My avatar across the web: a photo of my feet in grey-white socks and brown sandals.

Ben Babcock

I read, write, code, and knit.

Five years of uninterrupted book reviews

Next March will be my website’s tenth anniversary and also marks the anniversary of when I feel I became a citizen of the Web. I was jealous of my brother’s “MSN account” and demanded one of my own; from there, I taught myself HTML and built a laughable Geocities website. Indeed, you can still read some blog posts from that time. It’s hard to believe I’ve built up such a lengthy catalogue of my thoughts and feelings through essentially my entire adolescence. (It’s also somewhat scary!)

Of course, that’s next year’s anniversary. Tonight, though, as I posted yet another book review to Goodreads, I realized I missed another arbitrary base-ten milestone anniversary.

For the past five years, I have written (and shared) a review of every book I’ve read.

I joined Goodreads in May of 2008 on the recommendation of a friend, who was a casual user of the site. I quickly became passionate about using Goodreads to organize, interrogate, and express how I read. My to-read shelf has since exploded to encompass nearly 900 titles, and it is going to continue growing. At this rate, if I were to read the books in the order they have been added, it will take me until 2016 (at least) to read the most recent book I’ve added to the list. I’m just now getting to books I added in 2009.

I know many (indeed, most) people do not use Goodreads the way I do. It’s not essential that you write a review of every book, or indeed of any book, in order to enjoy the site. That’s just how I use it. I made it my mission not just to write thoughtful reviews or to review every book I read but to write thoughtful reviews of every book I read. Indeed, I’ve even written reviews for some (though not all) of the books I didn’t finish reading! (In fact, whether I think I can write a review up to my personal standards influences whether I finish a book—if I don’t finish it, I don’t require myself to write a review.)

Goodreads fits a niche for me. It acts as an extended memory, a diary for my thoughts on reading. Since reading is an activity I cherish, it’s important to me that it is not just an ephemeral experience. By recording what I think of each book, I preserve the experience of reading it. Sharing it is a bonus—it goes a small way towards returning the solitary act of reading to its social origins. If my reviews provoke discussion, or contribute to a larger discourse, so much the better.

We all have achievements that make us proud, and we all have artifacts that remind us of these achievements. Some people have medals and trophies; others have photos (or it didn’t happen). Some people look to the art they’ve created or the craft they have produced. These things make us special, not necessarily because we are the only people to accomplish them, but because not everyone has accomplished them. They are things we have chosen to do and put effort into achieving (and, hopefully, enjoyed in the process).

I don’t run marathons, and my crafting is only an incipient, if not vestigial, reflex. But over the course of five years, I’ve produced about 700 reviews. That’s pretty cool.

And, of course, I’m just getting started.