Goodreads – does it make me a better reader?

Maja Mazur considers whether Goodreads is a motivational app or one that loses sight of what reading is all about.

Maja Mazur
8th February 2021
As I write this article, Goodreads mercilessly informs me about my lack of progress on the 2021 reading challenge – apparently, I am three books behind schedule. I keep glancing at the app and the longer I’m looking at the numbers, the bigger they seem to get. Since it hasn’t been a perfect beginning of the reading year for me, my options are as follows: 1) prioritise books and give up everything else (lectures? what lectures?); 2) cry into a pillow; 3) ignore the silent judgement and read at my own pace with pleasure…

However controversial it may sound, I’m choosing the latter option. Analysing numbers has never brought any joy to my reading – not only would I compete with myself, but also (unwittingly) with others. And no matter how many books I would pick up, there will always be someone who reads more. The last thing I need after preparing for seminars and doing academic research is to stress about reaching the goal and turning my passion into an obligation. You might wonder then, why I even use Goodreads if it seems overwhelming? There are a couple of reasons why I have enjoyed using it for three years now.

It gives me a sense of community, being around people with similar passions. I like reading reviews and while I don’t write them myself, I think Goodreads might prove motivational for anyone who wants to start but could never get around to it (New Year’s resolution?). I also appreciate Goodreads for constantly making me choose between giving a book three and four stars (a very serious decision).

But let’s go back to the reading challenge since it seems to divide the bookish community. I always set mine as a relatively small amount, which makes it less stressful, but also less motivational. I’m not going to pretend the notifications ‘x books ahead of schedule’ and, eventually, ‘reading challenge completed’ bring no satisfaction - I’m not that indifferent. Nevertheless, I’m using it mostly as a list of books I read in a given year.

Years ago, I used to note them down in a notebook, but I kept forgetting to fill it and afterwards couldn’t remember what else I have read. For a person who hates making notes and is absolutely awful at being consistent, Goodreads is an effective solution. I enjoy comparing my reading lists from previous years - the genres I read, how I rated books- and their ratings help me realize how I have changed both as a reader and as a person. It makes me think about what I went through, especially as books remind me about specific moments in my life. I’m glad that Goodreads stores this information since I am pretty sure I would eventually lose a reading-tracking notebook (well, actually I already did).

Their ratings help me realize how I have changed both as a reader and as a person. It makes me think about what I went through, especially as books remind me about specific moments in my life.

Therefore, I’m using Goodreads as a convenient way of noting the books I've read, while treating the reading challenge as an enjoyable addition. It doesn’t influence my reading choices – currently, I have no intention of picking up only graphic novels (even though I highly enjoy them!) to catch up with the challenge. This neutral attitude proves to work for me since it prevents me from feeling overwhelmed. That being said, I know that Goodreads motivates some readers to pick up a book instead of, for example, scroll through social media. As long as the challenge doesn’t make reading feel like a race, it can be a fun solution for any book lover.

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