I was on Goodreads a couple of years ago but I quit. Well, I tried to quit, but I couldn't figure out how to get off it so I changed my name to blank. “ .” Then Goodreads stopped being a thorn in my side after awhile, and I forgot why I quit, because who has time to dwell on old injuries? Okay, the Irish. You know what Irish Alzheimer’s is, right? You forget everything except a grudge. Anyway now that I know we’re actually Dutch I don't have to do that Irish stuff. So I forgive everybody. If you were ever on my list, you're off it. That includes Goodreads. Or so I thought.
Today I got back on again.
The idea is to enter a warm bath of collegiality with your readers, the friendly creatures, who are delighted to be able to interact with the writers. This is the expectation that the Knowing Ones hold out.This time I opened an account where I gave Goodreads my married name instead of my writing name, thinking to sneak up on my loving readers slowly. Goodreads offered to collect my Facebook friends and invite them to join me as Goodreads friends. You may have gotten a message from my Facebook account about this. I let them go ahead with it, because who doesn’t need friends?
Then Goodreads wanted to know what sort of thing I liked to read. Images of book covers appeared, and they invited me to click on them and rate them with stars if I had read them. I had read a couple of hundred. I gave them all four or five stars. If I don't like a book, I cast it aside and forget it. I don't go online and complain that it made my eyes bleed, as the moderns seem to do. The selection of books I was offered seemed mystifying. Most of them I had never heard of. But then, I'm not a well-read person. Nothing that's on my night table appeared in Goodread’s selection except for Russell Shorto’s The Island at the Center of the World, a riveting and compelling account of the settling of Dutch Manhattan. It was full of my ancestors. I gave it five well-deserved stars and noticed that most of the other books Goodreads was pushing at me had also been on the New York Times bestseller list.
You can probably guess what I did next. “I’ll just take a peek,” I said to myself. “Maybe those reviews of my last couple of books weren’t as bad as I thought at the time. I’m feeling all mellow right now. My Dutch blood, and all that. I’ll just go have a look.”
Here are three that caught my eye, all one-star. These are not excerpts, they are the entire reviews:
“Wanted to read it for the subject matter of early silent picture production, but the writing was rather amateurish.”
“Poorly written mystery that takes place when talking movies are just beginning. Time period is interesting and that is it. Book by New Jersey author”
“do not waste your time on this stupid, poorly written, ridiculously silly book.”
Amateurish? Hey, I've been writing professionally for more years that you've been alive, you twit. Poorly written? What makes you say that? Then I thought, who are these people? If they hate my work, what sort of stuff do they think is good?
I clicked on the last one’s face, which brought up her profile page. There was a graph showing how many books she had given one star to, and two stars, and so forth. Most of what she read she actually liked, so it wasn’t as though she panned everything on general principles. She just hated my work. But the bar graph gave no indication of what it was that she did like. Maybe if I saw her whole profile it would say. But Goodreads told me that I was not allowed to see her profile unless I became her friend. Her friend? Are you kidding me? But then I thought, yes. I should do that. Maybe her mind is young and unformed. Or maybe she is a frazzled housewife without the time and energy to savor my deathless prose. Or maybe it's a bad book. No, that can’t be it.
Perhaps I will befriend her and get to the bottom of this. In an environment as hostile to writers as Goodreads it’s important to have friends. And you know what they say: keep your friends close and your enemies closer. That was Machiavelli, wasn’t it? He was Italian, not Dutch. Come to think of it, Goodreads offered me The Prince as a book to rate. Of course I’ve read it. But where am I going to get the nerve to rate it, a classic for hundreds of years? I would have to assume the character of an adolescent Goodreads reviewer. I’d have to, like, give it one star and say, “OMG! It made my eyes bleed!”
© 2014 Kate Gallison