreads also allows users to share updates via Twitter and Facebook, which is a nice feature. Facebook can be integrated nicely with Goodreads. One of my Facebook friends told me he joined Goodreads because of seeing my updates on Facebook. My status updates show up on Twitter, and occasionally, people who follow me on Twitter ask me about what I’m reading, so the integration is a nice feature. Shelfari isn’t linked up with social networks. I think it would be a good feature for Shelfari to add.

Look and Feel

Shelfari’s site and bookshelves are beautiful. Shelfari allows users to select a material out of which to construct their shelves (wood or metal, etc.). Book covers are displayed on the shelves in a way Apple’s iBooks emulated for their app. Shelfari also makes beautiful shelf widgets for users to put on their blogs. In terms of look and feel, Shelfari scores big marks over Goodreads. I’d like to see Goodreads beautify their look and feel, too, but I suspect it would involve a major overhaul, and the site is perfectly functional as it is.

Re-Reading Books

Shelfari has much better support for re-readers than Goodreads. On Goodreads, you can mark a book as “Read” or “Currently Reading,” but not both. Shelfari allows for those users who re-read to mark a book as both. It would be a simple feature for Goodreads to implement, I should think, as it would mean changing the radio buttons they currently use to check boxes that allow for multiple selections. In addition, Shelfari allows users to add new “finished” dates each time a reader finishes a book. If a user has read a book three times, he or she can add three different finished dates. Goodreads allows only one, and you need to either keep the first finished date, or change it to a new one. Again, I think this is a feature that Goodreads could easily add.

Community

I like the community at Goodreads. They are serious readers. If you want the true skinny on a book, their reviews are often more helpful than Amazon’s. Users can also add trivia questions and join groups. I am a member of several groups on both Shelfari and Goodreads, but not too active. I think Shelfari could add some features to foster a livelier community. I think starting with social network integration would be a good idea, but further than that, I like the idea that users can add quotes and trivia to Goodreads. If Shelfari added these features, they might keep users on the site longer. Both Goodreads and Shelfari allow users to add content to book descriptions and change book information. On Goodreads, you need to apply to become a librarian. I haven’t noticed any egregious vandalism of books on the more open Shelfari, but perhaps it’s not a terrible idea to set some kind of bar. Goodreads just asks that users who want to become librarians have 50 books on their profile. It’s a good way of keeping occasional users or non-committed users from making random changes they shouldn’t.

Book Tallies

Goodreads and Shelfari both tally your total number of books, but Shelfari has a nice feature that you see on your home page when you’re logged in: the total number of books you’ve read this year. I love this feature. I try to read more books each year, and Shelfari totals the number you’ve read and compares to your reading during the previous year. If you have not read as many, it will tell you you’re behind your pace. If you’ve read more, it tells you you’re ahead of your pace. It’s a nice little pat on the back to log in and see I’ve nearly reached the total number of books I read last year, and it’s only August. I think Goodreads could add this feature, too.

Reviews

Both sites allow users to post reviews, but I like that Goodreads allows HTML in their reviews because I simply link back to my reviews here on this blog. As an English teacher, I appreciate being able to italicize titles using HTML, too. I think Shelfari should add the ability to use HTML in reviews. I don’t like leaving a blank review on Shelfari, so I usually copy and paste my reviews into their review space. But I often have links and other HTML in my posts that does not transfer. Both sites also allow you to assign starred ratings to books, but neither has 1/2 stars. The plugin I use to rate books here on this site allows for 1/2 stars, and I like that. Sometimes a book is not a 3 or 4. It’s a 3.5. It would be nice for Goodreads and Shelfari to give wishy-washy reviewers like me who can’t come down on a 3 or 4 the option of a 3.5.

