The Goodreads community, with its 25 million members, is wildly diverse, as I should have expected. There are intellectuals who attempt to explicate Barthes to the masses, participants in bookish “alphabet” games, serious readers of Proust (they are discussing the last volume of In Search of Lost Time), and muddled masochists who state that Anastasia Steele of Fifty Shades of Grey is a feminist.
It is indeed a revelation.
It is also a bit of a mess.
I reread Anne Bronte’s Agnes Grey for the Victorians! group (2913 members). Daunted by members who thought Agnes was wimpy and lacklustre, I did not participate. I will not pretend that Anne is as brilliant as Charlotte Bronte, nor that Agnes Grey is as sharply-drawn as Lucy Snowe, the plain-passionate teacher heroine of Charlotte’s Villette. But the obvious comparisons to Charlotte’s novel were not made at all (perhaps I missed them). Readers’ “I-didn’t-like-the-heroine” complaints seemed based on personal expectations, not the book.
Then there is the marketing. Lori Hettler, the founder of The Next Best Book Club, announced blithely that she is officially working as a marketer for a new author.
Conflict of interest? Well, she revealed it. Nonetheless, I prefer my book groups to be free of marketing.
Integrity is hard-won in the online world.
Remember the days when we naively believed online life was about community? Book ads didn’t wink at us from the margins as we chatted on book boards. People communicated in paragraphs, as opposed to one or two lines.
When did it change?
All over the internet, ads pursue us from shopping sites. For a while I couldn’t go to The Washington Post or The Guardian without pictures of products from sites I’d browsed at popping up in corners. Amazon and Goodreads try to sell us books determined by algorithms based on what we’ve clicked on or added to our shopping carts. Besieged by marketers, even consumer reviewers and bloggers cross the line between reviewing and marketing.
The line isn’t even considered online. No one speaks of conflict of interest.
We’re all too happily shopping.
Goodreads inundated me with recommendations, which I thought quite good, probably because I’d read so many of them, and because they were different from Amazon’s. But when you start adding titles you would never consider were you not dazed by an attractive site, it’s time to quit. I did find one absolutely stunning small-press book, Steve Himmer’s The Bee-Loud Glade, an allegorical novel about an office drone who, after losing his job and months of not showering and dazedly surfing the net, is hired by a multi-millionaire as a hermit in a manmade paradisiacal garden. (I’ll write about this one soon.)
So why did I leave Goodreads?
I had fun at Goodreads. My book journal (“shelves” of books) was fun to play with. I put five stars beside almost every title on my “shelf.” I thought the star ratings were a joke at first, but turns out they mean something different to each reviewer. A book can be praised and loved and only get three stars. It is puzzling.
I quit because I don’t want my book groups to be a shopping experience, and I don’t want book titles twinkling at me from the sidebars, know what I mean?
And so I closed my account.
I prefer small book groups where there are fewer distractions.