Sometimes I have clever titles, and sometimes I don’t. As the title says, this is about the various bookish apps that I use. Why? Because while some of them (Goodreads) are very well known, others (Hoopla) aren’t as well known and some readers might want to look them up and see if they can get access to it.
Some of these apps are primarily meant for tracking what you’re reading or what you want to read, while others provide free or inexpensive access to a wide variety of books, while others are linked to bookstores that let you buy and download books to read.
Note that I live in the United States, and that all of these apps may not be available to users in other parts of the world.
This is the one everyone has heard about. It was one of the original reading apps that came out when apps were a cool new thing that people were just getting into back when iPhones were a curiosity. It was purchased by Amazon in 2013, and has been the largest bookish app on the market. Goodreads allows you to keep track of what you’re reading, both with just marking books as “currently reading” and keeping track of your progress as you go. You can also use virtual shelves to denote what you want to read, what you own, and just about any other label you can dream up. It has both a desktop and a mobile version, so you can use it at home or on the go.
There is a social element, too, as you can create bookclubs, follow other readers and authors, send people messages, “like” their updates, and comment on those updates. The drawback to those comments is that you can’t reply directly to a single comment, which makes it difficult to carry on a conversation within the app. You can fine tune the settings if you don’t want strangers to comment on your updates or send you messages.
The benefit of Goodreads is that it’s popular, easy to use, can be connected to your Amazon account, and it has just about every book you can think of already in its database.
The drawback to Goodreads is that its user interface hasn’t been updated in ages, it often crashes, and there is very little support for users who are having problems.
I’ve been on Goodreads since 2012. I used to be pretty enthusiastic about it, would update my reading status on it all the time, enter giveaways, and see what the people I followed were reading and what they thought about the books they’d read. I still do that, but I don’t use it as often as I once did. It’s slow to load, its recommendations are terrible (when I look at my fantasy recommendations are, it constantly recommends George R.R. Martin’s A Game of Thrones, but in German), and it often crashes (on both the app and desktop versions). I’m also not thrilled by the fact that people who haven’t marked a book as “Read” can rate or review a book, as this leads to people giving a book 1-star or 5-star reviews based on whether or not they like the author or if they’ve heard that the book is “problematic”. Really, the only reason I still use Goodreads is because my NetGalley account is linked to it, and so my reviews go directly to Goodreads. I’ve turned off messaging and commenting for random users, so only the people I’ve marked as Friends can message me. I’m not interested in the social aspects of Goodreads, because its setup is not geared toward conversations the way that something like this blog or Instagram is.
The StoryGraph is a fast-growing app dedicated to keeping track of what you are reading and what you want to read. It also provides a wealth of statistics about what you’ve already read- for example, it will show you what genres you’ve read, the proportions of fast- medium- and slow-paced books, and how much is nonfiction versus fiction, as well as including a line graph of the number of books and pages you’ve read each month of the year. If you’ve read a book you can review it and include things like pacing, the book’s mood, if it was character-driven, if the characters were lovable or flawed, as well as a star-rating (which allows you to break things down to quarter-stars), and much more. It has a clean and straightforward design, is easy to use, and its recommendations are far more accurate (and when you first build your account, you can fine tune your recommendation settings). You can also set reading challenges for yourself or join other people’s public challenges.
Another benefit of The StoryGraph is its support system. If you’re having a problem or just have a question about using it, you can send them an email and a real, live person will get back to you in short order. The last time I emailed them about a function of the desktop site, I had an answer in a matter of hours. They’re also constantly adding and adjusting features to make the site better, and they’re constantly accepting suggestions from users as to how to improve things. There are about 250,000 users now, so the community is much smaller than Goodreads, but I think that makes it more nimble when there’s a problem. If you want to switch over to StoryGraph from Goodreads, they’ve included a handy set of instructions that tells you how to download your Goodreads data and import it to StoryGraph. When I did that last fall, it took less than fifteen minutes (although my 2020 reading statistics weren’t quite correct, as StoryGraph admittedly has some difficulty initially accounting for books that you’ve read multiple times).
