Thursday, April 24, 2014

No Accounting for Taste, or Why Goodreads Is Lame

by Katy White

I recently went on a Goodreads kick and looked up famous books and their ratings, as well as books I like and dislike.  I was stunned by what I found.  Horrified for the state of humanity, honestly.  Because guess what I discovered:

The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank was rated lower than EVERY SINGLE CASSANDRA CLARE novel.  Yes, you read that correctly.  Humanity (of the Goodreads variety) has decided that The Infernal Devices series--which is not only completely derivative of The Mortal Instruments but is also glorified fan fiction of the author's own fan fiction--is better than the candid, unfiltered, unedited diary of a girl hiding in Nazi occupied Amsterdam, a diary that shows us the unquenchable power of the human spirit.  A diary that illustrates that, even in the most dramatic and evil of situations, hope reigns supreme and a girl can actually still fuss about kissing boys and fighting with her sister and not getting along with her mom. A diary that displays growth and maturity and a skill for writing that's far beyond Anne Frank's years, while still allowing for mood swings and a youthful woe-is-me attitude that you'd be hard-pressed not to find in a teenager, let alone one hiding from the Nazis who ultimately killed her.  Add to all of this the fact that she was keeping a diary, not writing a novel to be consumed and criticized by the public...

Right.  Clockwork Angel is totally better than that.

*Takes deep breath*

This isn't about Cassandra Clare or her books, of course, because they're fun (at least the first series) and exciting and have lots of kissing and teen angst and magical powers, which is always a good ride.  It's not even about how important I think Anne Frank's diary is in exposing teens (among others) to the darkest aspects of history and mankind in an...approachable way.

It's about the fact that people have the right to their own opinions and voices, even if their voices suck (to us).  As writers offering our works to the public for criticism, we must remember one cardinal rule:

We're going to write some beautiful things, dang it. Lovely, powerful, striking words that will put tears in people's eyes and tug on their hearts and make them feel all the feels.  These words will appeal to some and not to others, which is fine.  People don't have to love what we love to be smart or well-read, even if that means an intense dislike of a classic book or author (though a general disdain of the classics makes me question someone's taste entirely). But we call it "taste" for a reason. Everyone's wired to like different things. I'm wired to like sriracha and salt and vinegar chips, and you hating those things isn't a threat to my love.  The same should be true of our preferences in books.  Nothing is universally loved.

But that isn't the problem, either.  The problem is the professional haters of the world who think it's their job to poop in every sundae because someone said she liked chocolate.  We could write the greatest, most poignant novel of the modern era, and some naysayer's gonna naysay, like so:

The Diary of a Young Girl, Anne Frank
Recommends it for: people who like depressing or boring books
This book was awful! I hated it and thats all i have to say about it.

Well played, CullenFan172.  Well played.  

So when we all get to the stage of having books up on Goodreads, may we allow the following reviews to remind us that people revel in creating controversy the way I revel in a two pound bag of Mini Eggs.  Or, at the very least, let the measured, thoughtful reviews below remind us that Goodreads can be super lame:

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, J.K. Rowling
Pathetic. Really pathetic.  Don't even get me started on the plot. Epic failure.
This is the great literature of our age? What hope is there for any decent writers if all kids want to read is this utter garbage? What hope is there for the world if kids are growing up thinking this is good literature?

It made me consider both suicide and mass homicide

Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen
This book is quite possibly the most insipid novel I have ever read in my life. 

Macbeth, William Shakespeare 
Possibly the greatest disappointment I’ve had in my entire reading life.

East of Eden, John Steinbeck
I hate this book. Hate. Ponderous, pretentious, melodramatic, self-satisfied, patronizing to its readers, with ultimately nothing to say.

The Tell-Tale Heart, Edgar Allen Poe
This story was disturbing. Ummmm yeah that about sums it up.  (Katy's snarky aside: So, you gave the story one star for perfectly accomplishing what it set out to do? Goooood.)

The Road, Cormac McCarthy
This is perhaps the worst story I have ever read.  The Road is personally the first really pointless book I've read.  

Jane Eyre, Charlotte Brontë 
If you like fantastically depressing subject matter that would make Dickens cry (think orphans, typhoid-infested boarding schools, and crazy people locked in attics) and an annoying protagonist who can't decided if she's independent or submissive, you'd probably like this book. 

