Why I Left Goodreads


When book sites are bookstores.

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.

agnesgreyI 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.

One of the best novels I've read this year.

One of the best novels I’ve read this year.

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.

8 thoughts on “Why I Left Goodreads

  1. I confess that I decided against Goodreads very much because of the connection with Amazon. I stumbled upon LibraryThing first and because of the lovely Virago group joined and stayed. It seems a lot less commercial and motivated by people who love books (at least the groups I’m in). Goodreads *looks* so much more commercial and I don’t want recommendations shoved down my throat – I get enough of that on Amazon, and I’ve never come across it on LT!


  2. Karen, LibraryThing is a blessedly quiet place, though it, too, is now partly owned by Amazon (whatever “partly” means). Goodreads is a little too “busy” for me. It IS fun–I won’t pretend it isn’t–but it isn’t right for me now. I’m trying to “consume” fewer books. My shelves are full!


  3. I think there is still a possibility of real community sharing, and real informed reviews on Goodreads, at least among my connections.
    And if marketing means telling me about a great book I had not heard of before, why not?
    Also most of the authors I am in touch with one way or another have amazon as their preferred place where to buy their books on their own website (which I admit I find puzzling after all the bad stuff we hear about az), so if this helps them, I’m not against it.
    I think you can make it as quiet or busy as you wish.
    I decided myself against LibraryThing because the number of books I read and rated is high and I would have to pay that is, to really send money to az which also partly owns it) to keep my account. there is no limit of number of books on your shelves on Goodreads. That’s just my experience


  4. I don’t mean to knock Goodreads. A lot of it is about finding good groups, and since I belong to other online book groups, I wasn’t motivated to keep searching. The algorithm recommendations are different from Amazon’s, so I don’t object to Amazon’s ownership: I learned about the wonderful novel by Steve HImmer through a Goodreads recommendation. I just don’t need SO many recommendations.

    Some of the reviews are very good, but many are truly dreadful.

    What I really need is a place to find out about good small-press books.

    I had no idea LibraryThing charged for listing books.

    I try to avoid marketers online, whether they be professional publicists or the most naive of bloggers, because they promote good, bad, and indifferent books with equal zest. Two of the most fascinating bloggers, Dovegreyreader and Random Jottings, are such book sluts that I stopped taking their recommendations seriously (or at all) years ago. On the other hand, you can trust Ellen Moody 100 percent. She has absolute integrity.


  5. LT charges if you go over a certain number of books – I paid something like $20 maybe for a lifetime membership which means as many as I want to put on forever. I figured it was worth it. I know they’re probably just as driven commercially as the others, but the little backwater I inhabit on there is just right for me! 🙂


    • Sometimes I pay for a site, too, if the quality makes a difference. I’ve never listed my books on LT, but I enjoyed doing it on Goodreads. All those pretty pictures of book covers! Too bad I can’t do in my book journal (which is paper).


  6. I’ve found it very hard to find a place where there are genuinely informed views, open-mindedness about the nature of personalities and meaningful characters. I’ve never been part of a group at goodreads and don’t know how to join one; ditto for Library Thing. I am on both. What I’ve observed is superficiality, but perhaps a given group if you can find it might provide sustenance and companionship.

    It’s getting harder and harder to avoid commercialism on the Internet.


  7. The level of discussion at Goodreads was, in general, low. I skimmed posts at several groups, and often the best were at moribund groups that had formed to discuss one classic! But the commercialism can drive one crazy. Oh, how nice, book recoomendations! I thought. And then it became too much.

    Yes, commercialism drives these sites in a very blatant way.


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