Notes from underground

يارب يسوع المسيح ابن اللّه الحيّ إرحمني أنا الخاطئ

Books and reading

For several years I’ve kept in touch with people who share similar literary interests by means of Usenet newsgroups and mailing lists. Now many ISPs are withdrawing their news service (it does require rather a lot of server space) and so traffic in the newsgroups has dropped off a lot, and I’ve lost contact with a lot of the people with whom I used to have interesting conversations in the newsgroups.

I’ve found an alternative way of keeping in contact, through Good Reads, where you can find me at But more on that later (see below).

For those who have suffered the fate of losing access to newsgroups, there is a free news server at where you can subscribe to the various newsgroups.

My favourite newsgroups for books and reading are:

The Tolkien group still thrives, but the others have almost emptied of participants since some of the major ISPs stopped their nntp service.

If you click on those links, your web browser should automatically take you to your default newsreader, but if your ISP is one of those that no longer provides news (I bet they didn’t reduce their subs for the reduced service) you will not be able to do much unless you set your news reader up to connect to a server like eternal-september.

There are also other newsgroups that are (or were) useful for those who like books and reading:

Most of the better-informed participants in rec.arts.books took themselves off to a Facebook group called The Prancing Half-Wits, but the Facebook interface is clunky, and does not lend itself to interactive discussions the way newsgroups do. alt.usage.english continues to thrive, perhaps because many of the participants are a bit more computer-savvy than most, and know how to connect to alternative news sources.

For those interested in the Inklings (C.S. Lewis, Charles Williams, J.R.R. Tolkien & Co) I’ve started a mailing list called Neo-Inklings, which you can find at To subscribe to it, send e-mail to, but it is worth also visiting the web site, as there are facilities for uploading files and photos, creating polls and databases and more. I’ve invited some of the former members of the alt.books.cs-lewis newsgroup to join us there. For those interested mainly in the works of Charles Williams rather than the other Inklings, there is a Charles Williams list called Coinherence-L.

There are also several web sites for book lovers to keep track of their books and make contact with others with similar interests. Three of the best-known are Bibliophil, LibraryThing and Good Reads. For various reasons I prefer Good Reads.

Good Reads

GoodReads is a combination of a book catalogue and a social networking site for books, and I think it works better than the others.

Like most social networking sites, you can add people as “friends”, but in many social networks this is rendered useless by people wanting to add you as a “friend” when they don’t know you, don’t want to know you, share no common interests with you and you’ve never heard of them. It’s a bit like regarding everyone in the phone book as a “friend” — if everyone is your friend, then no one is.

But Good Reads provides a good way of seeing whether someone is likely to be your friend.

First you need to join, and enter some of the books that you have in your library or have read, starting with your favourites, but you can also add a few books that you really hate. Like other such sites, you are asked to rate and review them. When you’ve entered those books and rated them (with 1-5 stars), then you can look for friends. Find someone who owns some of your favourite books, look at their profile and click “compare books”.

There you can see if they’ve read your favourite books, and what they think of them. It’s expressed as a percentage. For example, with one of my friends (who sometimes reads my blog), it produced this result:

You and booklady have 21 books (or 7.27% of your library and 2.07% of her library) in common. Your tastes for those 21 ratings are 78% similar.

If it’s over 70%, go to the next step, which is the “book compatibility test”. This compares your ratings of some popular books in various genres, or if you’ve even read them. In this case my result was “Your compatibility with booklady is 63%.”

If you have read some of those popular books, but haven’t entered them and rated them, then do so, because it will make future comparisons easier.

So Good Reads is a good way to find and keep in touch with those with similar literary tastes.


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