How Do You Rate a Book? – A Commentary on the Goodness of Goodreads

A few weeks ago I noticed a small trend/discussion on Twitter from several authors commenting about their distaste for Goodreads and it got me thinking. Some of their points were extremely valid while others came across as simply complaining. What really sparked my thoughts was how exactly do we “rate” a book?

Before I go into my thoughts about how we rate books, I want to give some context as to what these authors were grumbling about. They claimed not to like Goodreads because people could “rate” their work without having actually read it. I remember now what sparked the conversation. Certain people or bots were creating accounts on Goodreads and rating books with one star. Some of these accounts were mimicking several authors who were and were not active on Goodreads, and crazily enough, they were giving some books one star whereas the real author had given the book five stars. Goodreads apparently had not acted or responded to several requests that these fake accounts be deleted.

Since technology can easily be used to manipulate markets and flood our screens with targeted information, are such systems meant for social interaction and shared interests safe places that provide us with relevant information? Or is that information being changed on a whim by computer algorithms?

A loaded question, I know. I agree with many of the authors concerns. I don’t necessarily think it is fair that even authentic accounts can go in and provide a rating for a book they have not read or did not finish (DNF). The rating system so ingrained in our culture has pros and cons but is definitely at risk of manipulation. Think about how ratings impact your decisions. Do you ever decide not to buy something, say on Amazon, because the average rating is low or you found a similar product with a higher rating? Do you peruse what the reviews say about the product or check to see how many people were included in the average rating? Are you someone who uses reviews to make decisions but never leaves reviews of the products you buy?

We use the information and opinions of thousands of strangers as a basis for finding good products. But how does that work with books? How can one rating system be suitable for a medium that spans hundreds of years and millions of interests? To me, Goodreads (or similar programs) is a tool I use mainly for personal use. I don’t have too many “friends” on Goodreads and I don’t really use the social aspect of the program. Though I do think it is great that you can find people who love books and see what your friends are reading and what they like since a friend’s recommendation holds much more weight than a mass of strangers. I personally only take recommendations in person when it comes to books. I also write book recommendations on this blog as my own way of giving actual feedback about the books I read.

I use the rating system simply for myself, but lately I’ve been questioning my own method of rating books. If I DNF a book, I will not rate it because I don’t believe you should rate a book you did not read. That would be like saying something tastes good before actually taking a bite. You don’t have the full experience. Sure it looks good, but it could taste terrible and vice-versa. I hardly ever give two stars or lower. If I don’t care much for a book, I usually don’t care to comment on it. I give three stars if I like the book, four if I really like it, and five stars if I absolutely love it and have already recommended it to all my friends (which is really the highest “rating” you can give a book). These ratings are my opinion. I think they allow any stranger that looks at my profile to see what I like and give them an idea of what I like to read. I love it when two people can rave about the same book. Books have the ability to form friendships and encourage passionate discussions. This is one reason I love them and want to write books of my own (it will be interesting when my own books show up and get rated on Goodreads, which will likely provide a different perspective for me).

But again, how do you rate a book? How can you rate books in the same system when they have nothing in common? I like to branch out and read new things. I’ve recently been reading much more nonfiction. So how do I rate a nonfiction book seemingly in comparison to a book of fiction? If I give them both three stars, does that mean I liked them equally despite having totally different experiences? Usually not. It is just in the moment after finishing the book when I consider if I liked it and how much. I then give the rating. I don’t compare the book to others I have read (with a few exceptions like if the book is better than other in the same series). I don’t think about how that rating may impact the overall rating for that book, which in turn may influence a complete strangers decision to read the book or not. I hope no one (or not many people) actually makes a decision to read a book based on a rating. Books are not kitchen appliances. But ratings do influence opinions and sales.

As with any rating system or criticisms, there are plenty of books people rate highly that I thought were just alright and there are books I love which others didn’t seem to enjoy. Some people love to gripe about anything. I worked in customer service for years and 90% of the interactions where a customer needed my attention as a manager was when they were dissatisfied. Rarely did anyone come up and praise anything or say how much they enjoyed their experience. I don’t think the same necessarily applies to rating books, but we use the same scales for businesses and the internet emboldens those grumpy customers to post one-star ratings on Yelp or Google or whatever they use. Sometimes they will use several so their nasty opinion can do the most damage. Some people just suck.

