My First Time Using Goodreads

That’s right, I’m a lover of books who practically lives on the internet, and I’ve never had a Goodreads account until now. It’s not that I’ve been unaware of it, but I honestly heard about LibraryThing first and have been so happy with the site that I haven’t seen a need for it. Now I’m giving it a shot, partially so I can give it an honest assessment and partially because I think it would be a good idea to have one if (hopefully when) I become a published author. This is me taking you along for the ride as I take my first steps to building an account.

The first thing I’ll note is that it has a lot of options for using other sites to link in. I’m also one of the few people who doesn’t have a Facebook account (gasp!), so that wasn’t an option. I considered using my Amazon account, but I wasn’t sure that would benefit me much, so I stuck with the old tried and true of signing up with an email. I do think many other people would find this convenient, though. Fewer passwords to remember.

And the first screen I’m greeted with reminds me of that one time I did create a Facebook, only to never add any friends and delete it a few months later (long story, perhaps for another time). Are you sure you don’t want to add any friends? It would ask me. Are you really sure? Here, we’ll do all the work of scouring your address book for you!

Personally, I’m not really in this to connect with my friends over books, mostly because my current friends are computer programmers and I doubt that even the few who read for enjoyment have a profile here. This bit about inviting people to the site feels like transparent self-promotion on the site’s part, which I don’t care for given that I know it’s owned by Amazon and therefore I doubt it’s strapped for cash. But perhaps that’s just me being cynical.

Next, I set a reading goal just so I can see how the site handles that. Then I told it my favorite genres. All good here, except I didn’t realize “Ebooks” was a genre.

Then it jumps to a page that reminds me very much of the way you can let Amazon give you better recommendations. It’s a page filled with books from the first of the favorite genres I picked, and it’s asking me to rate them. I’m guessing it picked ones that are really popular within the genre in order to ensure that I’ve read at least some of them. I certainly do recognize all the books in the top two rows, even though I haven’t read four of them. I do find it a bit humorous that I’m being asked to rate classics first (I’m guessing because it’s alphabetically first of the options I picked). It’s just such a computer program thing to do.

As for the five star ratings, I’ll do them, but I have some complicated feelings about it. For example, I gave The Catcher in the Rye a very low rating because it wasn’t my cup of tea and therefore I don’t want to be recommended books like it, but I also recognize that it is by no means a bad book in terms of quality. It’s not like I haven’t rated books extensively on LibraryThing, but star ratings don’t feel like the single most important thing there. The recommendations are more based on the books you have in the collections that you tell it you want the recommendations based on. It doesn’t matter if you’ve rated the books in them or not. In fact, there are some books I’ve read that I purposefully haven’t rated because my feelings about them are complicated.

Maybe I wouldn’t feel so conflicted about this if I hadn’t heard chatter about how authors can feel about how high or low the Goodreads rating is for their book. I’m not sure.

On a side note: no half stars? Really? That’s just annoying for me. Now I have to take my ratings from LibraryThing and decide whether to round up or down.

This is an interesting development. In theory, I love the idea that when you give a positive rating to a book it pops up more like it to get a better idea for your preferences. But does anyone really think that Angels and Demons is similar to To Kill a Mockingbird? To be fair, the only Dan Brown I’ve read was The DaVinci Code, but from what I’ve heard Angels and Demons is about the same or a little worse in terms of the writing, and I’m not aware of any common themes between it and the book it’s being compared to here. One is a classic novel that centers around the trial of an African American man in the American south during the Great Depression. The other is a fast paced modern thriller about a man investigating a grand plot to kill Catholic cardinals and blow up Vatican City. How are these two connected?

Of the others seen here, the last one is completely unfamiliar to me. I’ve heard great things about The Book Thief, and I know it takes place in Nazi Germany, so I can understand how it might have thematic similarities, but I’m not seeing the connection to The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Again, to be fair, I haven’t read it, but I’ve heard enough about it to immediately know that it’s a popular modern thriller. Googling a plot blurb does not provide any immediate insights. Are these two books up here more because they’re popular than because they’re a good fit for the book I rated?

