This website covers topics on knowledge management, personal effectiveness, theory of constraints, amongst other topics. Opinions expressed here are strictly those of the owner, Jack Vinson, and those of the commenters.

Tracking my book reading

I Love to ReadThe quick version: It's surprisingly difficult to copy a personal book reading list into the online services of LibraryThing and Goodreads.  It is doable in Goodreads with an effort.  I failed with LibraryThing.  Now, if someone points me to a better service, I will either hug them or scream.

I've been reading much more over the last year (spending lots of time on planes and in hotels will do that).  I've scrubbed off my long-lost list of books read and book suggestions and have updated it.  There are over 500 titles mentioned - about half of which I've read over the years.  It's a spreadsheet.  Not spiffy, but it works just fine: title, author, categorization, who recommended, why I might want to read it, when I read it, a link to my own review, and maybe a few other things.  Critical to what I looked at: I could care less which edition of the book I read - I am not tracking my library, I am tracking reading.  In other words, I don't keep track of the ISBN number.

But it's always seemed like I should be able to be able to see that information on my phone when I am in the bookstore or to jot the book into the list when someone mentions a good read.  There are a number of ways to get the spreadsheet onto my phone, but I find scrolling around hundreds of lines to be next to impossible (yes, even on the almighty iPhone).  Maybe there is an app that makes reading spreadsheets actually doable, rather than whatever comes built-in with the phone.  (hints?)

Inspired by Doug Cornelius' discussion of Tracking Your Books and Library Online, I figured I would have a go.  I already had an account with LibraryThing and Doug mentioned Goodreads, so I figured I'd check that out too.  The first and biggest roadblock for both of these services: I don't have ISBN's for most of the books in my list. 

Goodreads lets you go without ISBN, although it does a terrible job of getting the title + author combination right.  I was shocked at how many it got totally wrong or where it picked a book about an author, rather than the book in question.  I had to entirely delete my library a couple times before it worked out okay.  Even once I was mostly successful, Goodreads missed about 1/3 of the books in my initial import file.  Lesson learned: import in batches of 50-100 books, rather than everything at once.  Goodreads really needs a checking routine that shows me a list of books where there isn't a perfect match between the import file and the book it has guessed.

Initially, I didn't even bother with LibraryThing because their import help file makes it clear that it won't work without ISBN numbers.  Since the import page itself makes it sound like it will work after all, I attempted an import of a small number of books from my archive (transformed to be inline with their file format).  However, those books are still sitting in the import queue after a day.  In other words: I don't think I can import books at all (some of these even have an ISBN).  This is a total non-starter for me.

Once you have your reading list on these services, either one should work well on your phone.  Goodreads has an iPhone app, and LibraryThing's mobile website is serviceable.  I like that LibraryThing allows for tags to create more flexible grouping of books.  But then Goodreads does have "bookshelves" and books can sit on multiple shelves.  I like that you can explicitly sort a shelf, such as sorting the whole Disc World series by their sequence of publication.  Both are better than trying to parse a long spreadsheet via the native software on my iPhone. 

It's a good thing I'm running on a low-work period this week.  I spent far too much time messing with my booklist and tweaking the imported results in these services.

I'm still looking for a better service that helps me with my reading list, not a list of physical objects. 

[Photo: "I Love to Read" by Carlos Porto]

Should you bother with a pilot?

Seek first to understand. Thanks, Frank