Goodreads is a popular social media platform for the reading community. It is an easy way to keep track of the books you have read and gives you the ability to rate and review those books in order to share your thoughts with your fellow book-loving friends. I, for one, love Goodreads and use it on a daily basis. For a long time, it got me to read more and express my own opinions on books without having to constantly bang them into the heads of my friends and family members who might read a book or two a year. I love being able to talk with other readers who’ve read and liked the same books I have. I’ve met a few of my really good friends because of Goodreads and I love it’s ability to connect readers from all over the world. That’s really the beauty of all social media platforms, they connect people.
However, not everything that seems beautiful is. Goodreads might make things a lot easier on bookworms with it’s rating system, it’s reviews, and it’s ability to connect readers, but with all that, it’s also changed our relationship with books, reading, and the reading community. I would argue that Goodreads has had more of a negative impact on that relationship than the positive one it seems to have when you first start using it. The five-star rating system makes it harder to choose the books you really want to read, especially is they are rated lower on the scale. Reviews also take away our choice in deciding if a book is worth giving a shot if the more popular reviewers on Goodreads put up a negative review. Basically, all these things take away our ability to form our own opinions on subjects. I would also like to argue that Goodreads makes reading for readers more stressful, therefore, taking the enjoyment out of something that bookworms used to love to do!
I first want to start out by talking more in depth about the good that Goodreads does for the reading community and my own personal attachment to it. I technically started my Goodreads account back in May of 2013 so it’ll be four years this month, but I only started to really use it in 2015. Once I started though, I jumped in full force. I joined communities, made shelves, added friends. I still do all these things because it’s fun! I get to socialize with people who have read and liked the same books I have. I get to create lists of my favorite books to share with other readers and the shelves I can make are unique and my own. I have one for dragons, my favorite mythological creature and another for books about Korea, my favorite culture to study. Goodreads allows me to organize these so I remember which books I want to read, which I don’t, which I’ve already read and the rating I have given them. Goodreads in a lot of ways makes the reading/bookworm experience a lot easier in terms of organization and communication.
If you had a hard time answering the poll, it might be because you’re subconsciously making these choices and you think they are your own until you are forced to put it in perspective. Trust me, I was this same way. Like I said before, I made a lot of reading buddies on Goodreads and I trust their opinions on books because we usually have the same ones, but sometimes that trusts goes a little too far. I created a shelf titled, “Books I’ll Never Read” and although, most of the books listed are books that I have actually started and disliked or I read it’s predecessor and disliked that one, I have to admit that a few are on there solely because of one of my friends reviews. One. Out of all the friends I have who might like it, I let this one friend dictate whether or not I would too.
Yesha Naik wrote an article titled, “Finding Good Reads on Goodreads” where she did a survey to see how many people would say they would read a book based on a review. Naik says this: “It follows that those who seem to know and trust the reviewer or other commenters are more likely to be swayed into stating that they will read the book. In fact most of the people who say that they would read the book as a result of the review seem to be at least slightly acquainted with the reviewer, even if only online” (Trott 321). This is so accurate to my own personal experience with Goodreads and I’m glad to know that I’m not the only one who will put so much trust in someone I barely know, someone I had only ever talked to through messages.
You might would say that I didn’t have to let that happen, but again, I didn’t know I had done it until I took a step back and asked myself if these opinions I have on this book are mine or my friend’s? Should I let them choose the books I want to read? For a while I thought, “yes… after all these are my friends and we have the same tastes in books… why not trust them?” And I’m still right about the trusting part. Reading communities should trust each other when asking for book recommendations. See, I wouldn’t recommend a book about cooking meat to someone who is a vegetarian and I wouldn’t want someone to recommend me a zombie book knowing I’m an advent zombie-hater. I would trust my reading friends on things like that, but I shouldn’t rely on their opinions. I should decide for myself and Goodreads makes that hard to do because I’m constantly being updated on reviews from my friends.
