One of my major hobbies is reading. I was a fanatical reader as a kid, and while I’ve definitely gone through periods where I haven’t read for pleasure so much (generally times when I was having to do a lot of reading for school or uni), it’s something I’ve come back to doing time and time again. I read sixty books in each of 2019 and 2020, which is a satisfying pace for me.

The main site I’ve used to track my reading over the last decade is Goodreads. Unfortunately, Goodreads is far from an ideal platform. It’s owned by Amazon, which is already an argument not to use it – Amazon is a terrible company who we should do our best to avoid supporting if we can. The Goodreads interface is also pretty buggy and Amazon shows no interest in fixing it, because it has no major competition. This article describes a number of the problems with the interface, but one that really bugs me is that the dates it plasters on everything are in Pacific Standard Time, so if I want to update my reading progress, I have to wait until after 5pm, 6pm or 7pm (depending on the time of year) to make my update actually show up as occurring on the correct day. Such a minor thing, but how is there a good reason for this to be broken? Nearly every site handles timezones better than this. I mean, making any effort at all would be better than this.

There are alternatives to Goodreads, of course. One that I joined last May, because people recommended it, it is LibraryThing… but it’s also part-owned by Amazon, and in my opinion the interface isn’t really any better. You have a lot more flexibility with how you organise your books, but that’s just about the only point in its favour.

A new contender is The StoryGraph, which has just come out of beta. I haven’t used it enough to judge it fully, but my gut instinct is that its recommendations are better than what Goodreads and LibraryThing’s algorithms come up with (but not as good as just following reviewers whose taste you respect, which is probably how I find most of the books I add to my “to read” list), and it’s at least on par with Goodreads for tracking what you read, now that you can update how far through a book you are, and can do challenges like “read X books this year”. Because the site is newer though, I haven’t yet found the kind of social network on it that would make me comfortable fully ditching Goodreads.

Having said all of that, the IndieWeb way of tracking your reading would be to do it on your website, maybe syndicating out to one of the services above if you feel the need. I have been partially doing this, posting my book reviews firstly on my own homepage, then crossposting to Goodreads with a link back (with the rel="canonical" attribute, to hopefully tell search engines that my own site is the better citation for that content). Now that I’ve seen how good The StoryGraph has become, I’ll probably try to start crossposting there too. I haven’t been using my own site to post the day-by-day “14% done with X… 31% done with X… 49% done with X…” posts though, because I don’t think those are worth dedicating posts to. If I do have a thought worth posting about a book before I finish it, I figure those can go in the ‘books’ category of my microblog. I also post links to my reviews from there too, so there should be one place where things are all together.

However, with all of that said… I want to be managing my “book queue” and tracking my reading on my own site more! The three major things I’d like to do would probably be:

  1. Manage a “to read” list a bit better than Goodreads allows for (and the other sites I mentioned don’t allow you to put a list in order at all). For example, being able to slot books that I want to reread into the list. Alternatively, maybe I want a way to break out my “to read” list into multiple lists representing different “queues” – e.g. a list of Spanish-language books, a list of non-fiction books, a list of classics that you seem unable to call yourself “well-read” unless you’ve read them, and then a list of novels I read quickly for pure enjoyment. Or who knows, maybe both!
  2. Make some posts that aren’t book reviews per se, but more collections of books that I’d like to highlight, to maybe bring them to the attention of people who enjoy that kind of book and hadn’t come across one or more of the titles before. For example, “thoughtful science fiction” (like Ursula K. Le Guin or Octavia Butler) or “time travel thriller-mysteries” (like Recursion, Here and Now and Then or The Psychology of Time Travel) or “new adult fiction” (that barely-existent genre of book between YA and standard Adult fiction).
  3. A “dashboard” to attractively direct visitors to these pages if they’re interested, along with my book reviews which are already up. Depending on how often I feel like updating the page, I could also show my reading progress there (ephemerally), or at least what I’m currently reading. And of course, if I can knock up something good, I could reuse the design for other forms of media as well – games, TV shows, etc. – about which I feel like I have things to say.

So I suppose this is a project I’m setting for myself: to create that kind of interface on my personal site, and take back ownership of my reading progress. Of course I’m not against crossposting my reviews out (the social aspect to these sites is cool, and unlikely to be something I can recreate at my own domain), but I feel like if I construct my own interface, I can make one that suits me a little better as a home base.