So, yeah, I’m on Goodreads, have been for a few years. I’m not entirely sure why—I’m not a big participator there. If I’m going to write a book review, I’d rather do it here on my blog, or in some forum with an actual editor. But I like to see what my tribe is reading, and I figured I better at least have some idea how this thing works before my next book happens (which I sent off to the publisher, BTW; now it’s a waiting game).
Though I’m engaged with peeking into the shelves of others, I know very well that book recommendations almost never work out. I’m not sure why this is, or if it’s because I’m just weird. It may be impossible to understand another reader’s taste in such a way that, among the millions of books in the world, another one can be recommended and subsequently appreciated. Neither people nor algorithms can do it. People are too focused on their own enthusiasms and their desire to make other people like what they like, to the omission of considering the actual taste of others; algorithms, say on Amazon, don’t do too badly on subject area in my experience (here are another five bestselling books on the topic you appear to be reading up on), but fail miserably at literature.
One of my favourite books is Ciaran Carson’s novel Shamrock Tea, which I re-read every few years. My friend Shawna recommended it to me while we were browsing in Chapters one day a long time ago. I purchased it, read it, loved it, and later told her about my conversion to this book. She told me that she hadn’t actually read it – I must have misheard her recommendation, which was more of a suggestion or a pointing-out. She just liked the chapter titles—each named after a pigment colour. (The story is about a lot of things – among them Wittgenstein, Irish nationalism, hallucinogenic drugs, time travel, Catholic saints, and the Arnolfini Wedding Portrait.) (And Shawna, if you read this, you should let me know if you remember this differently, or at all!)
Book jacket blurbs (testimonials, to those of you not in the book biz) don’t tell me anything about a book’s quality, but they do tell me about what kind of book the publisher is trying to make me think it is – how they are positioning it. I recently tried to read Joseph Boyden’s newest work, The Orenda, and noted that the blurbers—and there were a lot of them—were all male. And all of the blurbs were Very Serious.
The book-recommendation social network Goodreads (recently purchased by Amazon) allows you to categorize your books as to-read, reading, and read. These three high-level categories are woefully insufficient. I have many, too many, books on my currently reading shelf. This is because I’m a notorious book abandoner. There just isn’t enough time in the week to keep plodding through something if I’m neither motivated nor compelled to do so. Some of these books that I abandon I know that I’ve really, really abandoned – I will never finish them. There needs to be a reading category for that. On the other hand, some books I haven’t picked up in years, and yet I consider myself to be “still reading” them: I remember the story, I think about them kind of nostalgically, and remember enjoying them – but maybe they just weren’t the thing for that particular time of my life. Maybe I’ll still go back there. There should be a category for that, too.