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Zachary Parsons
Zachary Parsons

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Using the Goodreads API and 11ty to create an online bookshelf


Recently, after totally falling for Dave Rupert's YouTube thumbnail (on Twitter) experiment, I discovered his bookshelf which I really love!

As a reader (my day job is at a public library) I use Goodreads to keep track of which books I've finished and to give quick ratings to them. So, I thought that if Goodreads has a public API I could use this to practice getting and displaying data on my static, eleventy powered, site πŸ‘.

Getting Started

As I was planning for this to be a public page on my website (which is already a git project), I didn't need to create a new project directory or initialise/initialize it with git.

Instead, I created a new branch on git - by typing:

git checkout -b bookshelf

This command is shorthand and will both create and checkout the new branch (bookshelf is the name which I assigned to this branch). It is the same as the following two commands:

git branch bookshelf
git checkout bookshelf

This way I was ready to work on the new branch, and could commit and push changes without directly affecting my live site.

My site begins life as a JavaScript Node.js project, which uses npm as its package manager.


First, I found that Goodreads does have an API, so I checked the docs and found that I would probably need the reviews.list method. This method will "Get the books on a members shelf."

To do this I needed to get an API key from Goodreads too. As a member already all I needed to do was log in to the site and request a key.

Keeping the API Key Secret

I was also aware that it is best practice to keep API keys a secret in production code. This is so that they cannot be found and potentially abused - the Goodreads key is unlikely to be abused because the API is a free service, but it is still best to adhere to best practices and be in the correct habits.

One way to keep API keys a secret is to use a .env file which is configured to be ignored by Git. To do this I installed the dotenv package and placed my API key into the .env file in a key/value format:

// My .env file format:

To make sure the file is then ignored by Git, I included a reference to it in my .gitignore file as so:

// My .gitignore file format:

The intro to the dotenv package says:

Dotenv is a zero-dependency module that loads environment variables from a .env file into process.env.

This means that I could now access the GRKEY within my project by referring to process.env.GRKEY.

You do also have to require the module and call the .config() method in the file where you'll be accessing it, I think, as so:

const dotenv = require('dotenv');

Making a Request to the API

At this point I wanted to make a HTTP request to the API and confirm that it was returning the information I needed for the bookshelf. I have used the node-fetch package once before to make an HTTP request so I used it again in this instance. Essentially the package brings the functionality of the fetch Web API to Nodejs.

The static site generator I use, eleventy, has a great set up for working with data fetched from API calls just like this one. There is more information in the eleventy docs about handling data in an eleventy project.

From reading these docs I knew that I needed to create the file which will make the API call within the _data folder, and that I needed to use module.exports to make the data available to use in the rest of the site's files. I created my file: _data/bookshelf.js and made the API call, with a console.log to see the response. Like so:

module.exports = async function() {

    await fetch(`${id}&shelf=read&key=${key}`)
        .then(res => res.json())
        .then(result => { console.log(result) };


For the URL you can see that I've used a template literal and included three queries. The id query and a key query are dynamic values (they are declared above this module.exports function).

The id is my Goodreads id number, like a unique identifier for my Goodreads account - I got this from logging in to my Goodreads account, clicking on 'My Books' in the menu, and then checking the URL. For example my URL at this point looks like this:

So that last part is my Goodreads id.

The key is referring to my API key.

And the third query is shelf which I have set to read, because I only want to return books which I have already read and not those which are on my 'DNF' (Did Not Finish - the shame) or 'TBR' (To Be Read...) shelves.

Now, when I ran the eleventy build command in order to run the code and see the result, the result was not what I expected. There was a error in the log! I don't recall the exact error now, but I could see that it was the .json() call which I had made to parse the result as a json object which had caused the problem.

After consulting google, I found that the Goodreads API does not respond with json but instead with XML. At this point I also found Tara's post about using the Goodreads API to choose which book to read next, which I'm so glad I found because it really helped me! Tara's HTTP request was a little different from mine because she'd used the request-promise package.

After reading Tara's post I knew that the Goodreads API would be returning XML, and I also learned that I could use the xml2js package to convert the XML response to json! πŸŽ‰

After installing and including xml2js, I edited my bookshelf.js file:

module.exports = async function() {

    await fetch(`${id}&shelf=read&key=${key}`)
        .then(res => res.text())
        .then(body => {
            xml2js.parseString(body, function (err, res) {
                if (err) console.log(err);


When I ran the code again by running the eleventy build command I didn't see an error but a quite a complicated looking object instead! Perfect.

