Goodreads Blog
blog posts (showing 271-280 of 431)
July Newsletter!
Posted by Elizabeth on July 07, 2009 5

In this month’s newsletter we interviewed authors Alice Hoffman and Chris Anderson, both of whom had plenty to talk about (see my previous post). We also had a lot of fun with our “In Bed” feature. Instead of getting “In Bed,” we went to the beach with Chick Lit writers Sophie Kinsella and Gigi Levangie Grazer, both of whom provided some wonderfully superficial beach read recommendations. Riders by Jilly Cooper sounds like pure indulgence and I’ve read The End Of Affair by Graham Greene, which is probably one of my favorite books of all time. Green’s subtlety is impressive.

We also featured several interesting books on the Movers & Shakers list. I’m looking forward to reading Something Missing: A Novel, by Matthew Dicks, a book about a thief with OCD tendencies. It sounds clever. And the Lit for Lat selection, Censoring an Iranian Love Story, seems timely and particularly poignant given the events of this past month.

For our Poem of the Month, we had to go with the second place poem “The Rape of Lake Michigan,” because the first place winner, “Used Books,” had already been featured as our September 2008 Poem of the Month. Both are wonderful poems, so please check them out!

We hope you enjoy the newsletter,


Writers and Critics
Posted by Elizabeth on July 07, 2009 5

It’s been an interesting month for writers and reviewers. In the past two years at Goodreads, I’ve observed the relationship between authors and critics and I think it’s safe to say that at this point, the distance between the two has all but disappeared. Alain de Botton (one of my favorite authors) publicly criticized Caleb Crain’s review in the New York Times of his latest book The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work; Alice Hoffman tweeted about her poor review in the Boston Globe and asked people, "If you want to tell Roberta Silman off, her phone is [Silman's phone number and email address]. Tell her what u think of snarky critics;” And Chris Anderson was called out for his lack of citation of Wikipedia in his latest book Free.

Fortunately for us, we interviewed two of these controversial characters for our newsletter, Alice Hoffman and Chris Anderson. Unfortunately, both interviews were conducted before these Internet bombs, so the questions we asked are closely tailored to their books and not to their opinions about critics.

Still, this month highlights a really interesting issue that is relevant to Goodreads. It’s a question we face from time to time when people flag a review for “inappropriate content," and that’s the question of guidelines.

At the inception of Goodreads we thought a lot about guidelines, particularly because a nasty, unbalanced review can be damaging for an author and generally unpleasant. This is an issue I hold particularly close to my heart because before I worked at the Los Angeles Times, I worked for several years as a dance and opera critic for local newspapers. When I was just starting out, one of my mentors gave me a very interesting piece of advice. He said, “Never, ever, pan a work by an emerging artist.” He added, “A young artist’s career may never recover. Someone like Janet Jackson has already been established, and can handle it, but when someone is just starting out, you can ruin them.” He also told me that if I was going to criticize something, I should always say how that particular problem could have been improved.” I do feel grateful that I was given that advice at the beginning of my career. I don’t think that I’ve left a trail of damaged artists in my wake as a critic, and I don’t want that on my conscience.

Of course, we would never tell people how to review a book. Goodreads can be whatever you want it to be. Some people don’t want the pressure of feeling like they have to produce a professional quality review; others make their profiles private so that they can be completely candid with their friends. It’s entirely up to you.

This also brings me to the nasty, snarky review. It’s a desired thing, both online and in alternative weeklies and websites such as the Huffington Post. The problem with the snarky review is that it’s so easy to write. It’s a bit making fun of someone. If the performance was so-so, the artist is an easy target, and all that’s required is a spoonful of weak-witted humor.

And the problem with a badly written, snarky review is that the final result is not funny, it comes off as mean. I love well-written, snarky reviews. They uncover something and always surprise you. They are often gentle yet probing; they start off pleasant and then veer into darkness. Pauline Kael is a great example of a critic who could pan something without beating it to death. But the trouble is that there are very a small percentage of brilliant pans, and the rest of the reviews are badly written tirades that seem like the author is trying to sound smart. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying I’m the most skilled writer in the world or that the reviews by Crain or Silman are in that category. But I do think that there is a preponderance of this kind of criticism in the print world and blogosphere, and perhaps even at Goodreads.

Without trying to sound like a goody-two-shoes schoolteacher, I think that an element of morality in criticism (particularly online) will become more and more of an issue in the next decade. If you can’t say anything nice, you better say it effectively.


Steven Pressfield is innovating with content
Posted by Otis on July 06, 2009 1

I just listened to a five piece video made by author Steven Pressfield titled War & Reality in Afganistan: It's the Tribes, Stupid. Now while I'm not going to comment on the content of these videos, I did find them very interesting and think they are worth watching.

What I found particularly interesting was that these videos are not part of any book. Steven Pressfield has written two books about the subject (Alexander the Great, and The Afghan Campaign), so he knows a lot about it's history. So much in fact, that he felt compelled to speak out. And instead of writing Yet Another Political Book, he laid his thoughts and arguments out in a clear set of videos.

