The Big Read Blog (Archive)

Book Sharing Gets a Makeover

Libraries are Creepy by flickr user Paul Lowry

Although reading itself is a solitary pursuit, the love of reading manifests itself in innumerable social ways. We like to discuss particulars of plot or character, and we’ll push our favorite books on anyone and everyone. We like to lend and borrow, and finding someone with kindred literary taste is like finding a special type of soul mate. While traditional libraries and book clubs have always existed, the past few years have introduced all sorts of new ways to share, discuss, and find new reads. The Internet of course is behind many of these developments, but others rely on nothing more than community spirit. Below are a few of my favorite new book sharing sites or concepts that I’ve come across.

BookCrossing: I like to describe BookCrossing as a feral library. The idea is to leave a book in a public place---on a park bench, in a coffee shop, at the hair salon---in hopes that someone will pick it up, read it, and then leave it elsewhere for another reader. Those who find books can log their discovery on BookCrossing.com, providing something of a paper trail as books travel around the world.

Little Free Library: As a true library fanatic, I find this idea unbelievably appealing. This project encourages community reading by helping to establish teeny, tiny libraries in front yards or on public property. The libraries themselves are adorable---most are made from refurbished cranberry crates---and function in the traditional sense of borrow and return. “Stewards” curate the book collection and maintain the library.

Corner Libraries: Like Little Free Libraries, Corner Libraries are stationary and maintained by a member of the community. However, Corner Libraries are meant to encourage alternative presses, and might hold anything from a handmade book to a photocopied ‘zine.

Goodreads: This site is a great example of how social media can encourage reading. Goodreads members can see what their friends are reading, rate or recommend books, and hopefully discover a great new book for their queue. Maybe you’ll find your literary soul mate amongst your Facebook friends or Gmail contacts (both lists can be imported to the site), or maybe you’ll stumble upon an unknown user whose virtual bookshelf is the perfect fit.

Newspaper book clubs: Book clubs run by newspapers have two distinct advantages: they are moderated and they have resources. This can include people to do background research on a book or its themes, relevant articles penned by experts, and enough pull to bring in the authors themselves. Last August, The Guardian introduced its interactive online Reading Group---we wholeheartedly approved of their first book choice, Fahrenheit 451. Guardian readers can help choose the book, bring up questions to discuss, comment on issues, and tune into live webcasts with authors. Soon after, The New York Times followed suit with its Big City Book Club, though its selection is limited to books about the Big Apple.

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