Scrolling down, I see these are the books recommended for lovers of Pride and Prejudice.

I’ve read all of these. They’re very popular modern books. Four of them have romance components. But so do many other books. Including the other novels written by Jane Austen. For context, here are the sorts of recommendations I’m used to seeing on LibraryThing.

So, needless to say I don’t have high hopes about Goodreads giving me good quality recommendations based on my reading preferences, but I’ll stop harping on about it. I’m sure there are other things about this site that are good.

I will say the whole process of rating books here feels almost like a game. Every time I give a book a positive rating, it pulls up a new little bar of similar books. I’m well out of rating classics very quickly, but I can see how this could become addictive. I actually am having fun playing with it in spite of myself.

Random thoughts as I go through:

  • Wow, they’re really using a cover for Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep that has the words “Blade Runner” bigger than the actual title? I haven’t seen the movie, but I’d heard there are significant differences. It kind of hurts to give it that good rating now.
  • Oh, would you look at that, I also just skipped The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy on accident because I didn’t recognize that movie cover. I’m starting to get the feeling that I’m not the average reader.
  • Contrary to what I first suspected, it does start peppering in a few classics after a while. Maybe I stumbled onto the right path down the rabbit hole. Or maybe the algorithm is in disbelief about how stubborn I am.

I gave it fifty ratings to go off of before moving on. Maybe it will give me an opportunity to import all my 600+ books from LibraryThing if I get past the welcome screens? Maybe?

Ah, well that makes sense. Too bad I don’t buy all my books on Amazon. This probably would have been done automatically if I’d used my Amazon account to sign in from the beginning, but at least now I know. Also, this hilariously resulted in a prompt for me to rate the Bible because I bought a digital copy for my Kindle in order to have easy access to it in a digital format. I don’t have it on my LibraryThing or on my StoryGraph, but, sure, five stars.

I did find an option for importing from LibraryThing, but I had to do a bit of searching, and I noticed that the help pages that came up at the top of my Google search showed other people struggling. I was able to pick up on it pretty quickly due to my tech knowledge, but it wasn’t easy. I had to export in a specific format, convert the file to a new format, and split the file up so that it included only 100 books at a time because Goodreads failed to import all 600+ at once. It gave me an error message that didn’t explicitly say I had too many books to add, but I was able to figure it out. I’m sure not everyone would be able to. For me, though, I’m just happy it was possible.

Moving on to my profile, it looks like it took a guess at my location and made that public by default? Wow. I will say that once you get into the privacy and notification settings they do have a lot of different options, though. That’s nice to have.

Apart from that, I wasn’t able to find much to do that really caught my interest. Maybe in time I’ll see benefits from this site having a larger user base? Maybe there’s something to be said for following authors or having easy access to more book reviews.

Overall, I don’t really have a problem with the site, but it did seem strangely buggy. I had problems updating reviews, for one thing. Also, whenever a book page loads, it seems to do so without an ad on top at first, which often causes me to click what I thought was the option to update the shelf, only to find that it’s turned into an ad. These are the sorts of things that make me want to stick with the sites I’m more familiar with, but I’m going to give it a fair shot for a while and see if I change my mind.

Author: Shannon Fallon

Shannon Fallon is an aspiring author currently seeking representation for her debut novel The Binding of Magic. She lives in Wisconsin with her cat Willowstripe, who loves to sleep on her lap while she writes... and pester her when not being given enough attention. She graduated from Cardinal Stritch University in 2014 with bachelor's degrees in writing and computer science. She currently works as a Senior Programmer Analyst for a property and casualty insurance company that creates much of the software used by its employees. When she's not wrangling unruly code, she enjoys reading a mix of modern and classic literature, exchanging feedback with other writers, and relaxing with a good video game.

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