Pando

In Praise of Things That Just Work: Goodreads

By Paul Bradley Carr , written on January 9, 2017

From The Disruption Desk

Lots of chatter today about Amazon's potential purchase of American Apparel, just days after a similar bursts of chatter about the company's move to open even more bricks and mortar book stores, just after the announcement of their checkout-free retail experiment, not long after they rebooted Top Gear and trounced the BBC's own version of the same show... oh, and, just as the American Apparel rumor was breaking, the company won its first Golden Globe.

Kindle, AWS, Prime, the creepy Echo... Say what you like about Amazon - and between the Echo, CIA contracts and Jeff Bezos' gladhanding with Trump, there's a lot to say - but this is not a company unwilling to make big and interesting bets. See also Bezos himself who, despite his Trump coziness, appears to be succeeding in his quest to revitalize the Washington Post’s business while also allowing editors to reposition the paper as the most respected Trump-critical paper in the country.

Given all of that, it seems odd to me that there remain so many Apple fanboys and so few Amazon ones.

I’m not sure I’m ready describe myself as a fan of Amazon, or any gigantic corporation run by a Trump-hugging zillionaire, but I am a big believer in giving even megacorps (particularly megacorps) credit for doing things that aren’t entirely awful.

All of which brings me to the latest installment of my series “In Praise of Things That Just Work”.

Previous installments have included Rinse and Delete.ly and Murfie but today I’m turning my attention to a small and oft-overlooked corner of the Amazon universe: Goodreads.

If you’re one of those lucky, lucky people who follow me on Twitter, or Facebook, you’ll know I’ve been posting almost nothing recently. I’m not quitting the services per-se, rather I’m just unbelievably depressed at the constant flow of information and news stories about how awful America is about to get under President Trump. It’s less the stories themselves than knowing they won’t make a damn difference.

Like any sane person who doesn’t enjoy heart palpitations and high blood pressure, I’ve decided to refocus my attentions on things that actually make me happy, and that (dare I say) enrich my soul. For some people that’s long walks, good wine or taking a pottery class; for me it’s literature. Where by “literature” I mean pulpy 1920s and 30s golden age detective stories. Agatha Christie, John Dixon Carr, Dorothy Sayers. Anything with a locked room.

I’ve had an account with Goodreads since the beginning of time but it wasn’t until I was given a Kindle (which I barely ever use) that I actually spent any meaningful time exploring the service. What I found wasn’t just a handy tool for book recommendations, although it certainly is that, but a gigantic community of people who love nothing more than to spend all day talking about reading.

A community which has all the hallmarks of a social network - friends, community, the ability to make myself appear smarter than I really am - but where one can easily pass an entire day without ever seeing the words Donald J Trump.

It’s heaven.

And that was before I discovered, hiding in plain sight, Goodreads Groups. I realize I’m late coming to this, and that Groups is as fundamental a part of Goodreads as book groups are to reading generally, but clicking on that tab for the first time was like discovering the mysterious city of gold: There’s wasn’t just one group for fans of golden age detection, but a whole list of them, all packed with nice people from (I assume but have no way to know, which is the whole point) all across the political spectrum.  The first group I joined encouraged me to take part in a challenge to read all of Miss Marple’s adventures throughout 2017. I’m more of a Poirot man, but count me in!

And with that the deal was sealed. If I’m going to survive the next four years with my sanity in fact, it’ll be because I replaced my Twitter and Facebook habit with a social network that actually makes the world feel like a friendly, un-frothing, un-insane place even if, by definition, that impression is a fictional one.

Or, put differently, if I’m going to give my time and data to a social network owned by megalomaniacal billionaire it might as well be one that nourishes my soul.