Goodreads wrote to tell me that I’m in the Top 1% of reviewers on their site. That seems weird to me. I’ve written fewer than 400 reviews there — 387, to be precise. That doesn’t really seem like that many, to me.
Goodreads, if you’re not familiar with it, is a site where anyone can review books they’ve read, then suggest them to people who might be interested. I like to write mini essays on the books I’ve read. Most people don’t. They simply leave a star rating: 1 star is “did not like it” and 5 stars is “it was amazing.”
I understand the appeal of star ratings. No one can argue with stars. Actually, I’ve had very few people argue with my reviews. Personally, though, I don’t find the star system very useful.
My hope is to start a conversation about the books I read. I try to be open with my preconceptions and expectations, so that readers of the review can see if they’re looking for the same things in books as I am, or if our tastes are so divergent that my thoughts aren’t useful to them.
I’m not writing the reviews to be read by the authors. Once a book has been published, the author has moved on. Critiquing a book with the expectation that the author will somehow fix it isn’t realistic.
Even so, writing reviews has become somewhat problematic for me. I did an event in the fall with an author who is much more professional than I am. I really loved the first half of her book — and told her so at the event — but when I finished it later, it seemed needlessly long and the protagonist wasn’t involved in some of the book’s turning points. I really debated reviewing on Goodreads the book at all. What if the author read my review? What if she held it against me? She could theoretically get me bounced from events we might share in the future.
In the end, I decided that she is a professional. The book came out on a big house. My half glowing/half disappointed 3-star review wasn’t going to damage her career. It probably wasn’t even going to damage her day. I went ahead and wrote down my thoughts.
On a later occasion, though, I refrained from leaving a review for a book that I just couldn’t bring myself to finish. The author had been on Facebook talking about her depression and asking for help — and I didn’t want her to read a 1-star review that said what I honestly thought were the failings of her book. In the end, my opinion doesn’t matter that much. Her book made some of the award lists this year. I wish her well and hope she finds the help she needs.
I’m facing another dilemma now. I started a book that got huge raves as soon as it was published. It’s already been optioned for a movie. I found it rough going and may not finish it. I’m not sure my review would lend anything useful to the conversation about the book. I may just get it go.
All of this has given me even more respect for real book reviewers and book bloggers. Before I found myself in these situations, I never considered the complications of saying what you thought about a book. Now it feels like dissing people I hope to think of as colleagues. That doesn’t seem like a smart thing to do.
I intend to stay on Goodreads — and I encourage you to friend me, if you’re on it. I may begin to limit my reviews to classics and inspirations and things outside the fields that I’m writing in now, unless it’s to rave about a book. But if you see a 5-star review from me about a book, you can be certain that I mean every word.