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?