We all know the feeling– that feeling you get when you finish a fantastic book. It’s a mixed bag of emotions; elation since you’ve again found a book that engaged and delighted you, and letdown because you realistically will have to plod through several clunkers before you again find that book, the one you can’t stop thinking about. While reading a book is an inherently solitary experience, the growing social aspects of reading have made it easier than ever to share your favorite books with the people you care about.

Taking a step back, social media has made it easier to share– period. So naturally that extends to reading. It’s common to see avid readers sharing their opinions on books with friends and crowdsourcing their decision about what to read next on social media. It’s as simple as posting a status or tweeting “What book do you recommend I read next?”


In addition to using existing social networks, there’s a new crop of social reading sites, designed to specifically facilitate book sharing and discussion. The most popular of these is GoodReads, although competitor sites Shelfari, Library Thing and Slice Bookshelf are all aching for a piece of the pie. These social reading sites help you find new reads based on what you’ve enjoyed in the past and what friends recommend.

Additionally, there are a whole slew of book discovery sites out there. These platforms leave out the ‘social’ part of the equation, instead relying on what type of book you’re in the mood for and who your favorite authors are to provide recommendations. Bookish, What Should I Read Next?, Which Book, and Your Next Read all aim to introduce readers to new authors and genres that they’ll enjoy. If you’re interested in learning more about these sites, read my previous article on book discovery sites here.

Once you’ve found something to read, group reading has never been easier to organize. While nothing beats a book club filled with neighbors and friends, technology makes it possible to connect with people around the world. The most basic way to organize a book club using tech is to organize a group of friends and set up a private Facebook group, Google+ Hangout or Skype session where you can discuss what you’ve read.

But, if you want to discuss your favorite books with other fans, there are thousands of book clubs online you can join. My favorite platform for finding online book clubs is GoodReads, simply because there are so many options and the discussions are normally pretty insightful. MeetUp.com is another way to organize a book club with members of your community whom you may not know but are interested in the same types of book or genres. You can create an event, add a description, choose a meeting place, and interested people will join. And for a quick way to see what the public thinks about a particular book, try searching for the hashtag of the title on Twitter (for example, #dotcomplicated).

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Even Amazon reviews have revolutionized how we think about different books. Before Amazon, the only reviews available were editorial reviews. Now, anyone can write a review that will appear on the book’s Amazon page. Potential customers can browse past reviews and see what the public – not just paid reviewers – think. Amazon has successfully democratized the book review process.

The rise of the e-reader is also increasingly aiding social reading. While the hardware involved (Kindles, Nooks and various tablets) is now part of mainstream culture, we’re just starting to explore the implications of e-readers and social sharing. I imagine a future where your Kindle will automatically link with your Facebook or Twitter, and as you read you’ll have the opportunity to see your friends’ comments and annotations. A teacher could send out her notes on a text to her class, helping them to focus in on relevant passages as they go through the material. Chegg’s e-reader has come close to this– students using the software can see which passages the community has highlighted most frequently. They can also immediately connect to the “Homework Help” section and get an answer from the Chegg community. This same model could be used to instantly jump from a book passage to a virtual discussion on that passage in real time.

We’ve seen a lot of change in terms of social reading in the past 5 years, but I think this is just the beginning of a movement that will redefine what reading is for the new millennium. While social sharing may seem contradictory to solitary act of reading, remember that reading is essentially about sharing stories. Before the invention of the printing press and the widespread distribution of books and articles, all stories were shared and spread by word of mouth. Maybe, we’re coming full circle.

Posted on 12/6/2013

liz headshot napaWritten by Liz Wassmann

Liz Wassmann is on the Dot Complicated editorial team and has written for a variety of Bay Area publications over the past several years. When she’s not reading or writing, she can be found daydreaming about her next trip overseas and practicing parallel parking. Follow her on Twitter @lwassmann13