For me, The StoryGraph basically has no flaws though there are a couple of things that others might be frustrated by. StoryGraph’s founder did not want to make yet another social media app, and so StoryGraph does not allow you to see who is following you or even show you how many people are following you. It also doesn’t have a messaging system, or allow other users to comment on your updates or reviews. At most, someone can “like” your update. I’m fine with this, as I didn’t join StoryGraph for the social aspects. I wanted a straightforward book tracking app that wasn’t trying to either sell me something or collect my data for its own purposes. I get that with StoryGraph.
Another drawback for StoryGraph is that, because it’s not linked to an Amazon account (and so not linked to the Kindle app) is that your Kindle highlights and notations don’t automatically sync to your StoryGraph reading journal. This is not a problem for me as I barely use the Kindle app, and I use its highlighting function even less.
The StoryGraph is an appealing app for readers who want a basic app that helps them track their reading statistics, get recommendations, and give them access to a virtual TBR shelf so they don’t forget what books they’ve marked as “To Be Read”. It’s available for free for desktop and mobile devices, though there is a paid tier (I got in as an Early Bird at the end of 2020, and I think I paid about $25USD for a yearly membership). I’ve thoroughly enjoyed using it, and I look forward to seeing how they improve it in the future.
Libby is a free mobile app that links to your local library and gives you access to their collection of ebooks and audiobooks (assuming you have a library card). You can make TBR lists, place books on hold, sample books you’re not sure about, and download books you’ve checked out so you can listen or read without a wifi or data connection. My library allows users to have up to ten titles checked out at a single time, and have holds on many, many more. It also provides an estimate as to how long it might take for a title on hold to come available for you. And once a book’s due date comes around, it will automatically return itself- no pesky emails reminding you to take your books back or risk of fines!
If you listen to a lot of audiobooks (as I do) you can adjust the playback speed, so if you prefer to listen at, say, 1.75x speed, you can set it for that.
My one gripe with Libby is that the search feature isn’t the best. I can search for an author or title just fine, but if I just want to browse a certain part of the collection (like nonfiction audiobooks about science), the filtering options are a little difficult to find and then navigate. But this is due to an update that’s adjusted the app’s layout, and I’m sure I’ll get used to it soon enough.
Once I’ve checked out a book, I can choose if I want to read it on the Kindle app or in Libby. I always choose Libby. The app shows you what percentage of the book you’ve read, allows you to make bookmarks if you want to flip back to a certain passage, and will ask if you want to renew a book if you haven’t finished it before the due date comes along (assuming someone else doesn’t have it on hold).
There aren’t a lot of frills to Libby, but it doesn’t need them. It’s easy to keep track of what you’re reading and what you have on hold, and that’s all it really needs to do.
Hoopla is another library-based app that allows you to download, for free, a wide variety of books, audiobooks, comics, movies, television shows, and music. My access is through my local library system, so I don’t know if you can access it if your library isn’t linked to it. The number of titles you can access per month varies based on the library’s membership (I have access to four things per month), so if you tear through things like I can, you risk running out of borrows before you run out of month. Hoopla often doesn’t have super popular new releases, so if you look for the latest release from your favorite author, it might not be there. But if you’re looking for an author’s backlist or classic novels, then Hoopla is a treasure trove. For example, I’ve been using it to listen to the Chronicles of Brother Cadfael audiobooks, as it has the entire series available and listed in order.
My one problem with Hoopla is that it’s search function is pretty basic. You can search for an author or title, and while that will come up if it’s available, you could also get a thousand other things that have little or nothing to do with the thing you were searching for. The playback setup is not as smooth as Libby’s, but it works just fine and after a recent update provided a progress display my gripe with that mostly went away.
An advantage of Hoopla over Libby is that you don’t have to wait for other users to return a title before you can access it. If there’s a book you want to read and Hoopla has it, you can download it right away.
Hoopla often has a lot of the audiobooks I want to listen to that my library doesn’t have, so it’s been a great resource for audiobooks I wouldn’t really have access to otherwise, as I refuse to get an Audible account (yes, I’m aware that there are other paid audiobook apps out there, but the ones I’ve looked into only seem to provide one or two books each month, and I can blow through that in a week).
Overall, I’ve enjoyed using Hoopla, though it’s not the most sophisticated app out there. But given that it’s a free resource for me, I really can’t complain.
