Posted by Patrick Brown on July 20, 2011
Yesterday, in the Guardian, John Self wrote a very entertaining post about why it seems that so many authors' best known works are not their best works. He writes, "If someone reads Kurt Vonnegut's most famous book, Slaughterhouse-Five, and doesn't like it, I'll want to shout to them, "But it's rubbish! Cat's Cradle is much better!"
This is the sort of argument that used to be unwinnable -- you'd say Slaughterhouse-Five is the best, I'd argue for Cat's Cradle, and in the end, after some fisticuffs, we'd agree to disagree and go have a beer. But not anymore! We have data to help us settle the argument, definitively. Looking at the statistics for Slaughterhouse-Five and Cat's Cradle, one can see that while many times more people have read Slaughterhouse-Five (250,000 to 50,000), Cat's Cradle does have a higher average rating (4.16 to 3.87). Argument settled (Though you should really just read both books; they're both excellent). With this in mind, let's look at a few of the authors that Self argues are "famous for the wrong book."
To start with, Self suggests that Louis de Bernières should be remembered not for Captain Corelli's Mandolin (despite the Nicholas Cage movie adaptation) but for the superior Senor Vivo and the Coca Lord. A glance at the Goodreads statistics for the books supports Self's thesis -- while far more people have read Captain Corelli's Mandolin (8,000+), Senor Vivo is higher rated, with an average rating of 4.03 stars. It's worth noting that there are several lesser-known de Bernières works with average ratings higher than that of Captain Corelli's Mandolin.
How about the rest of Self's list. Unfortunately, the Goodreads data doesn't support Self's suggestion that Joseph Heller's Something Happened is superior to the more often-read Catch-22. Despite having been read by seventy times more people, Catch-22 has the higher average rating, by quite a bit (3.96 to 3.4).
And the Goodreads numbers again fail to support Self's position that Kazuo Ishiguro's The Unconsoled is a better book than his much more popular titles Never Let Me Go and The Remains of the Day; it has a lower average rating than either of them.
Still, it's fairly consistently true that an author's most read book will not be her most highly rated. For instance, Charles Dickens' highest rated book is not the more widely read A Tale of Two Cities, but rather his third-most widely read title, A Christmas Carol and the slightly more obscure Bleak House. The Brothers Karamazov, not the more popular Crime and Punishment, is Dostoevsky's highest-rated book. John Steinbeck's East of Eden has a whopping 4.31 average rating while his more well-read titles Of Mice and Men and The Grapes of Wrath fail to crack 4 stars.
This trend holds even for more contemporary authors. Aimee Bender's The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake is by far her most widely read book, but it is not her highest rated; both The Girl in the Flammable Skirt and Willful Creatures have nearly a full star higher ratings. The highest rated Lorrie Moore book isn't A Gate at the Stairs, which has more than 6,000 ratings, but Self-Help, which has a mere 2,000 ratings. (I must mention one caveat with regards these contemporary examples: Since Goodreads is only a few years old, it stands to reason that the newest books -- those released since Goodreads has been around -- are going to have more ratings than older books, which people may not even remember they'd read.)
For every example, though, there are counter-examples. For instance, Jane Austen's most often-read title, Pride and Prejudice, is also her most beloved, with an average rating of 4.21. Jennifer Egan's latest book, A Visit from the Goon Squad, is both her best and most popular title, according to the Goodreads community.
I have a theory for why it is so often the case that an author's most famous work is rarely their highest rated. In the case of the classics, most readers encounter them first in school. As such, the ratings for those books are dragged down by those who bitterly recall being forced to read them. The more obscure works, meanwhile, are largely read by readers who have already read the more famous work and enjoyed it enough to seek out more of the author's work, leaving it with a higher average rating. As for the contemporary authors, I think a different phenomenon is in play. Often, an author will slowly build a readership, stacking great work on top of great work for years until, finally, they have a "hit" that many people read. Inevitably, some of these new readers won't find the author's style to their liking and will rate the book poorly. Those same readers aren't going to bother exploring the author's oeuvre any further, leaving their earlier works with a shinier average rating.
Of course it's also possible that people just like to say they prefer obscure books. I'd run the numbers for my favorite author, but he's pretty obscure. You probably haven't heard of him.
