In itself, reading is a quiet, solitary activity that’s best for rainy afternoons spent in an oversize chair. But the ideas and experiences that an author shares can unite people throughout history and all over the world. I recently checked out Copia, a site that connects your favorite books, your friends and your eReading devices to create a more social reading experience.

The first order of business was to create a  library of books I’ve read, am currently reading, or want to read.  I found it difficult to find many of the books I wanted to see just by typing in a title or ISBN in the search bar, but there were genre categories that opened up into subcategories like “funny ladies” or “wit and wisdom” that were fun to browse through.

Once I added all my books, I could rate them using a 5-star system and add a review. Reviews from other users are visible, and there’s also a recommendation engine that populates a list of similar titles. I saw other works from the same author and other books within the same genre.

The books can also be sorted by community rating, tags from users or publishers, notations, popularity and price.  If you see something you’d like to read, there are over a million digital, paperback and hardcover books for purchase, including textbooks, and the prices looked reasonable.

It’s pretty hard to compete with Amazon and Barnes & Noble in the online sales department, but the discovery process is something that a social app could improve.

Amazon has ventured into social media with a book curating tool on LinkedIn, but their app is not integrated with the reading material itself. I was pleased to see that Copia’s reading app worked on a number of devices, which is pretty important for a social app. Right now Copia can be downloaded for Mac and PC desktops; iPad and Windows 7 touch tablets; and iPhone and Android smartphones. Basically, it works for devices that accept the ePub format. Unfortunately, that meant I couldn’t use the app on my Kindle.

But I did get a quick demo on an iPad at the Digital Book World Conference earlier this week. The reading experience is more like joining a book club or a doing a reading assignment for class.    With a swipe of my finger I could highlight a portion of the text, type a note and see what other people had written about it.

Copia connects with Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn so that you can find your friends and join discussion groups.  It’s also possible to find friends and create a a group just using their email addresses.  There are also public groups based on mutual interests, like paranormal romance novels or “books for geeks.”  These groups encouraged others to get a copy of the same book and discuss.

In a classroom situation, students could use their required reading lists to organize their notes and study for tests.  I’m a pretty good note-taker. When I was in college, I had a couple of piano prodigies in my class who were studying abroad and were still learning to speak English.  They had a hard time keeping up with the professor, so I would let them photocopy my lecture notes. It was challenging writing the notes in a way that made sense to them, as opposed to personal notes to myself.  When I thought about using Copia for the purpose of marking up a book that I was reading for class, it seemed like these kinds of notes might be slightly irritating on the days I didn’t feel like explaining my shorthand to my classmates.  Then again, they would have been helpful on days that I was absent, or for factoring into my participation grade.

Now that I’m on permanent summer vacation (not really), I don’t have to worry about required reading or copious note-taking. All I’m looking for is the next great-ish American novel to take with me on the train.  I can’t wait to see what my Copia friends recommend.