Barnes and Noble’s Nook App
I don’t buy very many ebooks. I tend to forget that I have them, and I prefer to have a physical book to hold in my hand. But sometimes there’s a book in a series that I love, and that book is initially only available as an ebook. So I’ll open up my Nook app, buy the book, and read it there.
As I don’t buy many ebooks, I don’t do very much with the Nook app aside from search for the title of the particular book that I want. It usually comes right up, so I don’t have to go any farther. I’m sure there are plenty of browsing options, but I’ve never really used them.
My user experience with the Nook app has been along the lines of “just fine”. It doesn’t crash when I’m in the middle of a book, it keeps track of where I am, and it automatically organizes my books based on the series they’re part of.
One major drawback is that Barnes and Noble doesn’t have access to a lot of self-published work, as most self-published authors seem to go through Amazon’s publishing and sales service, and they obviously don’t want to share.
But if you’re looking for a non-Amazon app to purchase and read ebooks, the Barnes and Noble app is just fine.
Amazon’s Kindle App
Yes, I do have the Kindle App. No, I do not have a Kindle. I have an inexpensive e-reader I bought at Barnes and Noble, and I downloaded the Kindle app through the Play store. I use it almost exclusively to read the ARCs I get through NetGalley, as they didn’t have their own app until recently, and sometimes I get stuck in my ways. I’ve purchased a few ebooks via Kindle because I either couldn’t get them anywhere else, or because (in the case of exactly one book that I still haven’t read) there was a great deal on a title I was somewhat interested in. But it’s mostly for reading ARCs.
I have few complaints with the app, except that it’s sometimes slow to load on my devices, and its recommendations are terrible (not that I’m there for recommendations, but one can only see A Court of Thorns and Roses or From Blood and Ash recommended so many times before one’s eyes threaten to roll out of one’s head). I’m on the fence as to whether or not I like the feature that estimates how much longer it will take you to read the book (it’s usually wrong), but I appreciate the progress display and that the highlighting feature is easy to use (though I don’t use it very often anymore).
I can’t comment on the Kindle Store’s browsing or search features because I don’t use them.
LibraryThing is a free app you can use on a desktop or mobile device. It’s primarily meant to help you keep track of your book collection, though it has plenty of community features and bookclubs should you want to use them. I don’t, as I mostly use it to keep track of and categorize the books I own, and keep tabs on the unread books on my physical TBR pile (yes, I now have an actual shelf dedicated to that, too, but not all of my unread books fit on it).
Once you create a LibraryThing account, the app has a scanner that lets you scan a book’s bar code, and then it will automatically search for the book using the ISBN and then allow you to add it to whatever category you want. When I first did it, I spent an entire evening scanning my then-350-book collection and then a few more hours across the next week getting everything sorted the way I wanted it. Now when I get a new book, I just scan it and add it to the “To Read” shelf (both physically and digitally). It’s quick now that I have everything set up the way I want it.
I haven’t used half of LibraryThing’s features, as the monthly newsletter shows me every time it shows up in my inbox. It’s not really a social app in the way of Goodreads, but it does have community capabilities if you’re looking for bookclubs or discussion boards about bookish topics. But I just use it for its collection-tracking features.
My major gripe with LibraryThing is that it sometimes doesn’t add the cover image when I add a book to my collection, or it will initially find the cover image, and then inexplicably lose it. Yes, I can take a photo of the book cover with my phone’s camera and add that, but it’s not as good. It’s a minor thing overall (but annoying when I scroll through a category and am confronted with a dozen blank covers and no way to tell which book they are unless I click on it), and aside from the length of time it took to get everything set up, it’s fairly quick and easy to use. I like having a record of my book collection at my fingertips, and should anything terrible happen to my apartment, I’ll have a handy record for insurance purposes.
So that’s the list of bookish apps that I use and what I think of each of them. My favorite apps to use are StoryGraph and Libby, but I’ve had good experiences with all of them (or else I wouldn’t use them). I know there are plenty of other bookish apps out there, but I don’t need a whole set of reading trackers or ebook reading apps. I’m happy with what I have, and adding another app would just clutter up my reading life that much more.
That being said, which apps do you like to use? Is there some great thing out there in the bookish world that these apps don’t do that I should try out?