Posted by Patrick Brown on July 18, 2011
A couple of weeks ago, in the journal n+1, Elizabeth Gumport published an impassioned critique of reviews, focusing specifically on book reviews. I doubt very much that I'll be able to summarize it, so please do click through and read it in its entirety. It is worth your time.
Gumport seems to have two critiques, one which applies to book reviews as publications (The New York Times Book Review, for instance) and the other to reviews themselves. While the first part of her argument rings true to me -- the role of the book review section has diminished and changed in recent years -- it's not the section I'd like to discuss. Rather, I'd like to focus on this line from near the end of Gumport's essay: "If we could read and write anything we wanted, what would we read and write? Probably not book reviews?"
Really? This doesn't fit with my experience here at Goodreads. At last count, we have over 8 million text reviews on the site (with at least 100 characters of text), and we add roughly 8 to 9,000 more each day. How do we reconcile this with Gumport's argument that we don't actually enjoy reading or writing book reviews? If this were true, why would so many people be flocking to a site to write book reviews?
The answer lies in the nature of our reviews. On Goodreads, a review is a personal opinion, and, more importantly, a jumping off point for a passionate discussion. While there are certainly some reviews on the site that fall into the trap of plot summary, most are emotional reactions -- what about the book was moving, which characters are likable and which aren't. This sets the stage for passionate debate of ideas among friends -- something that is fairly impossible in the traditional book review. Our members have commented on over 400,000 different reviews. That represents an astounding volume of literary dialog.
Furthermore, looking at our top reviews for the past week (those receiving the most "likes"), I'm struck by how creative and, in some cases, unconventional they are (Many of them use images, for instance). These are deeply personal creative pieces of writing, works that arguably share as much with the average blog post as they do with a book review. And they are clearly wildly popular. In fact, they appear to be gaining popularity, rather than losing it.
With that in mind, why do you read and write reviews? And what makes Goodreads reviews appealing while those of newspaper review sections appear to be waning in popularity?
Posted by Patrick Brown on July 12, 2011
That sound you might have heard last night at midnight was hundreds of thousands of people rushing to their local bookstores or turning on their Kindles and Nooks to begin reading one of the most highly anticipated books of the year. Yes, today is the day that the latest installment of George R.R. Martin's immensely popular series A Song of Fire and Ice, A Dance with Dragons, is released. And not surprisingly, Goodreads members have flocked to add it to their shelves:
That's a serious one-day spike for any book, but it's doubly impressive for such a heavy tome (Dragons weighs in at more than 1000 pages).
What's drawn people to this volume? Obviously, they're eager for the story to continue, it seems likely that the book has also experienced a spike in popularity after the HBO adaptation of the first book in the series, A Game of Thrones. Adaptations usually expand the audience for the adapted work, and this is likely no exception. Indeed, dozens of Goodreads members mention the HBO series in their reviews of the book. Interestingly, a New York Times article suggested that the show had been sexed up to appeal to female viewers who might not be fans of the book:
"The true perversion, though, is the sense you get that all of this illicitness has been tossed in as a little something for the ladies, out of a justifiable fear, perhaps, that no woman alive would watch otherwise. While I do not doubt that there are women in the world who read books like Mr. Martin’s, I can honestly say that I have never met a single woman who has stood up in indignation at her book club and refused to read the latest from Lorrie Moore unless everyone agreed to “The Hobbit” first. “Game of Thrones” is boy fiction patronizingly turned out to reach the population’s other half."
After the significant internet outcry over this story, we looked at the demographic breakdown of readership for A Game of Thrones and found that better than a third of the book's 30,000 readers were women.
So what is Martin's appeal? Some readers liken him to an American Tolkein. John Wiswell, in his Goodreads review of the book, says "This may be the best Fantasy I've read since J.R.R. Tolkien. I highly recommend it to any fans of the Lord of the Rings series who have been disappointed by the other supposed epics that have shown up since." And Goodreads staffer Louise says "A Game of Thrones is one of the best fantasy novels I’ve ever read. This may sound like high praise especially after only reading the first book of the series, but A Song of Ice and Fire series may just well be the Lord of the Rings of my generation." And Ethan Miller suggests that the series deserves a place in the canon: "If Science Fiction and Fantasy weren't considered silly step children to those that define what is "Great" in the western literary cannon than the first three books of this series would surely rank amongst the greatest works of the last 25 years."
Whatever the appeal, it's clear that A Dance of Dragons is one of the hot books of the summer. Is it on your to-read shelf?