Accessing and Returning the Data

From there I could access the data, iterate over it with a for loop, assign those parts that I needed for the bookshelf to another object and then push that object onto an array which I would return.

By returning the array of objects I would make this data available to be used in my other project files.

After working out the structure of the data from a few more API calls and console.logs, my module.exports inside bookshelf.js ended up looking like this:

module.exports = async function() {

    let books = [];

    await fetch(`${id}&shelf=read&key=${key}`)
        .then(res => res.text())
        .then(body => {
            xml2js.parseString(body, function (err, res) {
                if (err) console.log(err);
                console.log('Getting Book List from GoodReads API');

                let bookList =[0].review;
                for (let i=0; i < bookList.length; i++) {

                        title: bookList[i].book[0].title[0],
                        author: bookList[i].book[0].authors[0].author[0].name[0],
                        isbn: bookList[i].book[0].isbn[0],
                        image_url: bookList[i].book[0].image_url[0],
                        small_image_url: bookList[i].book[0].image_url[0],
                        large_image_url: bookList[i].book[0].large_image_url[0],
                        link: bookList[i].book[0].link[0],
                        date_started: bookList[i].date_added[0],
                        date_finished: bookList[i].read_at[0],
                        rating: bookList[i].rating[0]
        }).catch(err => console.log(err));

    return books;

Looking at it again now I think I am error checking twice, which is probably not necessary πŸ€¦β€β™‚οΈ.

The result of that code is that I now have access to a global data array: books, which contains each book I have on my Goodreads 'Read' shelf as an object with title, author and other useful info. An example of the data I now had is below:

      title: 'Modern Web Development on the JAMstack',
      author: 'Mathias Biilmann',
      isbn: ,
      image_url: ,
      small_image_url: ,
      large_image_url: ,
      link: '',
      date_started: 'April 28 2020',
      date_finished: 'May 02 2020',
      rating: '5'
      // Another book
      // Another book

Tidying the Data

You may notice from that example that the entry 'Modern Web Development on the JAMstack' does not have an isbn or any images. Data is rarely perfect, no matter where you get it from, it is likely to have some missing items or anomalies.

In this example - that book is an online published book and so does not have an ISBN number. This also means that, although Goodreads use an image of the cover on their website, for some reason they are unable to provide that image via their API.

This was the case with about 3 or 4 of the ~20 books in my data. Some had ISBN's but no images.

I looked in to other APIs for book covers which are available and found a few:

I have a sneaking suspicion Amazon may be the best bet for image quality. However, to keep the project simple, and because it resonated with me more, I attempted to use the Library Thing API but it didn't seem to work 😭.

At this point I wanted to get the bookshelf up and running, so instead of configure a new API, I decided to instead host any book cover images that weren't returned automatically by the Goodreads API on my own website. This would work for me because the site will only update when I've finished a book and added it to that shelf (so I can always double check an image has come through and then add one if not).

In order to add those images that hadn't come through I needed to decide on a naming convention that could be referred to easily. I decided that I would name my images in 'spinal-case'. To be able to refer to them I would need to add one final item - the title in spinal-case - to the object that I was creating with each API call.

For example, to be able to refer to the image saved for 'Modern Web Development on the JAMstack', I would need the object to include a field called 'spinal_title' which contained the value: 'modern-web-development-on-the-jamstack'. To do this I added the following function to bookshelf.js:

function spinalCase(str) {
    str = str.replace(/:/g,'');
    return str

This function also removes any colons (':').

Then in the object within the API call itself I could also add the following field:

  spinal_title: spinalCase(bookList[i].book[0].title[0]),

This references the book title but calls the spinalCase() function so that the title is returned in spinal case.

For this personal project this approach works, but I think another solution would need to be found depending on the project. For example in the above case my spinalCase() function actually returns ...on-the-j-a-mstack, so I actually had to rename the file to match it properly.

Displaying the Data on the Site

I won't go in to too much detail about how the templating system works. There's a great css-tricks post about nunjucks, which is the templating language I am using here. Eleventy (can't fault it!) is also a great static site generator because you can use any templating language with it, as mentioned, I use nunjucks.

