Caught in Shelfari’s Sticky Web: No More Friends, Please!

If you’re reading this, you’ve probably received my recent personal invitation to join In fact, even if you’re not reading this, you’ve probably received my recent personal invitation to join

So: Welcome!

Shelfari is one of those new social-networking sites that have sprouted like mushrooms at the base of the giant Facebook tree. It calls itself a “free site that lets you share book ratings and reviews with friends and meet people who have similar tastes in books.”

Cool, right?

I got a nice-looking invitation from my friend last week, and then an auto-reminder a couple of days later. I registered on Thursday night.

Rather than reply individually to the hundreds of e-mails I have received, and continue to receive, since I signed up—a process during which I accidentally failed to uncheck the approximately 1,500 names in my Gmail address book that Shelfari had helpfully pre-checked for me, thereby inviting to join Shelfari, under my name (and ostensibly from my e-mail account), every single person with whom I have exchanged an e-mail in the past three years, in addition to every single person who has ever been on the same cc list as I have, regardless of whether we have ever met, in addition to every single listserv I have ever joined and every single Web site from which I have ever ordered anything (Amazon, Circuit City, and Law Students Against the Death Penalty have all, sadly, declined my invitation)—I thought I would write to you all here instead.

Why not simply respond through the convenient new forum of That’s what it’s there for, after all. The answer is that I am pretty peeved at Shelfari right now. It is true that a small number of the 1,500 or so people in my Gmail address book are people I e-mail regularly—my parents, say, or my friend Matt in Denver—and it is even possible that I’d consider sharing the contents of my bookshelf with them. But many other people in my address book I have not spoken to in a long time. Some of these people I have not spoken to for very specific reasons, such as, for instance, the woman who broke my heart in 2002 after she swore up and down that she was in love with me, and then married some tweedy environmental lawyer and moved to Park Slope, or the old deaf landlord on East Fourth Street with whom I had a flame war over an unreturned security deposit, which he had no right to keep in the first place because the window casing was a piece of crap and would have broken anyway.

I would not voluntarily write to these people for any reason, let alone to ask what they’re reading. But now, through the magic of default check boxes, I have reconnected with them, and many, many others. In fact, I will probably have made several more book-loving friends before you get to the end of this article.

But wait! This is all my fault, you say? Just uncheck the boxes, you say, like any semiliterate 14-year-old? Just go back to West Palm Beach, you say, and vote for Pat Buchanan all over again? Perhaps you are right. Still, I can’t help feeling duped. And so I write here instead, my small act of resistance against the neo-imperialism of gratuitous, spam-generating social-networking sites that keep you so busy socially networking that you don’t have time to do the things that make you an interesting person. Such as, well, read.

But who cares? Not Shelfari! I’m making new Shelfari friends by the minute—friends such as Yvonne, who just now wrote, “hi jesse, when did we meet?” Well, Yvonne, my Gmail address book tells me that you work for a well-known real-estate brokerage, so we probably met a couple years ago when I was looking for an apartment.

Like everyone else, of course, Yvonne wants to know what I’m reading. So, I will tell her, and you: I’m reading Anna Karenina. Have you seen this book? It is enormous. It takes up three-quarters of my bedside table. I can’t even see my alarm clock.

And, no offense, Yvonne, but I really do not care to know what you are reading right now. I’m only telling you what I’m reading because you asked. You asked because I invited you to be my Shelfari friend. But it was an accident. I have plenty of friends! So many, in fact, that I’ve been on page 72 of Anna Karenina since Labor Day.

But enough. This was my bad, and I want to apologize for it. So, in lieu of sending out another e-mail to my entire address book, I’d like to take this space to say I am sorry. I’m sorry to everyone for my inadvertent invitation—especially that sweet girl from Wisconsin who asked me never, ever to e-mail her again. Caught in Shelfari’s Sticky Web: No More Friends, Please!