I’m trying to renew a little experiment with online book discussion. A couple of years ago I tried starting an online book group for people interested in reading New England Native American authors. I used Goodreads.com, simply because it seems to be the most popular social reading site (as of this summer, they were saying they had over 20 million users, and over 620 million titles).
It’s probably heresy, but I confess I’ve never been a fan of face-to-face social book groups, or those brokered by libraries or state humanities councils and the like. Most people seem to join them more for the “social” than for the actual “book,” and then there are personalities, which I already have to deal with in my day job. So I figured a Web meeting would be kind of perfect: no driving in the snow, only to have half the group either not show, or show up having read only half the book. Plenty of time to ponder your response, and respond thoughtfully to others. A chance to talk with people who live so far away we couldn’t meet F2F anyway–an especial boon, given that “Indigenous New England” is a sort of specialized interest.
But the group hasn’t taken off. I have a couple of ideas about that, ranging from the inelegance of the interface itself (which can make it difficult to figure out exactly where you are to write your response–on the discussion board, below the book itself, or as a response to another review) to people’s inhibitions about discussing Native literature with authors lurking in the group (which some do), or my own failure to really whip up excitement in the discussions. But I’m not quite satisfied with these factors as explanations for the lack of uptake. Really, the only people who have participated at all actively in this group have been my students, and they, of course, have done so under duress–and much less enthusiastically than they have participated in our class blogs.
So, two things: first, I would love to hear any thoughts about this–and not necessarily just about the “Indigenous New England on Goodreads” book group, but about your experiences with online social reading in general. How do you get, and share, recommendations for books these days? Do you use social reading sites, or do you keep everything on Facebook? If you don’t like to post your impressions of books online, why not?
Second, consider joining the Indigenous New England group to discuss Unraveling the Spreading Cloth of Time, edited by Trace DeMeyer and MariJo Moore. It’s a collection of “indigenous thoughts concerning the universe”–an exploration of Native worldviews as contrasted with Western science. It’s an anthology, so you don’t have to read the whole thing. It contains writing from all across the country, not just New England. I have a discussion board set up to run from October 1 to 15, in the hopes that having a window in which to read might encourage people not simply to put it on their “to-read” lists. But even if you can’t weigh in during those two weeks, you can still weigh in! And MariJo and Trace are both on goodreads, so maybe if we’re very engaged, and very lucky, they can field some questions!