Growing Up Into Goodreads
Earlier this year my oldest daughter started reading. As she brushed back her wispy strands of blond hair and dragged her teeth across her lips in concentration, it occurred to me that I had forgotten those early halting steps: chopping out the pieces of a word; stringing the phonics together like beads on a wire; and then…a sentence…suddenly…a story. How difficult it is to memorize all the permutations of letter sounds until you spit out full words!
I didn't expect to feel so strongly when I watched her face smooth out with comprehension. Emotions came rumbling forward, making me stop for a moment, abandoning my busy life. I just watched her. She had gained entrance into a magical club, and I was seeing the crossing over.
My mind started spinning toward the future. She could now propel her own acquisition of knowledge of the world, going where her passions led her and dropping down into a story that could change her life or give her comfort when the real world bruised. I sat there, sucked into the story, enthralled by my daughter's discovery of Tim and his pal, Al, helping each other when the other was sad.
I started thinking about all the books from childhood that have become hallmarks in my life: Heidi when I was a little girl, instilling in me a desire to help others and admiring her purity and spirit; The Little House on the Prairie books, where I grew a deep appreciation and respect for hard work and perseverance. I remember reading the Childcraft How & Why books and learning that young Native American boys would go out on a voyage when they came of age, returning home to their village after they tested themselves and became confident in their abilities. I vowed to do that, too. High school years were punctuated by books such as The Power of One, and I spent a few years idolizing the protagonist (a young South African boy who boxed), applying his knowledge to my pursuit of ballet and taking comfort in his principles against injustice and bravery as he faced his lonely road. Later in life, in college and beyond, I found more and more books that formed the bricks of my foundation of values.
In a surprising way, reading for me has taken my own life down a deep groove, more profound than I ever expected, often harder than I expected. I was a precocious reader, a writer and a journalist, and then I became cofounder and editor of Goodreads, a tech company all about books: finding them, sharing them, connecting over them, interviewing and collaborating with the makers, the sellers, the coders, the designers, all coming together in a symphony of passion for the object, and allowing our members to be the artists behind the content.
I've joked that I was an accidental entrepreneur. Among the scores of jobs I considered (I kept them in a yellow notepad with lists of pros and cons), bard was high on the list, but I became a journalist because I loved writing and it would sort of pay the bills (for years I tutored girls in high school calculus to support my journalism habit). When my husband came up with the idea for Goodreads and said he needed a cofounder, I thought about it and realized that this was the one exception I would make to the things I'd said I would never do: work with my husband, work in tech, start a business in a field far from my métier as an arts, style, and culture writer.
It was about books. How could I resist? Books matter more than anything. Suddenly I found myself testing features, rewriting copy on the site (after all, our members are literary people, and conjunction errors are unacceptable!), setting up newsletters, training writers to interview authors, doing interviews myself, writing press releases, thinking about the story of Goodreads and the brand that I envisioned for us: a place that was not snobby and not about our own personal tastes, a safe place for all readers to express themselves, share, and get excited about books.
And we wouldn't have gotten here without the passion, joy, and energy of you, all our fellow readers. Some of my fondest memories are of interacting with members and hearing the stories of serendipity among like-minded readers: the couple who sent us pictures of their book-themed wedding in Oregon (they met on Goodreads); the woman who sent us a heartfelt letter telling us about how the friends she made on the site helped her get through cancer; the book club moderator who was surprised by an author ordering pizza for the group after seeing that they were reading her book on the site!
Things that get big are interesting and an accomplishment, but perhaps it's the editor in me that still cares about the details and the granular. Watching my daughter begin the voyage as a reader, I'm reminded that she is just one new little reader entering the tribe. And yet I can't help but feel she's embarking on her own personal Odyssey, her voyage into the wilderness to prove herself. Oh, what a journey it will be.
Fellow readers, what books have been part of your personal voyage? I would love to know.
See complete coverage of the Goodreads Ten-Year Anniversary Celebration, including:
Your Favorite Authors' Top Ten Favorite Books
Ten of Our Top Reviews of All Time
Ten Ways You Know You're a Goodreads Member
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