How do I explain Goodreads? It’s a website owned by Amazon where readers review books. More than that, readers discover new books, create lists and engage with authors. Think of it like ‘IMDB for bookworms.’ For years, Goodreads attracted readers (especially young ones) into posting reviews and engaging in forums.
Personally, I hardly use Goodreads because there’s little long term benefits from having a presence. It’s hard to build up a profile based on reviewing anything not Young Adult or Fantasy. Not to say Goodreads doesn’t have merits. Many authors look for beta readers there, and Goodreads is a straight forward way to find similar books to ones you love. However, Goodreads has similar flaws to IMDB.
For one, new released books in ‘hot’ genres have highly inflated ratings. Are we to believe All The Light We Cannot See is worthy of 4.33 stars? Considering novels by Leo Tolstoy, George Orwell and Jane Austen get less? The problem with review sites is the lack of time consideration.
You may love Anthony Doerr’s novel, but you can’t argue it has stood the ‘test of time’ because it was released in 2014. My point isn’t to rag on Doerr. I didn’t have warm feelings towards All The Light We Cannot See, but I want to highlight how books need ‘time’ to test them.
Often, people see a movie in cinemas and rush to give it a 10/10. I’ve done this, especially with science fiction and fantasy films. This is evident with The Force Awakens, when people saw it multiple times and raved about it’s devotion to the ‘Star Wars‘ spirit. However, as the years pass, TFA is now seen as a popcorn flick. It’s easy for readers and viewers to get caught up in ‘hype’ and lack the required focus of objective criticism.
Should Goodreads ‘weigh’ scores relative to the time period, or not allow reviews until a few years have passed? No, because it defeats the purpose of Goodreads. It provides a platform for readers to share their views. This isn’t wrong, but it has flaws.
Another problem with Goodreads is how same-ish and echo-chamber the reviews are. A vast majority of them are written by young, well-off women. Reader scores may vary, but Goodreads lacks intellectual diversity. While researching this article, I was taken aback by how many reviewers screamed about ‘problematic’ literature. Some went as far to urge books to never have been published, or come with compulsory trigger warnings. I am against these sentiments.
But the reviews screeching about how rapey Uprooted is never face much, if any, pushback. Without sounding snide, many of the reviewers come across as naive and blissfully unaware of how the world works. I can give some allowance for youth, but it’s clear Goodreads is marketed to a certain type of reader. And that’s not me.
The solution to this problem isn’t censorship, but to encourage a variety of views in literary criticism. Goodreads comes across as performative activism, as opposed to proper interrogation of literature. Part of this problem is reflected in who uses Goodreads. There’s no problem with a book club having a certain political bent. But Goodreads is not simply a ‘space for readers.’ It’s part of Amazon, and a tool by publishers for both acquisition and marketing.
If Goodreads is an echo chamber, and it’s one of the few sources of information literary agents and publishers use: isn’t that a problem? I take issue with the implication of Goodreads representing all readers. It doesn’t, and I wouldn’t have such a problem with Goodreads if it weren’t emphasized so much.
The solution is for publishers to re-evaluate how they use Goodreads.
In conclusion, the problem isn’t necessarily Goodreads itself, but how it’s used and emphaised within the publishing industry.
What are your thoughts on Goodreads? Comment below!