Posted: August 7, 2012 in Uncategorized

So, last night I had a conversation with a friend who was a little aghast at how useless she found my Goodreads feed. “You may as well not even rate things, because you give everything four or five starts. I mean everything. So I never know if I should really read a book you’re recommending or not.”
This caught me off guard because:

  1. I didn’t imagine anyone was actually following my Goodreads feed. Even more than my rarely used Twitter account, it seemed to me that I was largely documenting myself for myself… saving notes on books I had liked, commenting briefly on why I had liked them.
  2. With a few notable exceptions (everyone should read Lolita and Blood Meridian sorts of things), I think book recommendations are very personal. For instance, the friend to whom I just lent my copy of Are You My Mother is a very different person than the friend to whom I just recommended Gone Girl. While the latter would like both books, the former would quite probably throw Gone Girl across the room if asked to read it because he can’t take deceitfulness in even a fictional form. And book recommendations–as opposed to book reviews–take that sort of thing into account.
  3. If I don’t like a book, I rarely finish it (who has time?) and I don’t put books I haven’t finished on Goodreads because that feels disrespectful to their authors. If I’m going to make any sort of public statement about a work, I owe the author the courtesy of at least paying careful attention to the entire thing before passing judgment.
  4. I just checked, and I have given only one book a single star: A Stolen Life: A Memoir by Jaycee Dugard, which left me feeling like an awful person for having finished it, like someone who doesn’t have the decency to turn away from something obscene. (Which is not to say that I think the author shouldn’t have written it; only that I should not have read it. It’s one star was meant to remind me that it falls into that very tiny category of books which probably needed to be written and preserved, but not read. At least, not by me. Like Mein Kampf or DeSade’s novels.) I’ve given two stars to a few “important” books that I felt were deeply flawed.
  5. But, in general, I am a four or five star kind of reader.

I’m enthusiastic about books. About writing. If I don’t like a book, which doesn’t happen often, I put it down. It never makes it into my feed. But if I do like a book, I probably realy like it. I admire its strengths, I’m grateful to its author for the hours of enjoyment it brought me, the insights it provided, the joy of being transported into someone else’s understanding of the world.

  1. Aaron Hoover says:

    I don’t look at other people’s Goodreads, almost ever. I’d be flattered if someone were actively following mine, but I’d also feel like I was serving that person badly. I rarely review a book beyond the star rating. Like you, I can’t imagine finishing a 1-star or 2-star book. Otherwise, my ratings work like this:

    5 stars : Changed my life significantly for the better. (This actually happens often.)
    4 stars : An excellent book that did not transform me.
    3 stars : A fine book that I don’t regret reading.

    Maybe I’ll do some research soon about how other people are using Goodreads. It had not occurred to me that people might be looking for detailed reviews.

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