Posted by Otis Chandler on July 06, 2011
The right book can literally change a life. This founding philosophy has guided Goodreads from the start, and now we want to give back in a tangible way. We are proud to say that this summer the Goodreads Book Club has partnered with First Book to donate to children in need.
The stats on illiteracy in North America alone are staggering. Many kids can't get their hands on a book when they really want one, because many schools and families lack the means to purchase books. Our inaugural Goodreads Book Club is about bringing readers together: Now we've expanded that core goal to bring books to children that desperately need them.
Here is our pledge: We are donating 1,000 books to kids in need for every 10,000 Goodreads members who add A Visit from the Goon Squad to their shelves. As of today, there are already more than 25,000 who have read or plan to read Jennifer Egan's evocative Pulitzer-winning novel, so we have already promised 2,000 books! Help us reach the next campaign benchmark by adding the book and inviting your friends to join the Goodreads Book Club.
Our partner, First Book, is a stellar nonprofit organization that serves children with the greatest need by distributing books throughout the United States and Canada to schools and community programs in low-income communities. Their commitment to bringing children a steady supply of new books is very much aligned with the Goodreads mission to get people excited about reading. As First Book notes on its Web site, "Studies show that interest in reading more than triples among children who received new books from First Book."
Our initial goal is to donate 5,000 books—which means we need 50,000 people to add A Visit From The Goon Squad by August 2, when the Book Club concludes with a live video chat with author Jennifer Egan. If more than 50,000 people add the book before the end date, we will honor our pledge and donate up to 10,000 books!*
This is a fun, easy way for you to help us give the gift of the written word to thousands of kids who need it.
Help us spread the love!
To celebrate our partnership with First Book, we're giving away 10 paperback copies of A Visit from the Goon Squad, signed by the author Jennifer Egan! Enter to win »
* Books added by illegitimate accounts will not be included in the total number of adds. We reserve the right to disqualify accounts from unverified sources.
Posted by Kara on July 01, 2011
Looking for a new scrap of wisdom or humor to brighten your day? Or maybe just an intellectual turn-of-phrase to impress your next dinner date?
Introducing our new “Quote of the Day” feature to fulfill all of your quoting needs! We’ve searched high and low to bring you a collection of quotes we find intriguing, inspiring, sagacious, or just plain funny.
As some of you may have noticed, this feature has been displaying for a couple of weeks now on the lower right-hand corner of the home page. You can view it there or click on the header to be taken to the unique “Quote of The Day” page, where you can “like” the quote and even see an explanation for how it relates to today’s date.
Make sure you never miss a quote by subscribing to daily QOTD emails. Or follow us on Facebook or Twitter to join in the conversation about our picks. Happy quoting!
Posted by Jessica Donaghy on June 22, 2011
Goodreads members are strong supporters of public libraries, so we are especially excited to announce that thanks to a new agreement with EBSCO Publishing, reader ratings and book reviews from Goodreads will be incorporated into NoveList, a readers' advisory resource with widespread use in libraries. Goodreads's wealth of 11 million book reviews and 110 million ratings will now help librarians answer one of the most frequently asked questions—what do I read next?
The agreement brings together two companies that are dedicated to fostering a love of reading while sharing a belief that libraries have a key role to play in a community of readers. For readers searching the library catalog, content from Goodreads will serve as a powerful book discovery tool. NoveList founder Duncan Smith says librarians are always being asked for their recommendations. "With Goodreads we can point the user to thousands of readers who have read and commented on the books they are considering."
Independent market research indicated that NoveList is the most highly-rated readers' advisory resource in public libraries. NoveList Select allows libraries to add NoveList content into library catalogs allowing users to leverage the library catalog to discover new books and similar titles in the library's collection. The agreement now allows Goodreads' ratings and reviews to be incorporated into that same user experience.
Goodreads is home to both library patrons and librarians. In one poll, 30 percent of the nearly 17,000 respondents indicated that they went to the library for more of their books, eclipsing brick-and-mortar chain bookstores (22 percent) and online stores (18 percent). Are you a frequent library patron? Look for Goodreads the next time you are browsing a library catalog with NoveList!