I use Goodreads and its rating system. But it is strictly for my own purposes. I refuse to be nasty about anything because I don’t need to add to that pile of poison already rotting the internet. I also use Goodreads to keep lists of books I want to read. I could not rate books and still use Goodreads simply to keep lists. Perhaps I may make that change. The program is a tool after all and can be used however you like. Just like any tool, it can be misused by the wielder. I do think Goodreads should authenticate accounts and remove any bots that try to alter ratings with false input. However, I also choose to read books based on my own interests and will not let a simple rating deter me from potentially discovering an amazing book. I will decide for myself if I like it. I am my own person. As are you.

Authors I’d Love to Have Coffee With (Time-Travel Edition)

That’s right, it’s the time-travel edition. These are all authors who I would have loved to have coffee with. Several of them had passed away prior to my even being born. Several were alive during my lifetime but I had not yet discovered their work and/or their fun nature. So, if I had a time machine, I’d use it to visit each of these authors to have a casual afternoon tea with (or beer or whatever). I definitely wouldn’t use a time machine for nefarious or benevolent reasons of course.

J.R.R. Tolkien

Tolkien AuthorOf course I would have Tolkien on this list. He has been a big influence on my life as well as millions of others throughout the years. A special thanks to my dad for introducing me to his work, and to Peter Jackson for his excellent film adaptations that I experienced during some of my earlier years. I became slightly crazed devouring Tolkien’s works when I first found them and though that craze has lessened, I still enjoy reading his stories. He will always be an influence in my life as well as my imagination. If you haven’t read the Tolkien biography by Humphrey Carpenter, I recommend it.

Philip K. Dick

Phil K Dick AuthorPhilip K. Dick unexpectedly became one of my favorite science fiction authors. I still have a lot of his work to read, but I’ve read several short story collections and I love most of them (some are a little goofy but most keep you thinking). He was truly an excellent write who could convey complex ideas through a simply told story. He made it look easy and Hollywood continues to use his stories for films and television. I would trade in a chance to meet him if doing so would have prevented his stroke. He could have lived so much longer and produced so much more work. His pseudo-memoir, which is really an interview transcription, titled What If Our World is Their Heaven? is a fascinating glimpse into who he was.

Ursula K. Le Guin

Ursula K. Le GuinAlas, I discovered Le Guin only a few months before she passed away in 2018. I have much of her work yet to read, including her popular Earthsea series, but I will get around to it. Her non-fiction is fascinating and I believe she led important movements at a critical time in the development of science fiction and the publishing industry. There is much more change needed in publishing (I just read about the scandal with American Dirt), but Le Guin fought for what she believed in and that is admirable. She wanted science fiction to be taken seriously and she wanted more women writers in the world. She especially wanted women writers to stop using pseudonyms and own their work. I think we still need many people like her in the world to fight the good fight.

Robert Jordan

robert-jordanI read Robert Jordan‘s The Wheel of Time series last year and it was an experience. He rightfully deserves his fans admiration. And speaking of his fans, they are excellent people. I follow many who are part of the #twitteroftime group and they are simply fun people who love the series and love sharing about it. It’s nice to find a fandom that isn’t toxic like so many out there. Jordan’s work has brought a lot of people together and I am excited for the television adaptation, which is currently in production. Jordan is another author who had lived during my lifetime. He passed away in 2007. I would have been sixteen then, but I would have loved to meet him (if only I had discovered his series sooner). The series is quite large at ~4.5 million words across 15 books (14 and a prequel). I tracked my reading of the series on this blog. It does contain spoilers after the second book posting, but it was fun to track my thoughts and predictions as the story progressed.

Ray Bradbury

Ray BradburyI somehow had no idea that Ray Bradbury was alive during the same time I was. I naively assumed he passed away several decades ago. This is probably because I read Fahrenheit 451 in high school and almost everything else we read in school was by authors who lived a long time ago. I was wrong and can only claim youthful ignorance. Ray Bradbury passed away in 2012. I was, by then, a not-so-naive adult at age 21. What I wouldn’t have done to meet him had I known. I recently picked up his book Zen in the Art of Writing from my local library and am excited to jump in.

Diana Wynne Jones

Diana Wynne JonesA somewhat recent discovery for me, I first discovered Diana Wynne Jones without realizing. I watched the film Howl’s Moving Castle and simply loved it. It was a few years later that I found out the movie was based on the book of the same name by Diana Wynne Jones. I of course read the book. I love them both equally and separately. I have since heard many stories about Diana herself and she seemed like such a lovely person. She has been an inspiration to many and I’m sure my fondness for her work will grow. I recently was gifted her book Reflections: On the Magic of Writing and I am excited to read it also.

 

Even after someone is gone, they are able to leave behind bits and pieces of themselves for others to discover. Some hold those pieces dearly, others simply enjoy them, and others will share them and discuss them with their friends. This is one of the greatest things about books and writing. I’m grateful to have discovered these authors and some of them have been influential in my life and they all inspire my own writing pursuits. I also simply love to read their stories.

*If anyone develops a time-machine and could loan it to me or wants to join on an adventure, contact me immediately.

8 Authors I’d Love to Have Coffee With

I must admit that I came across a blog post by N S Ford and I thought it was a fun idea. Now, I love coffee, but I have recently gotten into tea as well (partly in an attempt to reduce my caffeine intake), so this post is really a “authors I’d love to hang out with over a drink” post.

Neil Gaiman

Neil Gaiman AuthorI’ve talked about Neil Gaiman before and have recommended many of his books. I took his MasterClass about a year ago and may very well take it again soon. Neil is one of several authors (a few also on this list) whose writing I enjoy and whose personalities I find even more fascinating. You can find more of what I think about Neil by reading my post On Neil Gaiman which is part of my Authors Who Influence Me series.

V. E. Schwab

VE SchwabI cannot remember how I first discovered V, but as with Neil, I find her fascinating as well. She gave an excellent speech titled “In Search of Doorways” at the J.R.R. Tolkien Lecture at Pembroke College in 2018. She has an active Twitter presence and is a fun to follow.

Tobias Wolff

Tobias Wolff AuthorAnother author who I have written about in my On Authors series, Tobias Wolff is a prolific writer who I don’t think appears on many peoples radars because his work is primarily in the realm of short stories. I absolutely love his work and would love to have an informal talk with him about many things.

Gareth L. Powell

Gareth L PowellI first discovered Gareth L Powell on Twitter and only a few months ago. Others were talking about his book About Writing: A Field Guide for Aspiring Authors. I recently read it and greatly enjoyed it. I have yet to read his fiction but I plan to pick up Embers of War in the near future and dive in. He is an absolute delight to follow. He is engaging, uplifting, and an overall prime example of what social media can be used for as he offers encouragement and maintains positive enthusiasm.

Malcolm Gladwell

Malcolm GladwellI never knew who Malcolm Gladwell was until I took his MasterClass on writing. I have since read all but one of his books. His most recent, Talking to Strangers, is my favorite of them all. I’ve learned so much from his research and skillful way of tying topics together around a theme that would beforehand seem unrelated. I’d have so many questions for him but would be happy just sitting there and listening to him talk.

J. K. Rowling

JKRowling_2016GalaYet another from my On Authors series, how could I not have J. K. on this list. I grew up alongside her popular character Harry Potter. By this I mean I literally grew up as the books were released and I was around the same age as Harry when each installment was released. Though I would like to have coffee/tea with her, I don’t think I’d really talk about Harry Potter at all.

Margaret Atwood

Margaret AtwoodSomehow I failed to read Margaret Atwood, or even know of her, until I took her MasterClass. She seems like a delightfully fun person and I know I would enjoy talking with her. I still have much of her work to read, but I will get to it eventually. Oryx and Crake is the next book of hers I think I will read unless I read The Testaments next as I’ve already read A Handmaid’s Tale.

Patrick Rothfuss

rothfussworldbuildersI first read Pat’s work about three years ago. I have since convinced several friends to read his Kingkiller Chronicles series and they both love me and hate me for it. I first discovered Pat through Twitter when someone (I believe it was a publisher) posted a video of him and Sabaa Tahir talking about writing and sequels and taking questions from fans. I thought they were both delightful and I read his book and loved it.

 

 

Those are eight authors who I’d love to have a drink with. I’m sure there are several others who would make such a list and many more who I have yet to discover, but we will save those for another time. Stay tuned for Authors I’d Love to Have Coffee With (Time-Travel Edition).

*If your name is on this list, the drinks are on me of course.

New Year, New Series

Nothing like starting a new year, so why not start a new books series as well? Below is a list of book series I’ve read in the past few years which I enjoyed and have recommended to friends. Another list, below the first, includes several series I hope to read this year. These are books I’ve been hearing a great deal about or have always intended to read but have not yet gotten to them.

1. The Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan

The Eye of the WorldI read this series last year and it was an incredible ride. This series begins with The Eye of the World and includes a total of 15 books, one of which is a prequel. The series started in 1990 and was completed in 2013. Brandon Sanderson completed the final novel (which was published as three novels due to length) after Robert Jordan passed away in 2007. If you enjoy fantasy and are up for an epic adventure filled with great characters, magic, several unique societies, and a genuinely friendly and non-toxic fanbase, then look no further. The series may take you a while, it took me 9 months, but the journey is worth the investment.

 

2. The Kingkiller Chronicles by Patrick Rothfuss

TNotWBeginning with The Name of the Wind, this trilogy first arrived in 2007. The sequel arrived in 2011 and there are rumors that the third installment will arrive later this year. There is a novella and a short story that are supplemental to the main story, which you likely will devour as I did after being pulled into the series. This series is considered fantasy due to the use of a detailed magic system, supernatural elements, and a few fantastical creatures. The story is beautifully written. If you don’t like waiting, I may recommend starting this series after the last book arrives. However, if you are a fan of great stories, don’t pass this one up.

3. Dune by Frank Herbert

DuneDune is a series I must admit I have not completed. I have only read the first book, which can be read as a standalone novel. Frank Herbert wrote 6 Dune novels and 14 more were written by his son, Brian Herbert, and Kevin J. Anderson. This brings the total to 20 books should you be interested in a long series. You can simply just read the first one, like I did, as it is a great story which ends without leaving you hanging like some installments in a series do. You therefore have the option of moving forward into the longer series if you want.

 

4. John Carter of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs

princess-of-mars-tpEdgar Rice Burroughs is best known for his Tarzan series, but he wrote a fun science fiction series that follows the protagonist John Carter. He is a former american civil war soldier who gets unexpectedly transported to Mars where he finds that it is inhabited by several species. There are 11 books in the series, but only the first three follow John Carter himself and is called the first Barsoom trilogy. I have only read the first four, and therefore can only recommend the first three as a trilogy to read. The first book is titled A Princess of Mars. It was first written in 1912 but reads as if it were written recently.

5. The Inhuman Trilogy by John Marco

Eyes of GodThis trilogy begins with The Eyes of God. A fourth book actually came out fairly recently which extends this trilogy, but I have not yet read it. Mostly because I would likely reread the trilogy before reading the new book. This story has elements of the Arthurian tales and follows a knight named Lukien who falls in love with his queen, Cassandra. This is just the beginning and the story goes well beyond simple court politics. It is an adventure into realms of ancient sorcerers and magical weaponry.

 

Series I hope to read this year.

1. The Book of the New Sun by Gene Wolfe
Books of the New SUn.jpg

Starting with The Shadow of the Torturer, I first discovered Gene Wolfe from a book of nonfiction by Neil Gaiman. I later purchased the New Sun series after I learned Gene Wolfe passed away last year. I’m exited to read it.

2.  The Murderbot Diaries by Martha Wells
Murderbot-novellasI’ve been hearing a lot about this series and they are all great things. This series consists of four novellas. Therefore, I will likely read through the series pretty quickly. The fifth installment comes out later this year as a full novel. I may wait to read the first four until closer to the release date.

 

3. The Tales of Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin
The Books of EarthseaI’ve become a huge fan of Ursula K. Le Guin since I read her book The Left Hand of Darkness. I know the Earthsea novels have been well-loved by many, but I never knew about them until recently. My wife bought me the entire illustrated series as an anniversary present and I hope to read it soon.

 

 

4. The Imperial Radch Series by Ann LeckieAncillary-trilogy.jpg

This trilogy begins with Ancillary Justice. I first discovered this series when I went to see Ann Leckie. I saw her a second time at a library event. Despite attending two events, I have yet to sit down and read her series. I hope to change that this year and read all three.

5. The Binti Trilogy by Nnedi Okorafor
Binti Trilogy.jpg

Binti has been on my radar for awhile now. I hope I can read the series this year. This is a another series of novellas, so I should be able to read them quickly.

 

Well there you have it. Several series I recommend, and several series I look forward to reading myself. I hope you have a bountiful year of books and great reading. I’m sure I will discover new favorites myself.

Happy Reading.

My Writing Year in Review – 2019

Well…this year’s writing plans went askew rather quickly I’m afraid. I originally had two goals for 2019, and they were to read more books and focus on writing short stories with the hope of getting five accepted for publication by the end of the year. I can happily say I accomplished one of these two goals.

I read more this year than the past five years combined (I think). This was in part because I read the entirety of The Wheel of Time, which accounted for nearly half of the books I read this year and approximately 75% of the “pages” read in total. The other part is that I decided to try audiobooks for the first time. I now listen to books on my commute and while doing yard-work. I completed an additional ten books by using the audiobook format.

I, unfortunately, did not get much writing done this year. I started off strong and wrote a few short stories, but then my writing tapered off. I was no longer writing on certain nights of the week, which I had done to create weekly posts for this blog in 2018. I think this was a big part of it. It just goes to show how discipline is more important than motivation. Another reason was likely because I was reading so much (not really and excuse though). I would sit down with a book instead of sitting down to write. This is also a discipline thing. I intend to write every day this next year, even just a little bit, to restore that discipline and ensure progress toward my writing goals. The last reason my writing halted involved something I learned about myself. Apparently, when I get stuck on a story, I tend to halt writing altogether. This is a terrible thing to do and I will need to overcome this issue. However, I now know it is a problem and can recognize when I am falling into this trap. I already have ways to prevent this from hindering my progress.

Aside from accomplishing only one of my 2018 goals, I did manage to maintain a fairly consistent presence on this blog. I averaged about one post a week even though nearly all the posts were book recommendations or part of my “reactions” to The Wheel of Time.

My goals for the upcoming year (and new decade) are to:

  • Write every day (even if it is just one sentence)
  • Read even more
  • Use my local library more (I haven’t used my libraries much since I was a kid)

I don’t want to place specific writing goals on myself because I have several in mind and my writing can often take me in directions I had not previously intended. Such as a short story turning into a longer work or vice-versa. I do hope to finish the first draft of my first novel before I am 30, which means I will need to write the majority of it this next year as I am turning 29 in a few months. Writing every day should help me complete a draft. Should I get ambitious, I could write a few first drafts. I have plenty of stories that are nearly fully planned-out so it’s not impossible.

Another goal I hope to achieve is to begin a PhD program. I am currently working on the application materials for a specific program. Should I be accepted, I will begin the program in August. This will of course put more strains on my time, but I know I am capable of accomplishing all of my goals. I just need to be persistent.

My last, somewhat-writing-related goal is more a change in my interaction with the community. It seems like a lot of negative things are put out into the world these days. I’m not terribly active on social media, but I hope I can become more of a positive force and focus on lifting others as they pursue their dreams. I know how little things can make big differences and I know that lifting others can have a positive impact on the one doing the lifting. It may be a bit selfish, but I want to surround myself with more positivity and I want to reciprocate that positivity. The world is a better place when we support each other.

With that, I would like to thank you for reading my blog, and I hope you aspire to your own creative endeavors this next year. Feel free to give me updates on your projects as I’d love to support you. And, as always…

Happy Reading.