August 22, 2014

How Goodreads Saved (and Ruined) My Reading Habits

Image by stilfoto on Flickr.

Image by stijlfoto on Flickr.

First of all, just so you know, I am not going to talk about Amazon buying Goodreads. That’s a conversation I am totally enthusiastic about… never having again. With anyone. At this point, my position can best be summed up with the words “don’t come crying to me.”

Now, if you’re not familiar with Goodreads (or, like Anna Meade, are frightened and confused by it), let me take a moment to poorly summarize it. Goodreads is Facebook for books. No, that’s terrible. Let me try again. Goodreads is a social media site for readers that allows you to add, rate, review, and share your reading experiences with others. Why would you want to do this? I don’t know. Ask the people who built it.

Now then. I am here not to bury Goodreads, but to praise it. And then bury it. You see, thanks to Goodreads, I went from a horrible, sloppy reading habit of one or two books a year to over fifty. Fifty! That’s ever so much more than one or two, yet a pittance compared to these people I see on Goodreads who go through like fourteen hundred books a year or something. What is with these people? Are they posting from some future cyberpunk utopia where they ram needles into their frontal lobes and experience all of Dostoevsky first-hand in a matter of seconds, like “The Inner Light,” but with screams and chainsaws instead of a little flute?

Well, anyway. The point is, I’m reading a lot more these days. And that’s good! Except when it’s bad. How can reading be bad, you ask? Well, it’s not. So, I admit I lied just now. It’s not so much the reading that’s bad as how Goodreads changed my reading habits — both for better and worse. Let’s examine this in detail, won’t we?

The Good(reads)

Goodreads makes it easy to discover new books. Thanks to having eleventy-billion friends on Goodreads (okay, 412 and counting, close enough), I constantly get recommendations on new books. My reading list just keeps growing. So many great new books to read!

Goodreads lets me share what I’m reading with my friends. I just finished a book and now I can share this super-important knowledge with everyone! “Like” button! Sweet validation! Virtual cookies for doing something I like doing anyway! I’m like a mouse in a lab who just got the cheese! Wait.

I can rate, review, organize and tag books! It’s like some kind of beautiful dream. If I wanted to know how much steampunk I read in 2012 for some reason, I no longer have to rely on my faulty memory. Remembering things is hard. Thank god for voluntarily submitting to data mining.

The Reading Challenge encourages me to meet a yearly reading goal. Finally, a way to feel superior to everyone else. It’s like a marathon without having to get up off my ass! Twenty books? Why not fifty? Why only fifty, Freddie, why not a hundred? Imagine the sweet Schadenfreude when all my friends fail and I metaphorically sail across the finish line… of reading… some stuff? /Chariots of Fire theme

The Bad(reads)

Goodreads makes it easy to discover new books. Thanks to having 412 friends and counting on Goodreads (feels more like eleventy billion), my reading list is growing faster than I will ever be able to read. I am going to die with thousands of books unread. Glancing at my Goodreads feed is now a terrifying gaze into the black heart of my own mortality. Now I’m reading Emotional Structure for Screenwriters. Now I sink into an alcoholic haze in a blind idiot universe that punishes and rewards without reason or mercy. I think I’ll polish off an entire bottle of wine and go watch Charmed or something.

Goodreads lets me share what I’m reading with my friends. Thanks, Goodreads, now everyone knows I abandoned that indie book I promised I’d read and the author is probably crying and defriending me on Facebook as we speak and then without meaning to I publicly admitted to liking a Dragonlance novel and now my author cred totally lies in ruins somehow only nobody actually cares so why am I thinking about this?

I can rate, review, organize and tag books! Yeah, because I totally wasn’t OCD enough to begin with. How will I know if I’m enjoying this book unless I properly categorize it by painfully specific minutiae?

The Reading Challenge encourages me to meet a yearly reading goal. Yes, thanks to Goodreads, I have totally  turned my own reading into some kind of perverse commodity. I think twice about reading anything if it doesn’t contribute to my abstract and totally meaningless Reading Challenge goal. Beta read your manuscript? That’s valuable time I could be putting toward collecting more Goodreads brownie points! Disappear into that thousand-page epic novel? We can’t do that, dude, it messes up the averages. I could fall behind schedule, committing to a long book like that. Are you crazy? Go outside? See people? I’M IN THE GOODREADS CHALLENGE HERE PEOPLE.

