Monday, August 28, 2017

Reading - recommendations via Good Reads

I have always been a voracious reader. At school, I averaged a book a day, albeit short fiction titles e.g. Enid Blyton, Nancy Drew etc. Weekly, I visited each of the three libraries within 3 km of my home and I still remember the day, when I turned 15 and I could borrow ‘adult’ literature on my ‘youth’ library card. Meanwhile, I worked my way through my neighbour’s book case. They were both school teachers and their library featured best sellers of the time – Michener, Uris, LeCarre along with a good collection of Agatha Christies. Like many readers, I began with no real planning, just whatever came to hand. As with Oliver Sacks, reading through childhood, gave me a perspective on the world outside of my sheltered upbringing. Also, as with Barrack Obama, books allow us to attain empathy for others who are unlike ourselves. 

For the past 16 years, my reading has centred around books, papers and journals pertinent to my studies and research. Hence, fiction reading has all but vanished apart from the odd science fiction / space opera over term breaks. In an effort to maintain a better work-life balance I now try to borrow one or two non-fiction titles each month from the local library which are not related to work / research. These books are aligned to my other interests – botany, geology, astronomy, travel (especially cycle touring a la Dervla Murphy and backpacking / mountaineering) etc.

Last year, I finally succumbed and signed up for goodreads, which is owned by Amazon - meaning the recommendations need to be taken with some awareness of marketing ploys. However,  I do like the ‘recommendations’. I find many to be useful and now have a rather large list of ‘want to read’ books archived for follow up. Through the goodreads recommendations, I have been able to find a wider range of books within related topics, expanding my reading repertoire beyond the usual weekly browse of the local library shelves. My ‘recreational’ reading has thus become more ‘focused’. I am not sure if this is a good thing or not. Browsing library shelves is a great way to widen ones’ horizon. The movement to ebooks has dampened some of the opportunities to browse as search engines stick to the patterns intuited from your previous searches. In a way, Goodreads is similar but at least the process is overt and one has a choice to move away from the recommended books predicated on the list of books one has read or wants to read.

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