The following code references the data returned from bookshelf.js as the array bookshelf, and iterates through it displaying each item as specified in the template. To do that I use the nunjucks for i in item loop, in my case {% for book in bookshelf %} - that way I can refer to each object as book.

<div class="wrapper">
    <ul class="auto-grid">
    {% for book in bookshelf %}
            <div class="book">
                {% if '/nophoto/' in book.image_url %}
                    <img class="book-cover" src="/images/book-covers/{{ book.spinal_title }}.jpg" alt={{book.title}}>
                {% else %}
                    <img class="book-cover" src={{book.image_url}} alt={{book.title}}>
                {% endif %}
                <p class="font-serif text-300 gap-top-300 low-line-height">{{book.title}}</h2>
                <p class="text-300">{{}}</p>
                <p class="text-300">
                    {% for i in range(0, book.rating) %}
                    {% endfor %}
                <p class="text-300 gap-bottom-base"><a href={{}}>On Goodreads↗ </a></p>
    {% endfor %}

As you can see it is a lot like HTML, but with the power to use logic and reference data. That logic and data is processed at build time and the resulting HTML page is used to build the site.

One interesting part is how I rendered the star rating. Nunjucks is super powerful, you can use lots of different techniques with it. In this case I use the range function.

{% for i in range(0, 5) -%}
  {{ i }},
{%- endfor %}

// 12345

// In my own case, where book.rating == 4:
{% for i in range(0, book.rating) %}
{% endfor %}

// ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Merging Branch and Pushing to Live Site

In order to complete this project I needed to merge the branch bookshelf with the master branch in git. I did this via the GitHub website.

After running my final commit and push in the terminal, I went to the project on GitHub where I created a Pull Request to be able to merge the two branches.

One Last Thing to Do

Before doing this there was one other thing I had to do though. My site is built and hosted by Netlify. If you recall that I was keeping the API key secret, and so git was ignoring it, you might also see that when the site files merge and Netlify tries to build the site, it would not have access to the API key.

Luckily Netlify provides a way to add environment variables right in their dashboard. So I was able to add the API key here, where it will stay a secret but will be accessible during the build of the site.

The Finished Product and Next Steps

You can view the result on the bookshelf page on my personal website. I would love to hear what you think?

As with all projects I think that this can be improved upon and I will likely look for ways to update it soon, or if I receive any feedback from people who see it.

One idea that comes to mind is to configure the site to rebuild each time I add a book to my 'Read' shelf on Goodreads without my own input. To do this I'd likely need to add a build hook in Netlify.


This has ended up being a longer post than I envisioned, but I guess quite a lot of work goes into getting data from an API and using it or displaying it elsewhere. Thank you if you have read the whole thing! Let me know what you think?

I decided to do this project to learn more about API calls and displaying data, and I think I've achieved that goal. As usual with webdev there is always more to learn!

Top comments (11)

jackreid profile image

This is great! I did something very similar with Goodreads on my own site, (write-up here).

Yours has a way better level of polish, nice. Nice to know the impulse to get that stuff out of Goodreads and into my own home site isn’t mine alone.

zgparsons profile image
Zachary Parsons

Thank you! Yours is so cool! Really enjoyed reading about how it works, and love that you have a record of books (both read and tbr - you read a lot!), but also films and articles too.

I need to learn more about servers like digital ocean and docker etc. Maybe creating a personal API like yours is the way to do that!


jackreid profile image

Yeah I've definitely learned a lot by constantly tinkering with this system.

muhimen123 profile image

I am pretty surprised! I made a movie recommender just like you(though yours is a book) using TMDb API.

zgparsons profile image
Zachary Parsons

Ah, that's a great idea too! Is the code available on GitHub? I'd love to have a look?

muhimen123 profile image
Thread Thread
zgparsons profile image
Zachary Parsons

πŸ‘ Thanks! I'll take a look!

chaching profile image

great wite-up zachary. thanks for taking the time to do so. the book images aren't showing up for me and i'm guessing they should be? (i tested mobile and dektop on brave and safari)

zgparsons profile image
Zachary Parsons

Thank you! And thanks for taking the time to read it!

Ah - since writing this post I have made a few changes to my live site's bookshelf. I think I was having trouble finding a reliable book covers image API and also thought only titles and my reviews might look a bit cleaner. I may bring the images back again at some point!

Thanks again!

alokjoshi profile image

Like your way of story telling

zgparsons profile image
Zachary Parsons

Thanks v much, glad you liked it!