Of course, none of this is the fault of Goodreads. This is a prime example of digging a hole, throwing oneself in it, and then complaining about this hole somebody dug that one is now stuck in. And then clicking “Share” so everyone knows you’re miserable about being in this hole. I could walk away from Goodreads tomorrow and make my reading habits less pathological almost instantly. Reading challenge? Sir or madam, I submit to you, schmeading challenge. I can quit anytime I want. I just don’t want to.

So what do you think, reader? Goodreads! Balm or scourge? Threat or menace? Chicken or fish?

About Daniel Swensen

Daniel Swensen is a fantasy / sci-fi enthusiast, amateur cineaste, avid reader, and compulsive writer, authoring everything from RPG gamebooks to cell phone advertisements. He lives in the hinterlands with his wife and two cats. His fantasy novel, Orison, is available now at the Nine Muse Press Store and on Amazon / Barnes & Noble.

Comments

  1. I only have 5 friends on goodreads and I think I like it that way. :)

  2. malenkka says:

    I use it to get book recommendations (totally reading zombie novellas you recommended now). I use it to keep track of books I want to read. Other than that, it’s alright. I don’t care one way or another what others think of my reading habits, though. I read for my own pleasure. I also read incessantly, so there’s been no change in the sheer volume of books I read due to the site.

    • Well, you’re the smart one. You choose your level of commitment. :D

    • Sherry Ramsey says:

      This is close to my relationship with Goodreads…I do use it to track what I’ve read, (because my memory is for crap) but I don’t care too much what anyone else thinks of what I read or don’t read, or whether I like the books or not. I did get back to reading more since I joined, though, which I like.

  3. Tracy McCusker says:

    I think Goodreads has been a positive experience for me.

    I use the service as a very casual way to connect with my small group of friends. As it turns out, my reading habits and the reading habits of my friends are worlds apart. I like to read poetry, mystery, nonfiction true crime, graphic design books, graphic novels, and the occasional other genre. In that “other” there is overlap, and that’s where I find really amazing recommendations when I watch my friends’ feeds. I know I’ve found excellent recommendations from you, and from Alex, and from Matt.

    Most importantly, Goodreads helped me rediscover that I actually like to read books. Even pesky, long, academic books. Grad school nearly snuffed out that desire. The Goodreads reading challenge was the first sustained effort I’d made to read books that I’d chosen in nearly ten years.

    Um, but what you say about the disordered reading? I totally do a lot of that too. I just try to tamp down on those obsessive feelings by staggering my reading of short things with incredibly long books. Sometimes it works. Sometimes I’m reading a 80-page “Berts Guide to Beesting Artspectacles” to keep my reading challenge alive.

    • Yeah, I tease Goodreads, obviously, but it really has kept me on track with my reading habits, and I like being able to track when I read a particular book. My sense of time is naturally somewhat distorted, so having a record comes in handy. :)

  4. Ang (@ang_writes) says:

    *picks self off floor, struggles to breathe*

    This is the best darn thing I’ve read allll day.

    As a book blogger, I used Goodreads without shame, clicking, commenting, rating, the whole nine yards. Somehow I’ve landed a 1000 plus friends (of which I’ve probably requested like 100). And I never thought about who was watching me or what they thought of me. I read what I wanted. Said what I wanted. BOOM. Plus I’m OCD about keeping track of what I’ve read. It was like a wonderland of awesome.

    Now that I’m attempting to enter the writers’ community using Goodreads makes me nervous and every time I go to rate or review a book my palms get sweaty. Is it okay that I read Buffy comics like a crack addict? And what of my obsession with Julie Garwood? And my need to reread a few of her books like everyday? And don’t get me started on the shame of being a thirty-something who likes… *whispers Twilight*. I know. I KNOW.

    And don’t get me started on the indie author thing! I LOVE indie authors but I dislike reading e-books (THERE I FLIPPIN’ SAID IT). I get most of my books from the library (cause I’m broke like 100% of the time see note on 6 people 4 kids 1 adult who gets paid for a living). Libraries don’t have a lot of Indie authors. So here I am, befriending alll these amazing people, wanting to buy alll the amazing books, but they are alllll e-books & my Nook can’t open them & I’m too broke to buy them, plus who did I pick first and what if I don’t like it and then I have to be honest …. and holy crap. THIS IS WHY I SHOULDN’T COMMENT ON ANYTHING TODAY!!

    See. I told you this would get ugly.

    In summation: I *heart* Goodreads. The end.

