• Thu. May 30th, 2024

The power of the Goodreads review: a cautionary tale

BySienna Hammond

Nov 24, 2023
cartoon of girl reading

Satirised by the infamous Nosedive episode of Black Mirror, we have entered the age of online popularity contests. The Netflix show portrays a dramatised reality in which every human interaction is rated on a mobile app, yet it is relevant even to the well-loved Goodreads app, which provides users the opportunity to show off the books they’ve read and to see what literature is highly rated. 

I would like to confess myself as a Goodreads lover; I use it to set myself goals for the year, look through what I’ve read, find out what my friends are enjoying reading, and most importantly, to discover new books. Just the other day, having finally read Wuthering Heights and having my appreciation for classic literature reignited, I was on a quest to find similar passionate and genius classic novels, and Goodreads was my first port of call. 

In the midst of this mission, I saw an overwhelming amount of love for Tolstoy and his complex and colourful characters which influenced my subsequent purchase of Anna Karenina. Although I have not enjoyed the book any less because of this, I felt that my approach to reading it was somewhat forced through the lens of someone else’s opinion and the expectation of what was to come. Fundamentally, I know a review cannot dictate what you think about a book; the fact that people rate 5 stars and 1 star on the same book confirms this. However, they can take away the fun of navigating it for yourself. 

Reviews not only provide a summary of what you will read, but how you will probably feel about it. Before laying my eyes on Tolstoy’s first word, I knew about the passionate affair and the essence of tragic fate that pervades the novel. There was no longer the surprise of being swept away by the rhetoric and story of a book, or the unpredictability of placing the book on a ‘never again’ pile.

What is highly rated on the app is similarly problematic. The top 10 rated books feature Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone as first, among others including A Court of Thorns and Roses, The Hunger Games and Twilight. Whilst I personally love some of these books, I wouldn’t commend them as much for their literary genius. It seems that, as is to be expected, the success of a lot of the reviews on Goodreads are dependent on the consumer. Books that are targeted to younger audiences are less harshly critiqued, leading to works being overshadowed that perhaps deserve a greater appreciation.

This critique of Goodreads is by no means a reason to not use the platform. I only hope that all of you eager readers are cautioned off relying too heavily on the opinionated posse of users, and use it instead to discover the unlimited array of literature and let your curiosity run free.

Reading” by dorywithserifs is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0