On the opposite side of this, Goodreads and the reading community in general makes me feel pressured into liking certain books. The most popular example that I have is Harry Potter by J.K Rowling. My mother wouldn’t allow me to read this series back when it was being released, so I’m new to the whole Potterverse. I read the first book in 2016 and just have not felt inclined to read the rest. I thought it was… okay? It didn’t sweep me off my feet while I was reading it and it didn’t leave a lingering desire to reemerge myself as soon as I closed it. However, for my review on Goodreads, I wrote: “I’m amazed at how one person could write a book that is so amazing that no matter how old you are when you first read it, you can still fall in love with it.” I LIED and only because I was expected to like it! Because literally. Everyone. Does. The crazy thing is that I didn’t even know I had lied until after the reading it, after posting a review of it on this blog, when I really thought about the book and what I actually liked about it (which wasn’t much to be honest). I fooled myself into thinking I liked this book because I was supposed to. You can’t be a bookworm without Harry Potter on your favorite series list, right?
The first two examples I gave of how Goodreads is affecting us negatively were mostly based on the community and not the actual site. Now, I want to discuss how Goodreads, the site, has changed our relationship with reading.
Goodreads features books called sponsored books from publishing companies that pay Goodreads to promote them. Most of the time, these books overshadow the other books on the site which leads to readers only reading the sponsored books. This is also the reader’s fault in a way because we could go look for them, but why should we? These sponsored books are usually based on what we have previously rated five stars, so we should be able to trust them and not have to look any further. I think that’s a little unfair to the books that are rated low, due to lack of readers, that aren’t sponsored by publishers. A solution to help underrated books on Goodreads would be the site having lists of several different recommendations that pop up once you’ve finished a read. Have some of them be the sponsored books (I recognize that the site has to be making money someway and since it’s free to join, sponsored books is a way) mixed with some that do not normally get the same kind of attention.
Goodreads provides a way to let readers express, positive or negative, opinions on books which is great! However, I have witnessed what the reviewing system could do to a young author’s career. Back in January of 2017, Keira Drake’s The Continent received a really bad review from someone who managed to get an advanced reader’s copy of the book. I will not go into whether or not I agree with the review because that’s not the point of mentioning it. Keira Drake forever has that review and the one’s following it from people who haven’t read the book on her writing resume. One bad review could easily break down the career of a debut author. The same thing happened with The Black Witch by Laurie Forest. This should be taken into account with the reviewing system. I’m all for calling author’s out on some of the more problematic parts of the books and Goodreads is a good way of getting the point across, but the way some of the reviews are handled, they could really hurt some careers. A stricter policy should be set into place for this.
Here is a quick survey: http://emmathebookling.polldaddy.com/s/how-many-books-a-year-do-you-read
Lastly, I want to talk about the Goodread’s reading challenge. This challenge is year long and you get to set the goal. In 2016, I had set it to 100 books for the year and because I was FAR from reaching that goal last year, I lowered it to fifty for the year 2017. This challenge could be really fun, but it could also be really stressful. So many of Goodreads users set almost impossible goals for themselves because it looks good to their friends on the site who have set similar goals. Despite popular belief, readers also live just as busy lives as non-readers. We simply cannot read as much as we want sometimes. I don’t really have the time to read fifty books this year, but I have to because that’s the goal I set and I can’t just change it. The goal turns reading for fun into reading for work. You start to care more about the quantity of books you’re reading instead of the quality of them.
LovingDemBooks talks about the issues with the reading challenge more in-depth in her youtube VIDEO.
I love Goodreads and I love what it has done for the reading community in terms of organization and communication, but it also had a lot of negative impacts on the community. We have to think of Goodreads as a remediation of the book clubs from before and both share the same problems; however, Goodreads is much more on a global scale and holds much more power than a one-stop-sign-town’s book club. I didn’t write this to convince you to stop using Goodreads (I’m going to still use it), but I did this to bring to light some of the negative aspect of it and a suggest a few ways we, as the online reading community, can fix it.
J.K. Rowling, Mary GrandPré (Illustrator), Jim Kay (illustrator), and Emma. “Emma’s Review of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.” Goodreads. N.p., n.d. Web. 09 May 2017. <https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/1730105762?book_show_action=false&from_review_page=1>.
Trott, Barry, and Yesha Naik. “Finding Good Reads on Goodreads.” Reference & User Services Quarterly. N.p., n.d. Web. 09 May 2017 <https://journals.ala.org/index.php/rusq/article/view/3896/4346>.