Posted by Patrick Brown on June 17, 2011
When I was young, I wanted desperately to be an athlete. I was not the fastest or the strongest kid on the block, but that didn't stop me from trying to be the next Larry Bird. For you youngsters, Larry Bird played basketball back in the Middle Ages. He was sort of like Dirk Nowitzki, but with a mustache. Despite my efforts, I never panned out on the court (Except for that one glorious game where I recorded a triple-double -- In your face, Canestota High freshman basketball team!). Around the time that I began to bump against my athletic ceiling, my father gave me a book that would have a big impact on me. It was John McPhee's A Sense of Where You Are, about Bill Bradley's years as a basketball phenom at Princeton.
You might think that a book about a man with seemingly limitless physical ability might have been the wrong choice for a kid like me, but McPhee's book revealed Bradley to be a complicated and intelligent man -- someone equally interested in politics, academics, and athletics. It was the perfect book for me at the time, as it showed me that there was more to life than sports, that a person could and should be interested in everything, that a thirst for knowledge was what was truly important. A Sense of Where You Are remains one of my favorite books to this day.
Father's Day is this Sunday, and that makes it the perfect time to look at the books fathers most commonly give their children, as well as to explore how those books have changed our members' lives. A week or so ago, we created the Listopia list A Book My Father Gave Me, and asked our members to vote for a book and share their memories of books given to them by their fathers. Here are the top ten books on the list!
The first thing one notices when looking at the list is that J.R.R. Tolkien is very popular with dads. And with good reason. His stories have universal appeal, and their quest narratives of triumph over adversity make for great bedtime stories. Let's look at what some of Goodreaders remembered about some of the books on the list.
by J.R.R. Tolkien
Hugh says "I remember my father reading this to me when I was in the third grade and home sick. I had the chicken pox, poison ivy and felt miserable. He stayed home and read the Hobbit. I had nightmares about the "spiders of Mirkwood Forrest" but Loved it. In that way he gave me "The Lord of the Rings" too, he just didn't have to read them to me."
by Antoine de Saint-Exupery
Paula says "My dad gave this to me when I left for college. Whenever I see the cover I think of him."
by J.K. Rowling
Kate shows that father still does know best, at least when it comes to books: "My dad told me to read this, and at first I was like, totally lame, pops! But of course, he was right, I loved it!"
by Lewis Carroll
Alice's father took his love of books a step further: "My parents chose my name because they both loved this book."
by Lawrence Ferlinghetti
Amber says "My daddy slid me this book when I was nine, dig? How else to make your kid wild, open, crazy and free, than to share intimate crazed poets with them before they understand all the grown-up jokes."
So many of us have an enduring memory of our fathers taking the time to read to us -- whether it was from Tolkien or Seuss. Who knows, 20 years from now, maybe some Goodreads members will be reminiscing about the last time their father read them Go the F**k to Sleep. Ah, memories!
What was the book your father gave you that meant the most? Add it to the list! And Happy Father's Day to all the dads out there. Thanks for the reading recommendations.
Posted by Jessica Donaghy on June 08, 2011
It's time to fortify your summer to-read list for the delicious leisure-filled months to come. Are you in the mood for an escapist thriller, a beachy romance, or maybe some classic lit? We asked Goodreads members to tell us, What's the book you can't wait to read this summer? More than 800 readers have voted on the Listopia so far, and here are the top 10!
Marcel Proust's In Search of Lost Time when Tina Fey's Bossypants is close at hand). Well, summer is the perfect time for these titles. Goodreads members are voting for tried-and-true books like Anna Karenina, East of Eden, and To Kill a Mockingbird. Other members have set aside time to tackle larger opuses like The Lord of the Rings and even the most notoriously challenging read of all, Ulysses.
Here are some interesting titles on the list that caught our eye.
by George R.R. Martin
Topping the list is the latest in the epic fantasy series that inspired HBO's adaptation A Game of Thrones. Hollywood influence certainly spills into the book world. Three books-into-movies are all high up on the list: recently released Water for Elephants, soon-to-be released The Help, and eagerly anticipated The Hunger Games.
by Patrick deWitt
Set during the 1850s gold rush, this gritty yet darkly comic western follows the quirky misadventures of two notoriously vicious guns-for-hire. Goodreads Author Joshua Mohr says, "This book is flat-out good times. Sarcastic, drunk, murderous cowboys...sign me up!...do yourself a favor and just read it."