The Bottom Line

Both sites have some great features, but each of them could be much better with a few simple changes. I have an account with LibraryThing, but I don’t use it. I don’t agree with their restriction of 200 books for free accounts. When Shelfari and Goodreads have excellent features for free, it seems silly to pay for LibraryThing. I don’t really understand Shelfari’s “Should I Read X?” feature. I should think users should be able to read reviews and figure out for themselves if they should read a book. It seems superfluous to me. Goodreads has a lot of authors on board, and it can be fun to interact with them. I’ve even seen Lev Grossman reply to reviews of his work.

What do you think? Do you use Goodreads, Shelfari, or even LibraryThing? If so, what features do you wish they had? Oh, and feel free to “friend” me on Goodreads or Shelfari.

Charlotte and Emily

Charlotte and Emily: A Novel of the BrontësJude Morgan’s Charlotte and Emily is mistitled. It is actually the story of Maria, Elizabeth, Charlotte, Branwell, Emily, and Anne Brontë, as well as their parents. In the UK, the book was titled The Taste of Sorrow, a title much more apt, though one could argue again that the Brontës endured much more than a taste of sorrow. I imagine the reason for the change stems from the notion that Americans will be more interested in Charlotte and Emily, as though we aren’t as likely to buy a book the book with Morgan’s title. I grow tired of this sort of retitling.

Morgan’s novel begins on the deathbed of Maria Branwell Brontë and traces the familiar family story from the coming of Aunt Branwell to help care for the children, to the loss of Maria and Elizabeth, casualties of the harsh conditions at the Clergy Daughters’ School in Cowan Bridge. Branwell is given the gift of toy soldiers, and he and his sisters create imaginative stories. As they grow, they find it difficult to leave behind their created worlds of Angria and Gondal. As adults, the sisters try their hand at teaching and governessing, but they are ultimately unhappy. Their brother Branwell succumbs to drinking and dissolution; meanwhile, they write.

Morgan’s writing style draws you in. He doesn’t attempt to mimic the style of the Brontës, and some expressions (Tabby’s “What’s up?”, for instance) seem jarring, but the overall effect is an admirable piece of work that brings the Brontë family alive. Patrick Brontë, the family patriarch, suffers a little under Morgan’s characterization, but as I don’t know much about the man, I can’t say that the characterization is unfair. Once again, I walk away from a book about the Brontës with the notion that no matter their unhappiness in life, I would really like to have sat at the table with all of them for tea and conversation. Branwell is the great unrealized genius, fiery and passionate. Anne, the dutiful, honest thinker. Emily, the blunt, private dreamer. Charlotte, much like her heroine Jane Eyre, a person whose passions run deep beneath the surface.

I highly recommend this novel to fans of the Brontës. It’s highly readable historical fiction that brings the reader into the world of the Brontës. Don’t take my word for it, however. The BrontëBlog has a glowing review of the book.

Rating: ★★★★★

This book concludes the All About the Brontës Challenge for me and is my fifth book in the Bibliophilic Books Challenge (one more will bring me to Litlover status). This book is also my sixth selection for the Typically British Reading Challenge, bringing me to the “Bob’s Your Uncle” level. I’ll keep going.

Cool Tools for Book Lovers

Ever since I became a regular user of StumbleUpon, I have been introduced to a variety of cool tools for book lovers.

The one I’m most excited about is Book Glutton (found via Sylvia’s blog), which allows you to read with a group and annotate passages as you read. Here’s a video demonstration:

[kml_flashembed movie="http://www.youtube.com/v/TkCoknkwua4" width="425" height="350" wmode="transparent" /]

I have mentioned DailyLit before, and if you’re a regular visitor, maybe you’ve even kept track of my DailyLit reading in the sidebar on the right. Tom Hand contacted me through my education blog to tell me about DailyReader.net, a similar tool. You can also browse thousands of free books online at FullBooks.com. ReadPrint is another good source for online reading.

If swapping books is your thing, you might be interested in BookMooch or BookCrossing.

Listen to audio selections from great literature at Norton’s website for their popular British literature anthology. You can also download classics on audio at Free Classic AudioBooks.