The Book Thief, Markus Zusak
This is such a piece of steaming dog **** that I'd recommend it only to people I REALLY hate.

The Alchemist, Paulo Coelho
Utter drivel. The book was badly written, righteous, condescending, preachy, and worst of all, the ending was morally questionable.

The Fault in Our Stars, John Green
Predictable. Boring. Uninspiring. Put me to sleep. 

Nice, right?  

When we reach the stage of having our labors of love lambasted on Goodreads, remember the words of Brendan Behan: 

"There is no such thing as bad publicity except for your own obituary."

What do you think? Does Goodreads scare you? Are you excited by the prospect of having someone care enough to hate your book? How do you handle bad reviews?


  1. Some random celebrity famously said "You can be the juiciest, most succulent, most perfect peach in the world... and some people just won't like peaches."

    And that's where I am on this stuff. I might really, really hate some objectively fantastic books (*cough cough* Jane Eyre *cough*), and love some serious trash (I'm not even gonna cough when I admit that I loved the first three Mortal Instruments books). I just have to remember that when my turn comes around. Haters gonna hate, there will always be haters, goodreads is wacky, and I just need to do me.

    Cliches for the win.

  2. My book got a couple of really hateful reviews. It wouldn't bother me nearly as much if there hadn't been so few of them. The reason for that is a story for another time. I feel in rich company, though. By the way, my kids dislike Jane Eyre. I love it though. My whole childhood was spent "running away from the orphanage" like Jane Eyre and Diddo Twite.

  3. I'm laughing really hard right now because that review about Jane Eyre could pretty much be about my book too. Ha! Three cheers for crazy people. I say, find humor in the bad reviews, if possible. Laugh, cry, move on. Actually, the best thing to do is don't even check your reviews on Goodreads, period. I don't. It's very liberating. Gina's quote is great and so true. We all are different. As for me, I have a shameless love for both "trash" and "boring classics"...and lots of stuff that falls in between. I like to keep it mixed. :)

  4. You're exactly right. There's no shame in not liking something that's beloved! I'm not big on Dickens's writing style, and I'm not ashamed of that. But if I were to write a review, I wouldn't say "what a steaming pile of poop this is!" I'd say that I had a hard time seeing past the fact that he was paid by the word to enjoy the story as much as I wanted to. Thoughtful critiques are useful. Others, not so much.

  5. Oh, I totally agree. I used to read literary fiction almost exclusively, but the depressing content and overall hopelessness burned me out. I discovered Bridget Jones's diary is the perfect remedy to that. And I'm not even a little embarrassed by that.😊

  6. Honestly, Jane Eyre is one of my top five favorite books if all time, so it's an honor to be disparaged on Goodreads along side Charlotte Bronte!

  7. I love that you put this post together. Love, love, love. This is so true. I call those people emotional trolls- people whose sole purpose in life is to get other people angry and start controversy, which is exactly what internet trolls do! It doesn’t matter the book or the subject matter of a post ("I think puppies are cute!” “Because you’re an idiot and don’t understand that the puppies you’re talking about were born in puppy mills and by posting photos of them you’re just fueling the cruel animal MACHINE!” Seriously.) they will always find SOMETHING to witch about.

    But I like Goodreads because it helps me keep track of books and spy on what my friends are reading. ;-)

  8. Haha! The puppy comment is so true! People, chill! They're cute puppies!

    Goodreads definitely has it's uses. These reviews just aren't among them. :)

  9. I just reread your comment and laughed about your book! I love the orphans and crazy people!

  10. Oh my goodness talk about people who have no idea about what makes a good book

  11. I don't read the reviews on Goodreads much, but it would seem typical for some to be positive and some negative. I think there are generational differences too. Stuff my folks enjoyed, I didn't necessarily care for. I never saw the appeal of John Steinbeck, but he's a classic. J.K. Rowling, I think, is brilliant, but a generation from now...who knows how she will be judged. Cultures change. I think the Fifty Shades series is disappointing, and not helpful to women, but look how popular those books were. My prayer is always that Godly writers put enough out there to elevate society.



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