By Whitney McKendree Moore
ONE ANSWER: GOODREADS!
When literary strategist, Tom Blubaugh, suggested joining Goodreads Dot Com, I was reluctant. The last thing I felt I needed was yet another learning curve on yet another website. I was already feeling somewhat overwhelmed by all the social networks in which I was participating. Today, I stand amazed at how helpful Goodreads has been to me in just a few short weeks. Here are some examples of how (and why) I think Goodreads is great:
Goodreads offers the opportunity to participate as an author. The sample Author Bio they provided to me as a sample was written by Stephen King, and it struck me as unusually personal — a far cry from what I would consider standard-issue. His bio encouraged me to make my mine highly personal, too, and the process surprised me by quickly revealing why I had become a writer in the first place. Now I much more clearly see that I am writing to be thought-provoking, to stimulate conversation and civil discourse about matters that matter to me. This has clarified for me who my readers are most likely to be — namely people interested in discussing hard things with rigorous honesty and mutual respect. They are my Tribe.
Developing the section called MY BOOKS helped me realize my main reason for reading is to find beautiful writing, writing that just plain gets me INSPIRED. Here are some examples of writing that ignited my creative sparks:From
- From All the Light You Cannot See by Anthony Doerr: an aging expert on mollusks, Dr. Geggard, is describing a shell to the blind girl, saying: “Now that shell belonged to a violet sea snail that lives its whole life on the surface of the sea. As soon as it is released into the ocean, it agitates bubbles, and binds those bubbles with mucus, and builds a raft. Then it blows around, feeding on whatever floating aquatic invertebrates it encounters. But if it ever loses its raft, it will sink and die.”
- From Ulysses by James Joyce: “Living in a bogswamp, eating cheap food and the streets paved with dust, horse dung and consumptives’ spits. “ and “A stick struck the door and a voice in the corridor called: Hockey! They broke asunder, sidling out of their benches, leaping them. Quickly they were gone and from the lumberroom came the rattle of sticks and clamour of their boots and tongues.”
I also discovered a pattern in MY BOOKS. All had provided inspiration, or encouragement, or edification — or all three. Even in my non-fiction selections there was a pattern: more were about ideas than about content. Here’s an example from a biography entitled Bonhoeffer by Eric Mextaxes:
“It is impossible to understand Bonhoeffer without becoming acquainted with the shocking capitulation of the German church to Hitler in the 1930s. How could the church of Luther, that great teacher of the gospel, have ever come to such a place? The answer is that the true gospel, summed up by Bonhoeffer as costly grace, had been lost. On the one hand, the church had become marked by formalism. That meant going to church and hearing that God just loves and forgives everyone, so it doesn’t really matter much how you live. Bonhoeffer calls this cheap grace. On the other hand, there was legalism, or salvation by law and good works. Legalism meant that God loves you because you have pulled yourself together and are trying to live a good, disciplined life.”
In designating FAVORITES, I discovered I have strong reading preferences — an affinity for allegory whether literal (like A Pilgrim’s Progress) or not (like The Magic Mountain). Knowing this helps me consider books I might WANT TO READ in the future.
As I am in the process of reading, Goodreads inquires about my progress. I found this annoying at first, but soon realized it is helpful. By myself, ideas occur to me as I am reading, but they are remote. Updating my progress raises ideas to the surface that I might otherwise dismiss or forget. Some examples:
- Sinister Street (Volume 1) by Compton MacKenzie: I found myself reminded of Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye and said so in a status update. Next thing you know, I’m back into Salinger and seeing a strong connection between the two authors. In Catcher, Holden Caulfield has strong feelings of protectiveness for his little sister, Phoebe. I found very similar feelings in Sinister Street, with Michael’s fears for his little sister, Stella.
- Here’s what I shared to update my progress: I am grateful to Compton MacKenzie for writing Sinister Street, which returned me to Catcher in the Rye with a new level of appreciation for the tiny masterpiece it is. That last scene, with Phoebe riding the carousel and “going for the gold” really wrenched my heart. I had first read this book in my teenage years; now I am 68 years old and a parent. Meandering in the mind of Holden Caulfield was much more poignant for me this time around. He so beautifully captures the anguish of entrusting all things (especially the wee, wet ones) to God — or going mad.
So that first “annoying” Goodreads request for a progress report ended up leading me into a very cool reading adventure. As a teen, I had not appreciated the Robert Burns poem that inspired Catcher in the Rye. It took becoming a parent to appreciate how terrifying it can be to watch your child go for “the brass ring.” That little adventure transformed things for me. Now I look forward to sharing what I think as I go along and once I have finished reading a book. I have posted three or four reviews on there since I joined a few months ago: Sinister Street Volume One by Compton MacKenzie, Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger, The Moon and Sixpence by Somerset Maugham, Sinister Street Volume Two, and an update on Joseph and His Brothers by Thomas Mann that might take me through next year to finish reading.
Thanks to Goodreads, which I found thanks to Tom Blubaugh, I now know so much more than I did before I joined. Simply put, I now know why I write, why I read, and why I read what I read:
- As an Author. Knowing why I write has sharpened my marketing focus to a very specific audience.
- As a Reader. Knowing why I read and why I read what I read has helped me choose books that seem likely to inspire me and improve my own writing.
In short, I think Goodreads is great. I am enthusiastically encouraging others to join, either as readers, or as authors, or both.