So yesterday, sort of on a whim (but also sort of not) I deleted my Goodreads account. I’m still a little in two minds about it – not least because it’s a good place to build my bookish standing – but as soon as I clicked delete and my profile disappeared, I felt really quite relieved.
First of all, I just wasn’t using the site to the best of its capabilities. Sure, I was scanning in books and tracking what I read, but I was forever forgetting to upload reviews. Even when I did remember (usually in bulk when I should have been doing something else) I was only copying and pasting AU Review pieces I’d done, rather than actually reviewing my NetGalley ARCs or random reads.
I also wasn’t interacting with people as well as I could have been. I was in groups (hell, I ran a group!) and I had plenty of friends, but I wasn’t talking to anyone or sharing recommendations.
I don’t know if “guilty” is the right word, but I definitely felt like I was wasting my time and Goodreads’ time by clinging to something essentially just for the sake of the book count goal – something I’ve actually decided doesn’t matter much to me anyway. I’m reading for quality not quantity this year and while I’ll be keeping a log, I won’t particularly be keeping count.
I’d also recently had an interaction with an author that left me a little uncomfortable. I’d given a book a two star review, simply because I didn’t like it and found it disjointed and boring, only to have the author friend me and start asking why, to the point of offering to send me new copies of the novel in case my version had been incomplete. I hadn’t gotten round to a full review yet (honestly, I wasn’t really planning on doing one) but to have him questioning me – I should stress that he was in no way threatening or pushy, he just wanted to know my thoughts – really made me squirm. He just didn’t seem to want to accept that someone didn’t like his book. I found myself having a brief moment where I legitimately questioned my own opinions about a book, which is completely ridiculous.
I’m all for author interaction, but Goodreads makes it almost too easy, and perhaps a little bit too casual. I’ve no issue with chatting over Twitter, Instagram, or even email (especially if it leads to some work for me!), but there’s something about the author/reader relationship on Goodreads that gives me the heebie jeebies. I don’t know if it’s just because I’ve recently been reading about a certain author who stalked a book blogger (I won’t write her name so my post doesn’t give her any recognition for her bullshit) around that time, and about certain Goodreads groups that doxx book bloggers who post unfavourable reviews, but it feels like control of the relationship is being wrested from the readers.
I understand that a person’s blood, sweat, and tears goes into a novel. I don’t like to think how much of my own has gone into my current WIP! But there’s also seems to be this growing sense that because of that, the work is immune to criticism. Get real, that’s not how books work. In fact, get real, that’s not how the world works. If I had a dollar for every time a customer (because, let’s be honest here, what are readers if not book customers?) didn’t like something I did or a policy my bar has or a bloody song on the playlist (it’s happened, seriously), I’d have quit to be a full time writer an age ago. But 99.9% of the time, these issues are on the customer. That’s not me blindly defending myself or my industry, that’s just a fact. That’s people not listening, or not understanding, or just being in a shitty mood that day.
Are they entitled to their opinion?
Do I have to listen to it and dissect it and let it wreck my day?
No I bloody well don’t.
The comparison between a novel and a rough day behind the bar might not be the best (I know, I know, it’s your BABY!), but the message remains the same: don’t let it get to you, and sure as shit don’t take it out on the customer. Do what I do – put on a blank smile, walk away, and tear them apart later over knockoffs with your co-workers.
The reality is that your readers don’t owe you anything, in the same way my bar patrons don’t owe me anything. We read the book, we like it or we don’t, and we express that opinion, in a full length review or with a couple of stars. That’s it, that’s the relationship.
To me, Goodreads invites an intimacy I’m not comfortable with, because we’re engaging on a level that calls my own tastes and opinions into question. Twitter, Insta, all that I’m fine with. I can share dog photos with authors, talk about other people’s books, like a picture of them by the sea with their notebook. It’s a bit superficial, sure, but it’s safe. And to me, books should be safe. They’re the realm of the reader, even more than the writer. It’s the reader that breathes real life into them. And the monotony of shelving books and adding tags and fielding awkward questions from disgruntled authors isn’t what I signed up for when I picked up a book.
Deleting my account made all the anxiety about counting books and keeping track and being judged for an opinion I’m supposed to have just go away. It was like a breath of fresh air. Yesterday, for the first time this year, I sat down, put some music on and read solidly for an hour. I don’t know how related the two experiences were, but they sure felt like they were!
So, Goodreads, it’s been real and it’s been fun, but it’s not been real fun. I’ll keep track in my journal, scruffy notes and all, and post reviews right here on the blog. They’re safer spaces, and I’m entitled to that.