If you’re looking for suggestions, you might consult What Should I Read Next, which will guide you to a selection based on

If you’re looking for something different to read, you might choose one of the selections in “10 Books for Inquiring Minds” from BookStove.

Blurb allows you to create your own books (the samples look pretty slick) for as little as $12.95. You can also use Lulu to publish your books (I was happy with the results when I published my own book on Lulu).

If you would like to keep up with the sites in my StumbleUpon feed, you can subscribe here.

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Now playing: Tony Steidler-Dennison – Roadhouse 156
via FoxyTunes

[tags]stumbleupon, literature, books, tools, reading[/tags]

Ben and Noah

I was so excited to find the blog of Ben and Noah, two brothers who are six (or maybe seven; he’s in first grade) and four (via 2,996). Check them out! They’re great!

englishcompanion.com

The majority of you all who don’t teach (or don’t teach English) might not be interested in this, but I found a great link today. I was reading my English Journal, and I saw an ad in it for The Teacher’s Daybook. It looked intriguing, so I went to the website to see if I could learn more about it. In the process, I discovered the author, Jim Burke, is the author of The English Teacher’s Companion, a book I think I had once, but can no longer find — the joys of moving. At any rate, Jim Burke has a website — a companion to the companion, if you will, at englishcompanion.com. What a wonderful resource for English teachers! He has tons of handouts, ready to print in the form of pdf’s (if you don’t mind they all say Mr. Burke on them). He has great note-taking handouts, especially. I really like his handouts for his personal reading assignment, too. Overall, it is a great site. Now, I wish I could find that book.

School will be out soon, but I am finding myself already starting to prepare for next year. I keep telling myself I have plenty of time for that, but it is hard to sit still when you find websites like Burke’s.

Harry Pot-heads

Steve is reading the Harry Potter series. Shh. Don’t tell him I told you. I think he wants to post something cheeky to the effect that he was finally beaten down and forced under pain of torture. Well, we all knew it would have to happen in the end. There is no resisting the appeal of the Boy Who Lived. I hope he’s enjoying them as much as I did. But I get to read Half-Blood Prince first, or else he’s got to get his own copy.

In other news, I glanced at my entry calendar over there to the right and noticed I haven’t posted much in May. School will be out in a couple of weeks, and I imagine I’ll have more time. I hate to use that old busy excuse, but it’s true. That, and I haven’t really felt like there’s much of interest going on that I wanted to write about here. Also, I suppose my new genealogy blog is taking time that I might have spent here, and I have been trying not to neglect my Harry Potter blog so much.

I will leave you with a couple of interesting links:

Celtic Music

Do you like Celtic music? You might want to check out one of my favorite links: Ceolas Celtic Music Archive. You can learn more about your favorite artists and instruments and learn a little about Celtic dance. A caution, however: the site does not appear to have been updated with information in some sections (such as tours) in several years. That’s the del.icio.us link for today.

Celtic Art and Cultures

The link for today is Celtic Art and Cultures, a web site constructed for students of UNC’s Art 111 course; thankfully, they share it with the world. You can view images of Celtic art on everything from jewelry to food utensils. There is also a collection of maps and timelines, a thorough guide to Celtic design motifs, and even a vocabulary section complete with quizzes.

That said, I’m going out of town for a couple of days. I plan to visit my in-laws at the beach. See you on Sunday.

storTroopers

Do you remember storTroopers? A few years ago, these wildly popular cyber paper dolls/avatar-makers swept the blogosphere (or at least Diaryland). I remember finding cast pages created entirely with storTroopers and even had one myself. Then, suddenly, the storTroopers vanished and the dreaded 404 error message appeared in their place. Did you know that they’re back? Yep. Better than ever. So that’s my del.icio.us link for the day. Oh, and here I am, in my typical “school uniform” of an ankle-length skirt and black cardigan, which protects me from the frigid air conditioner:

storDana