by Erik Larson (Goodreads Author)
Reading Larson's new book about Adolf Hitler's first year as chancellor of Germany is fascinating and frustrating. Fascinating because you read eyewitness accounts of how Hitler rose to power and began to abuse power right under the world's nose. And frustrating because you want to reach through the page and shake sense into everyone involved.
by Ann Patchett
Ardent reader reviews place this new Patchett novel on par with her acclaimed Bel Canto. Pharmaceutical researcher Marina Singh is dispatched to the Brazilian rainforest. Enduring the jungle's many dangers, she searches for an elusive Amazon tribe and a top-secret fertility drug that could enable women to conceive indefinitely.
by Tina Fey
In a crowded market of celebrity books, Fey's irreverent memoir is refreshing and entertaining. Glowing reader reviews have bumped Bossypants up to be the #2 most-added book of 2011 so far. Goodreads members especially recommend this as an audio book (read by Fey herself).
by S.J. Watson (Goodreads Author)
This absorbing psychological thriller is narrated by a woman with amnesia. It's getting compared to the film Memento, but the tone and rhythm are completely different. The sense of dread builds slowly. Ordinary moments become ominous: a missing photograph or a reminder note on the kitchen bulletin board.
by Jennifer McMahon (Goodreads Author
Realistic mystery and dark fantasy intersect in this creepy page-turner. A 12-year-old girl who believes in the King of the Fairies goes missing one summer night. A great pick for those seeking something intense. Beadyjan says it has "multiple twists and turns, lies and promises and secrets...sometimes wondering if the Grimmest of fairy tales can come true."
by Mitchell Zuckoff (Goodreads Author)
In May 1945, an American plane crash-landed in an isolated New Guinea valley, marooning a badly injured trio of GIs in the jungle. This harrowing work of nonfiction follows the survivors as they face Japanese snipers, gangrene, and a group of head-hunting local tribesmen. Kristin calls it "a true-life adventure story full of incredible heroism, personal sacrifice, and determination."
by Lauren Oliver (Goodreads Author)
The winner of the 2010 Goodreads Choice Award for Young Adult Fiction returns with an eerie story of an alternate United States in which love is a curable disease that must be eradicated. Erica says, "There are not many books that can speak to you the way Delirium does. Books that tug at your heartstrings and make you believe in the impossible."
by Jennifer Egan (Goodreads Author)
This year's Pulitzer Prize-winner is the inaugural choice for the launch of the Goodreads Book Club, now live! Thousands have already signed on for the Goon Squad Challenge, so join today and step into an international community of readers all sharing their reactions to this enjoyable, thought-provoking book.
So many great books to read, so you better get started! What's the book you can't wait to read this summer?
Posted by Jessica Donaghy on June 02, 2011
The Goodreads Book Club got off to a rollicking start last week in New York City. Hundreds of people lined up around the block outside nonprofit bookstore Housing Works for our sold-out event. (All ticket and concession proceeds went to the organization's work to end HIV/AIDS and homelessness.) We want to thank everyone for coming and making it such an energetic, book-loving night!
Pulitzer Prize-winner and Goodreads Author Jennifer Egan was on hand to read an excerpt from the first chapter of A Visit from the Goon Squad, the inaugural choice for the Goodreads Book Club. Infectious punk band (and book lovers) Care Bears on Fire then took the stage to play a set that would have certainly raised Goon Squad character Bennie Salazar's blood pressure.
For those that missed the launch party, there's still plenty to come this summer with the Goodreads Book Club. Watch the welcome video from Jennifer Egan, join the chapter discussions already underway, take the Goon Squad challenge, and start brainstorming your creative submission for the Slideshow Story Contest. Jennifer Egan will also be back later this summer for a live chat with readers. You'll find all this happening on the Goodreads Book Club page!
Check out more photos from the event on Facebook!
Posted by Brian on May 27, 2011
Goodreads is a wonderful community of readers who help each other find great books to read. So far, it's been primarily though seeing each each other's bookshelves, reviews and by directly recommending books to one another.
But we're also hard at work at finding ways to use everyone's ratings, reviews and other data we have about our books to make great personalized recommendations.
We've released the first step in that direction! On the book page we're now showing books that many users who read the book you're looking at also enjoyed. In the right column on the book page, you may see Readers Also Enjoyed (note that not all books will have them if we don't have enough data for them). Also note that there are arrow links near the top for paging through the books for quicker access: