I hate Goodreads – the literary social network that, on the surface, is dedicated to connecting readers with books but, in reality, is just a marketing/clickbait/username farm for Amazon (which wholly owns the site). Not that there’s anything wrong with Amazon ruling our lives! But that’s a conversation for another post. Today, I want to bitch about the Goodreads community.
When Amazon plucked up Goodreads for 200 million bucks or so in 2013, my distributor told me that it would be a good idea if I extended my publishing company’s social media network to include a Goodreads presence. I did so, wading into that strange world of alleged booklovers. Many other publishers did so as well. We were all told that there would be a slow, insidious merger between Amazon’s community and the one on Goodreads. In a marketing sense, that’s a done deal. If there’s a special sale for a book on Amazon, it can be pushed through to anyone on Goodreads who has shown an interest in it (for a fee). Backdoor advertising and marketing in the bag, the next plan is to merge the all-powerful user reviews so Goodreads customers are given a voice on the Amazon product pages. It’s this that worries me because the Goodreads community is spiteful, cliquish, and, generally speaking, violently unhinged. Of course, as I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized that allowing the public to comment on anything – whether it be a news article on a major news site or a Goodreads review – is the greatest mistake Humanity has ever made in our entire history on this planet.
I’ve been a part of Goodreads as a publisher for 4 years now, and as an author for less than a year, and every moment spent interacting with people on that site makes me want to gouge out my eyes. When I complain to other publishers and authors, they all agree: Everyone hates Goodreads. Yet we’re forced to participate for the sake of marketing. Self-published yahoos, tellingly, love Goodreads. It’s that cliquish thing. If you’re there in your trailer in Dead Indian Bend, Iowa writing your series of unedited trash books at the rate of one every six months and have nothing else to do with your life, then you can spend hours and hours a day building up your Goodreads people. You can do a serious deep dive and become a demigod, manipulating lists, gathering like-minded friends, starting groups, reviewing books, engaging constantly. The Goodreads community loves this and will reward you for it because they’re all lonely trailer trash fucks desperately trying to find meaning and purpose in their empty, hopeless lives.
But those self-published people aren’t really the problem. The problem is the weird culture of reviewing that seems to infect every active Goodreads member. A set of arcane rules that a good portion of the community adheres to. I’ve talked to many (and seen reviews that start out with the same sentiment) who say that they “never give a five-star review because that seems dishonest.” What? That doesn’t even make sense. That’s like being the person who’s afraid to say “I love you” and concocts increasingly elaborate schemes to avoid intimacy while at the same time hoping you can save the relationship. If you believe something is worth five stars, then it’s dishonest to not give it five stars because you adhere to some arbitrary, nonsensical reviewing code.
Beyond that, though, the universally solipsistic tone of a majority of the reviews are alarming. I’ve read reviews that are along the lines of people saying they gave a book two stars because they stubbed their toe twice while reading it and that really harshed their groove or some shit.
I never understood one or two star reviews for a book, anyway. Unless you really hated it and it’s your duty for all of Mankind to piss on something that half a dozen people died for, why bother? NPR book reviewer Alan Cheuse once told me that life was too short for bad books. If he didn’t like a book, he – ready for this? – stopped reading it and moved on to the next book. To write a bad review just seems vindictive and my reaction, as a publisher and an author, is just to feel exhausted by how you’ve clearly wasted your own and everyone else’s time.
But, whatever. It’s a free world and if you really do have the spare time to read 400 pages and then complain about it, that’s fair enough, I suppose. We all need a hobby. And I’m probably off base here because I’m only interested in user reviews as a marketing tool and I don’t care if they’re written by a man or a machine. I have to move 1000 copies of every book I publish if I want to see the light of day again, you know? A publisher’s lot in life.
But I do worry about the angst that comes through in many of the Goodreads reviews. So often I’ll read a review – even a good one – that feels like it’s been written by someone who’s trapped in a bunker pleading for help. This personal engagement with each book is a little psychotic. For many Goodreads reviewers, it seems like reading a book, for them, is purely a visceral experience. Something that taps into the subcortical reptilian brain and thrashes them around like an alligator.
I know I should be pleased that books have such an impact on these people, but it seems weird to me. Whatever happened to the Reading Rainbow mindset? I’m a book lover, too, but I don’t gnash my teeth and clinch my fists. I don’t breathlessly pour out my soul in a review. I enjoy the book. I dance around on rainbows and sing, even if the book is disturbing. If the book is unreadable, I jam it into the Little Library Box at the end of my block and fucking move the fuck on and forget about it. Jeez.
Anyway, I’m bitter and hungover. Sorry. I just told myself I had to write something today and, when I sat down, the only thing that came to mind was “I want to hunt down and kill everyone on Goodreads.” I feel better now. Go about your day.