If you’re like me, you’re a list maker. Also, you like to read. Given those two attributes, you naturally probably use Goodreads.
Right now, I predominantly use it to track my reading. I will also occasionally blurb a review on there when I finish a book that I don’t plan on fully reviewing here. And if I get around to it, I plan to link all of my full reviews here into a preview review there. Maybe that’s a bit redundant. Maybe I just like to be thorough.
Anyway, if you don’t use Goodreads, it is helpful in many ways. As the screenshot above suggests, it can help you find books based on what you’ve already read. Granted Amazon does that for you (or at least based on what you’ve purchased), but Goodreads limits it to bookworld and lets you catalog everything you read.
Also, you can see what your friends are reading or have read, and you can earmark books into a “to read” folder 1 so you can remember what you’ve found and maybe read it later.
In the midst of all this helpfulness, Goodreads also subtly meddles in your reading habits, and not for the better. It does this by giving you three, and only three categories into which books must fall:
- Currently reading
- To Read (as previously mentioned)
For all you black and whiters out there, this is probably perfect since technically speaking, every book is either read or unread, and if unread, it is either a book you want to someday read or you don’t.
For people who like gray areas 2 this is certainly problematic since there are plenty of other potential options. For “Read” there could also be:
- Thoroughly skimmed
- Read enough to know I won’t finish it
- Absorbed the basic argument
For “currently reading” there is also:
- Skimming as we speak
- Mining for quotations
- Actively perusing
And when it comes to “to read,” I run into several problems. Mostly this is because I collect biblical reference works (i.e. Bible dictionaries and commentaries), but it also applies to other books. My main question is this, “How do I categorize a book I will read some of, but probably never in full?” A commentary is a good example. Many of them, I will never read cover to cover. Goodreads requires that if I am to add it to my books, I must either have read it, be reading it, or intend to read it in the future. But the reality is many books do not fit neatly into those categories.
And this is the crux of my problem with Goodreads. Reading well is actually more complicated than the Goodreads categories suggest. In reality, you don’t read every single book cover to cover and often a book is “read” when you’ve gotten sufficiently bored with it, but could explain the gist of it to someone else who might be interested. If you don’t have to read it for school, 3 you don’t have to read it cover to cover. If you’re drawn in and love it, then by all means. If it bores you to tears, move on and consider it “read.”
Now, when it comes to reviewing, I have an obligation to gather enough information about the book to sufficiently review it. Often, especially with longer works, this does not necessitate reading the book cover to cover (Goodreads‘ “read” category). It does necessitate giving a close reading of the book (how close depends on whether I plan on doing a critical review) and trying to understand what the author’s goal is, what he is actually saying, and whether there is a match between the two. I read as much as I need to in order to review it well. Often, this means reading the book cover to cover (and often it’s because I’m interested enough to do so). Sometimes I haven’t needed to do that, and full disclosure here, I’ve done some really good reviews when I haven’t read the book in full. That’s not my general practice, but sometimes I run into a time crunch and I want to move on to other reads.
In the end, Goodreads has been helpful, but not when it tempts me to think that every book I start reading eventually needs to be in the “read” category. I’ve shuffled books on and off my “currently reading” list and sometimes multiple times before I finish them (or forget about them). The goal is to learn and to grow, not to see how many books I can read. The latter caters to my pride, but it can also warp my reading habits. The former is why I became a reader in the first place, because, believe it or not, I used to hate books.
But that’s a story for another day, perhaps one in the near future…
- Which is infinitely better than just buying those books thinking you’ll have time to read them some day, but then you move every August and have to haul them across state lines and what have you. Just saying. ↩
- I was going to say “shades of gray” but that phrase is ruined now. ↩
- And let’s be honest, not everyone reads all the “required reading” that comes up in school. This is why I will assign reading as homework for my students, talk about it in class, and then at some point later ask on a quiz, “Did you do the reading?” without warning. Usually this question is worth the most so students are faced with an interesting ethical dilemma. If they didn’t do the reading, they will fail the quiz. But they have the option to lie and say they did to save their grade. But, this is also Bible class, so then they have to live with lying on a Bible quiz about doing their homework if they choose that route. In addition, if they brazenly lie about doing the reading, it might be awkward when they miss a bunch of questions related to that reading they just claimed that they did. Moral of the story? I can usually tell who is lying, and I probably think too much about stuff like this ↩