Goodreads is brilliant, it is fun, it is silly, it is serious. It has 50 million members. Yup, 50 million readers who cannot be controlled by the establishment. We rate and review books, join book groups, and read about new books.
Professional writers aren’t keen on it. Why it matters to them I don’t know. It annoys them that amateurs can scribble and post, while they spend hours honing their prose. A posh male book reviewer–who and at what publication I don’t remember– referred to “the boredom of Goodreads.” I noted it. Another posh male reviewer sneered at “the plot summaries at Goodreads.” Well, aren’t boredom and plot summaries a part of reviewing? It is obvious that most of these consumer reviews are personal notes: it would be mad to post literary criticism at Goodreads!
Like everybody on Goodreads, I follow Lori, the founder of “The Next Best Read Book Club” and a reviewer of small press books. I also follow some authors. Genre writers, who are used to establishing a fan base at conventions, make better use of Goodreads than literary writers.
But here’s the real reason we like it: outrageousness! The following outrageous Goodreads review of Daniel Menaker’s memoir, My Mistake, is far from flattering, but it makes me WANT to read the book. This happens often.
Are you ready? Here is Liz Waters’ review.
“My Mistake” by Daniel Menaker is an interesting book. It destroyed any illusions I had about ever having my fiction published. That was probably the last dream I had left, and Mr. Menaker took care of that. While I have often noticed that the new stars in Hollywood are often related to the old stars in Hollywood, I surely should have assumed that such connectivity applied also to the publishing world of New York. That I did not was my mistake.
Daniel Menaker was born into the erudite and exclusive world of publishing and landed a position checking facts for the New Yorker, a magazine I once adored. He did not try to hide the fact that family connections helped him get there. His elitist Swarthmore (et al) education helped him along as well, a fact that he doesn’t hesitate to remind the reader of every few pages. He went up ladders and jumped from one ladder to another painlessly in that world that so few get to know. Even fewer get to know it with the name-dropping intimacy Daniel Menaker enjoyed.
If this review reeks of crass envy, so be it. Of course any aspiring writer would be envious of Mr. Menaker’s life in writing. He tells of a world that none of us ordinary mortals will know. And, he makes it pretty daggone unattractive.
If you enjoy reading about how the other half lives, you will adore this book. I found the fact that it is history written in the present tense a little tedious, although I enjoyed the subject matter. In my opinion, the past is past and using the present tense doesn’t put me in the moment, it simply sets my teeth on edge. However it is certainly correct in the literary sense, or Mr. Menaker would never have chosen this particular form to tell his story. I didn’t like the book, but that doesn’t mean that you won’t like it. Read it yourself and decide.
Outrageous! This would never have been published anywhere! Daniel Menaker, a memoirist, fiction writer, and book editor, started his career as a fact checker at The New Yorker. As executive editor-in-chief at Random House, he worked with Salman Rushdie, Elizabeth Strout, and Colum McCann (if Wikipedia is correct). It would never have occured to me to read My Mistake if one of my “authors” hadn’t rated it, and if I had not read Water’s review. Now it’s on my wishlist, though first I have to read all the books on my TBR….
Addendum: I learned about Menaker’s book because Larry Watson, a writer I follow, gave it five stars at Goodreads. Most of the Goodreads reviewers love it, but oddly Waters made me want to read it because she was hilarious about class envy. Who hasn’t felt that? Anyway I am very interested in reading about Menaker’s life in New York (I could never find my way around that city) and his publishing career. If it’s good enough for Larry Watson…
I can understand the paid reviewers getting cross, but we get from Goodreads and blogs and the like what we need to know as people who want to read – roughly what the book is about and whether people think it’s good! It’s the kind of thing we probably used to get from bookish conversation with friends but maybe we don’t have so much of that now. But I think it’s a valuable service, and a fair chunk of my reading is recommended by bloggers I trust!
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Yes, they’re bookish conversations! A perfect phrase. And oddly negative reviews can also inspire me to read a book if it sounds interesting. So I think perhaps critics overreact.
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Oh, sorry, sorry, sorry! I always assume writers won’t find my blog. Otherwise I never would blog. I haven’t read your book yet, but “follow” Larry Watson at Goodreads and he rated your book, so then I read the reviews. So many like it: even Waters gave it four stars! And of course she mentioned her envy so blatantly that I was amused–I had no idea what you’d been through. I had never heard of your book and the negative review, far from putting me off, made me want to read it. Goodreads is often outrageous and I try to sift through what the reviewer is saying. I am very sorry I offended you and will stick some addendum to the post to explain.
AND I PROMISE TO READ YOUR BOOK .