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Get a brand new bookshelf online

As literature battles with a new universe created by the likes of iPods and PlayStations, new social networking sites on books are bringing readers from across the world together, writes Rahul Sharma.

india Updated: Jan 13, 2008 00:29 IST
Rahul Sharma
Rahul Sharma
Hindustan Times

If you are a book lover, you would know all the bookshops in your city. Some of them are small, warm and friendly places that have been around for longer than you have known books perhaps. I still have very fond memories of the Strand Book Stall in Bombay (no, I still can’t say Mumbai) where 20 years ago I would find a corner to sit and read Colonel Todd’s tome on Rajputana without being pressured to buy the volumes. This was, of course, much before the Crosswords and Oxfords arrived with their coffee shops.

Outside of India I love the Borders bookstore where young and old mill around — some sprawled on the floor, others just hanging around
leafing through the zillions of books and magazines on the racks. It’s peaceful, it’s invigorating and most of all, habit-forming, which is most welcome at a point when most of us have little time for books.

The most amazing thing that ever happened to books since Gutenberg invented the printing machine was, that wonderful place on the Internet where you could buy books with a click of the mouse. My first purchase was nearly a decade ago and it was a wonderful National Geographic atlas that arrived in a mailbag carried by two men! Since then my bookshelves have filled up and every time I move I wonder what to do with that precious baggage that just keeps getting larger.

The world of books has changed since. As literature battles with a new universe created by the likes of iPods, PlayStations and Wii consoles, new social networking sites on books are bringing readers from across the world together. Websites like, and are redefining the world of books where volumes are promoted through word of mouth. It’s like being on networking sites like Myspace and Facebook, but all you do is talk books.

A friend pinged me a few months ago, urging me to get myself on Shelfari. I was a reluctant traveller to the site. Another social networking site that would hold my interest for a short while, I thought. But it’s been a different experience. There are some intellectual pretensions here! And there are lots of books, thanks to Amazon from where most of these sites draw their data from.

LibraryThing gets data from 216 libraries from across the world, including the US Library of Congress, a massive depository of all that’s there to read. Goodreads, set up just a year ago, claims to have more than 600,000 users and reviews of 10 million books! More than 1,000 authors are members of the social network, allowing them to directly interact with readers who might be reviewing, promoting or rubbishing their creations for the benefit of fellow readers.

What probably the Internet and social networking sites focused on books are doing is changing the once snooty literary community into something that is more accessible to all and open to news ideas — learning to live in a new world where a final word on a book is not restricted to a few book reviewers. On Good Reads, for example, a member can not only maintain a bookshelf but also post his writing and seek feedback.

On LibraryThing you can create a free account that allows you to catalogue up to 200 books. If you want more you can get a lifetime account for about Rs 1,000. A year costs Rs 400! Go find a book, and some like-minded friends.