    • A THOUSAND friends?! So, are you interested in an advance review copy of a certain fantasy novel written by a certain someone?!

      This comment made me laugh. And fits with the tone of today’s generally manic post. Thanks!

      • Ang (@ang_writes) says:

        First off. If you are for serious than YES!!
        But I’ll take it as jokey and simmer down now.
        *tries to play it kool*

        Lastly, I should be thanking you for humoring my madness this day.
        *high-five* my friend!

        • This is one of those sitcom “I was joking unless you’re serious, in which case I am also totally serious” kind of things. I’ll have to see about getting it to you in non-ebook form though.

          • Ang (@ang_writes) says:

            lol Okay. Kidding aside.
            I never-ever say I will read something unless I mean it. Book blogging taught me some valuable lessons, my friend. And for you, I would totes dust off Pearl (that would be my Nook, by the by). BUT I know how the book reviewing game goes plus the fairy queenie is involved and I fear her with a fiery passion of a thousand suns. So, I’m here. I’m not expecting ANYTHING. You say the word and BOOM. Now… I need to find some food cause this rambling is out-of-control!

          • Cool! I’ll cross over to Alfheim and see what the queen has to say about it. :)

  5. J. Whitworth Hazzard says:

    Are you dissing Dragonlance? Wha….I don’t even…son of a… THOSE ARE MASTERPIECES!

    • Remember that time when Tasslehoff stole a thing and Flint was all like “oh, Tasslehoff, you scamp” and Tas was like “lighten up you big grump” and Caramon was all “hey everybody get along you guys, I like pudding” and Raistlin was like “I will debase everything you ever love” and Sturm was all “HONOR EVERYBODY OH FUCK I’M DEAD”

  6. Goodreads! Yes, I totally understand what you mean, and you make completely valid points on the good and bad. I particularly like being able to easily keep track of my TBR pile and it’s nice to have a record of what I’ve read. It does make me a little antsy when I fall behind on my reading goal (like, err, now), but I keep telling myself I have all year to make it up…hmm…

  7. Aw, hon. How have I not found your blog before now? Aside from the double-edged sword that is “turning an essentially solitary activity practiced mainly by introverts into a social activity,” I did NOT need another social network demanding my time and attention. And yet… it hath sucked me in.

    Also, one of the guys in my real world writing group is the author of a couple of Dragonlance novels from back in the 80s. He’ll be DELIGHTED that he may be responsible for that much angst. ;-)

  8. Goodreads! Balm or scourge? Gosh, pose a question like that and I’m positively compelled to respond.

    Balm. I’m not into Goodreads to the nth degree. I use it to have a wee look around the booky world, see what competent people are reading and if I might like those books too, and to encourage authors in my limited but growing social network. I enjoy the breadth of categories, the diverse interests of readers, the ability to rate and review absent from the sell marketing.

    So happy to see new posts from you, Daniel. You raise interesting questions, sir!

  9. Daniel, there were deep belly laughs after this post. I’m with you on the Goodreads I just posted about it myself, and recently described it to a friend as “a book lover’s social media crack addiction.” (Hmm…) I also know that my To Read bookcase it out of hand, and it’s probably no coincidence that it correlates with my attention to GR. Basically, we’re all doomed.

    Oh, one more thing—I learned from another author that GR limits your friends at some point, I believe it was 2k. She no longer friended authors because of it, leaving it open for fans…something to think about, perhaps, if you’re nearing the 500 mark. Otherwise, thanks for a great post!

  10. I love goodreads. Its probably fed my occasional borderline OCD to full fledge OCD on certain days. So many books to read. So far I need to live at least 11 more years to get through them all at my current rate. But I keep adding. Its scary and awesome. I’ve never read so much in my life. Woot!

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  12. I couldn’t agree more! nicely put dude, thanks for sharing

  13. THE BLONDY says:

    ..IN TO COME MOVE
    LIVE THE MOMENT.
    KEEP AT IT !
    PLUCK ON ENTICE.
    ” THERE IS A EVERYTHING
    LIVE, IN 1 MINUTE
    IN THE LOVE ” !
    .
    .
    ……………………..VALENTINO

  14. christineblackthorn says:

    I have been happy to, more or less, ignore the Facebook, twitter and so on craze for a significant amount to time. I check them once a week, if I remember, but other than that am blissfully unaware of them. And then came goodreads. My phone has a goodreads app. And the worst of it all is: I love it.