I downloaded Goodreads the other night because I thought it would help me keep track of what I’m reading and what I want to read. It’s been three years since I last used Goodreads, and for good reason.
I first started using Goodreads because it touted itself as a place for book lovers to come together and gush about how much they love books. At first, it seemed like a good place to trust for what’s good, what’s bad, what’s beloved trash, and what’s hated but critically acclaimed. I knew how to gauge the reviews on Goodreads, to know what I would like based on what other people say. I forgot why I stopped using Goodreads, but I think it had something to do with acquiring Netflix.
In any case, skip ahead a couple of years, during which I hear off-hand comments from the people I follow in the book community on other social media (mostly Twitter) about Goodreads. It’s not very pleasant. Goodreads was a place you visit when you want to read bad reviews of something. My impression at that point was that Goodreads was a place where people pretended they knew what they were talking about when they reviewed books.
Which is super pretentious of me to say, I admit. Goodreads remains one of the main places for avid readers such as myself to write off-hand reviews about things we read. It’s a good place to keep track of what you read, when you read it, and what you want to read in the future. You can even set goals for yourself and track your progress. I assume you’ll get rewards for accomplishing so many of your goals or challenges. So I thought maybe I should return to it and see what’s happening in the realm of Goodreads.
I downloaded it for my phone because I get dizzy if I browse social media on a laptop now. I uninstalled it for two reasons: the reviews and the user interface.
Let’s start with the user interface. I had 30 unread messages with an annoying red banner at the top of the screen. But when I went to delete these messages from bygone forum updates of yore, I found there was not a way to mass-delete them. Instead of checking a bunch of boxes and saying bye-bye to a bunch at once, I had to open each message individually and delete it from there. I could be halfway through The Name of the Wind in the time it would take me to delete them all. So now I have 15 unread messages and a groan at the bottom of my throat.
Next was fixing up my profile because, let’s face it, I’m not keeping something I wrote three years ago. The wit was probably outdated and I wasn’t a fan of the profile picture. But there wasn’t a way to edit my profile, at least one that I saw. So I didn’t do it altogether.
I later went and fixed everything on the laptop version, which was much easier to navigate. As a person who primarily uses her phone for social media, the poor user interface was a major turn off. I doubt I would use Goodreads a lot because of it. The most upsetting part of that is I’m looking for a way to bring my To-Be-Read list with me whenever I spontaneously visit the library. A way to store it on my phone would be ideal.
The thing that really got to me regarding Goodreads though were the reviews. Specifically, I went to look up the sequels to The Unincorporated Man which was a book I enjoyed. What I found was a book that had decent ratings (4-stars on average) but poor reviews from the people who said anything about it. Most of the reviews mentioned how flat the characters were and how the world wouldn’t work in real life and it was a super libertarian book. It is a libertarian book, but how is that the end of the world of literature? More importantly, if it was so highly rated, why were the only reviews I saw negative?
In the end, though I got what I came for and decided Goodreads was probably not for me.
Still, I couldn’t help but doubt my opinions. Are my personal tastes off because my experience with reading The Unincorporated Man differed from the people who reviewed it? Am I not a good reviewer? What does it mean that my opinions were different from others’?
And then I realized that my opinions are meant to be MY opinions, not a collective collage of the thoughts of others. It doesn’t matter what a bunch of strangers on the internet say about a book that I ultimately enjoyed; all that matters to me are my own thoughts and expressing them in a clear and concise manner to my readers.
That’s what a good review should be. Your thoughts, your impressions, and your reading experience in no more than a couple paragraphs. If you want a rating system, go ahead and use a rating system. If you don’t want to use a rating system, then don’t. Most of my favorite review sites don’t use a numerical rating but a description of the reading experience and how the contents of the book affected the reviewer. I think of NPR, Kirkus, and Publishers’ Weekly.
What did I think about The Unincorporated Man? You’ll find out in the next (non-Stargate-SG-1-related) post.