HarperCollins’ new website for readers, Book Army, is now open to all. Anyone can join and comment on the books that they’ve read, and add links between books. Working on the reasonable premise that someone who enjoyed reading Maggie O’Farrell might also like Sue Gee, it’s hoped that Book Army’s users will create an intricate network of links which they can then refer to in order to discover even more books to enjoy.
The problem is that there is no restriction on the links that can be made. Book Army isn’t restricted to HarperCollins books and lists anything with an ISBN: I quickly found Atlanta Nights by Travis Tea, and Crack of Death by Sharla Tann (which are respectively the worst book and the second-worst book ever written) and linked them to one another. But while those two books fit beautifully together, I could just as easily have linked them to a car repair manual, A Brief History Of Time, or to Pride And Prejudice. It is very simple to link entirely inappropriate books to one another: it probably won’t be too long before someone links the Satanic Verses to the Koran, because there don’t appear to be any controls in place.
That lack of control means that anyone can join the site and create links between any books at all. That might not sound too bad, but I don’t think it’s going to be long before links start to be made between highly-successful commercially-published books and some of the truly dreadful unedited ravings that have been self-published over the years. There’s nothing to stop people with grudges linking competent authors’ books to dreadful books: and if you don’t think that’s likely to happen, just think of the internet flame-wars which erupt out of nowhere every day.
At present there’s little new on offer here for readers, who can find more information and lots of dense book-to-book linking on Amazon. Which means that in the short term at least, Book Army’s main users are likely to be the less-successful writers, particularly those who are solely responsible for the promotion of their own books: the vanity-published and self-published writers. And while there are some excellent books in this category it has a larger share of dreadful books and a higher proportion of angry writers than you’ll find in any other publishing sector.
So: is Book Army a good idea or a bad one? Anything which encourages people to read more, and more widely, has to have at least some good points: but the lack of monitoring and control in Book Army’s system leads me to suspect that while the intentions behind it are good, it is unlikely to achieve that aim for some time yet.