My GoodReads, Your GoodReads

I love GoodReads because it does a lot of things for me that I am too lazy to do myself. It collects all my books with lovely little covers, let’s me see what other people are reading, and have you seen their new iOS app with barcode scanner? Sweet.

I do have some nitpicks: it’s not easy to remove books if you have added them accidentally to one of the three primary categories. The website’s interface has this scrolling sameness that can make picking out details and links difficult and sometimes frustrating. Minor quibbles though. I use the site almost every day.

But beyond that I don’t really review books. Oh, I have opinions. Don’t get me wrong. They live in a paper journal on my shelf, for my eyes only. That’s where I will write at length about the book in question. It goes back to 2006 when I started keeping track. What I do say about a book isn’t a review so much as an impression, as spoiler free as possible, about my experience. And that lives here, over on the Bookshelf page, not on GoodReads. All of these authors worked very hard on their books and who am I to pick them apart? I’d rather focus on the things I loved, and talking them up to people who might love them, too.

But I do, perversely, like giving star ratings to books over in GoodReads. But how I rate books may or may not make much sense, either. So, context!

5 STARS: This book either made me cry or made me stop and go, “WHOA.” (Yes, very Keanu-esque.) These are the SQUEE books, the fangirling, where a piece of the book is forever stuck in me, a splinter I will never pull out. I have a hard time being either eloquent or critical of these books. It often ends in Kermit-flailing.

4 STARS: I really enjoyed this book, will recommend it to others, will continue reading the author. It might not have made me cry, it might not have thumped my soul, but it was crunchy, it swept me up, and I emerged wholly satisfied.

3 STARS: This is my waffle rating, meaning there were lots of things in the book I liked, maybe even a lot, but the were things that distracted or bugged me. If it’s a series, most often the middle books, a three-star rating will not stop me from continuing. If it’s a stand-alone, I may or may not pick up books by this author in the future. Would depend on topic, on buzz, on good word-of-mouth.

2 STARS: Highly problematic and on multiple levels. I find myself annoyed while reading it, notice that it’s easy for me to put the book down and do something else, mentally deciding what I would do different.

1 STAR: I argued out loud with the book, in the bad way. The WTF? Are you kidding me? Jesus Christ! sort of way. If I finished it … Well, let’s just say it was a near thing. (And while grammatical, having STAR here in the singular offends my sense of symmetry deeply.)

0 STARS: I started the book but did not finish it, for reasons. Sometimes the book itself, sometimes not.

There is a lot, A LOT, of wiggle room between these categories. A 3 for me is someone’s 5, and vice versa — I’ll recommend 3 STARS books to friends I know whose tastes run that way. And what I thought was worth 5 STARS for me when I first read it might drop if I were to reread it a year later, or ten years later. (Ex: Amber Chronicles possibly, haven’t tested it.) Or I might go back to something I dropped the first time only to fall in love with it later. (The Hobbit.) And there are books I know that if had gotten to them as a kid I would have loved them until the covers fell off, but that time for me has passed. (Harry Potter.) And there are some that I will never, ever get. (Lord of the Rings. Please put the stones down.)

There aren’t too many 1 or 2 STAR scores in my GoodReads feed. When I first started, I entered all the books I remembered reading, which tended to be books I already loved. As I went along, books I didn’t click with often got quietly removed from my GoodReads list instead of being given any stars.

Books are personal in a way a movie never can be. A movie can be interpreted, debated but its form is fixed, unarguable. A book is reborn every time it is read, enjoying infinite incarnations, individual to each time, each place, each reader. (And each reader’s time and place, if read more than once.) I want to talk about the books that move me so, I hope, that they might move others.

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