I’ve evolved a moderately idiosyncratic approach to Goodreads: I’m trying to add everything I’ve ever read but without ratings. Because ratings are broken and useless obv., but also because it’s just too much context-switching for that space. Combining just the writer/reader roles introduces enough complexity—do you rate issues of the magazines you’re in as a contributor, for instance, and if so, how?—but the mere idea of rating other people’s books just raises the complexity to unmanageable levels. It’s a social problem, not an epistemological problem. Tl;dr I don’t rate stuff on Goodreads in case I somehow end up on a no-fly list.
What I do love about Goodreads is the reading challenge widget. There’s no nuance to it, nothing like the subtleties of the more famous/controversial reading challenge of recent weeks. The Goodreads challenge is a blunt instrument, looking only at how many books you’re setting out to read in a year. When I did it last year I didn’t pay any attention to author identity at all. In general, I just follow my nose and read whatever I feel like reading. Looking back at it now, this resulted in: I read 110 books, of which (going by a superficial scan of Goodreads author profiles) about 55% were male-authored and 95% (!) were by authors residing in the US or UK.
(tbf I think my sff short fiction reading has a lot more international variety. But there’s no Goodreads for short fiction so I can’t count them up in hindsight.)
(also there are lots of other axes and dimensions raised in the original challenge which I’m ignoring here, some of which I might talk about later.)
Those two percentages alone are interesting, though. I mean, the first is more or less where I’d expect it to be, at “half, give or take a bit”. The second, on the other hand, is terrible—especially coming from someone themselves trying to contribute to non-US/UK anglophone paraliterature, but I feel even otherwise kind of terrible? Even looking at the half-dozen or so books in question, there’s an over-reliance on translations of truly exceptional work. Like Vita Nostra, The Rabbit Back Literature Society and The Three-Body Problem: these are all wonderful books, but they’re also books that have already been filtered by success and chosen for translation. So just looking at this tells me there’s something that needs changing in my reading habits. I should either have not been surprised by the 95% or it should have been a different number altogether; it’s the surprise that tells me that something’s wrong.
This is the question that all the challenges &c. boil down to, the way I see it: is there any pattern in your reading that you didn’t deliberately choose? Because if so, that pattern is an imposition from the unbalanced world, somebody else’s choices rolling downhill and landing in your head.
Choosing to break such a pattern is a decision that could be, in theory, situated either in “buying different books” or in “picking up different books to read”, which are very different things if you tend to buy and stockpile ahead of time like I do.
The latter is a weirdly liminal moment for the chronic reader, which happens when you’re moving from a finished book to a new one: there’s an animal pleasure in it, a freedom of movement I’m loath to fuck with because I feel like it’s somehow a (minor but significant) part of my enjoyment of reading itself. It’s the complete opposite of having a to-read list, which turns reading into a chore. I never want to be read as a chore, and so I don’t want to do that to anybody else, either.
(even as I say it I realize there are probably people out there who find a to-read list liberating rather than suffocating. oh well, it takes all sorts)
So changing habits is, I think, for me all about choosing to stockpile different books. About deciding what sort of reading I want to make possible for myself (but not required or necessary) in the months and years to come (but not on a particular timetable). The theory is that this will be enough in the long run, and I suppose there’s no pat answer to that. One must simply wait out the long run and see.
Today’s unrelated reading recommendation & palate cleanser: “Only One Good Reason to Get a Haircut” by Sloan Thomas in Jersey Devil Press: “I’m related to Wolfies. Everybody is related to Wolfies.”