What I love about this is that Mr Pressfield is participating in (and even starting) a conversation about a topic he is passionate about. I think we need to see more of this. And I think there is no better way for writers to generate lots of attention and traffic to their blog.

If you want to watch it start with Episode one!

The 20 most followed people on Goodreads
Posted by Otis on July 02, 2009 1

It's been a few weeks since we launched the ability for members to follow other members. I was curious today who the most followed people were, and decided to share it in a blog post. As you might have guessed - the top 20 are almost all authors.

Top 20 Most Followed People on Goodreads

Neil Gaiman

Sarah Dessen

Jennifer Weiner

Tamora Pierce

Paulo Coelho

Kelley Armstrong

Laurie Anderson

Melissa Marr

Jennifer Crusie

Richard Dawkins

Lisa See

Felicia Day

Maureen Johnson

Patrick Rothfuss

Maria V. Snyder

John Scalzi

Wil Wheaton

Tess Gerritsen

Sarah Allen

Katie Macalister

Goodreads is hiring software engineers!
Posted by Otis on June 30, 2009 1

Goodreads is hiring! Want to work for one of the top social networks, help millions of people improve their lives through reading, and be a part of pioneering the digital book revolution? Goodreads is a small team, venture funded, and looking for extraordinary people. Read more about us.

We're looking for programmers who want to learn how to build a top-tier social network, love to build cool stuff and work hard, can communicate well, and have a personality that fits in with ours.

Our development philosophy is to work individually or in pairs, building everything from front-end to back-end. We divide up work on a project to project basis, and you'd be responsible for making sure your features have a clear user-interface, scale for millions of users, and have legible and easy to maintain code. You should be comfortable with those skills or dying to learn them!

Required skills

* Proficient programming with MVC frameworks. Ruby on Rails is preferred, but we'll take PHP, Python or Java.
* Knowledge of SQL (MySQL preferred).
* Experience with HTML, Javascript, and CSS.
* Comfort using the Linux operating system (shell scripting, cronjobs, installing software, etc).

We prefer people that are passionate about:

* Reading books!
* Building social networks and building great product.
* A/B testing and optimizing user experience
* Building large scale websites (MySQL, Memcached, Sharding, etc)
* Thinking creatively and engaging and listening to users.
* Experience building your own website or startup is a plus - we like entrepreneurs.

Open positions

* Facebook/MySpace app developer. You will be in charge of working on the Goodreads Books app on Facebook, MySpace, and other platforms. You should love Facebook, and either know or be willing to learn a lot about making things viral.
* Senior software engineer. You will be in charge of helping to develop new products and features and scale existing ones. You should be comfortable discussing: Memcached, MySql optimization, Database sharding, Lucene, Facebook, Opensocial, xml/json/rest, nginx/haproxy/mongrel, and more.

Interested candidates should submit a code sample as well as a resume. Also, answering our design challenge will ensure your resume will be read.

If you're interested, please send your resume to We have offices in both Santa Monica and San Francisco and prefer local candidates.

John Hodgman Tests President Obama's Nerd Cred
Posted by Ken-ichi on June 20, 2009 216786

At the recent Whitehouse Radio & TV Correspondents Dinner, John Hodgman delivered a fairly awesome speech calling into question President Barack Obama's nerd credentials, touching on Conan the Barbarian, The Lord of the Rings, and, of course, Dune. Sadly, I could only confidently answer one part of his three-part Dune question (thumper!), but I guess that still makes me nerdier than the pres. Sweet.

Via JesseDill@twitter
June Newsletter!
Posted by Elizabeth on June 16, 2009 5

This month in our June Newsletter we spoke with authors Lisa See and China Miéville, two fantastic writers with distinct cultural perspectives.

Whenever we interview an author, I have to admit that I’m always the most curious about their response to the question, “Any unusual writing habits?”

It seems like such a mundane thing to ask, but somehow their answers always surprise and inspire. Over the past two years we’ve seen a variety of techniques: Elmore Leonard writes by hand on lined paper; Jodi Picoult writes while her children are at school; Dan Simmons wakes up as late as he can because” that’s one of the few, great benefits of being a writer.”

On the logistics side, we had two major features debut this month. "Following", which allows members of Goodreads to “follow” a member rather than “friend” them, makes it possible to keep track of even more book recommendations from people we respect, admire, or simply find intriguing.

In order to improve our ability to find new books, we also revamped the book search page, parceling out genres and creating our own take on the New York Times Bestseller list. Goodreads members can search by year, month, and even look into the future to see which books are generating the most buzz.

We also got “In Bed” with Pulitzer Prize winner Elizabeth Strout, and Dave Cullen and Janelle Brown are hosting author chats. There are also tons of book recommendations this month in Movers & Shakers.

And don’t forget to check out the monthly poetry contest partnered with the group iPoetry!. You can read this this month's winning poem here.

Happy Reading!

P.S. What’s next? A huge new feature that I have been bugging the tech guys about for nearly six months! You’ll have to wait and see, but I promise you’ll like it.


Site Issues
Posted by Michael on June 15, 2009 73

We're experiencing some issues with our DNS. If you can't connect to the site, then you probably can't see this, but flushing your dns might fix the issue (instructions on flushing your dns).

Apparently making a small change to our DNS records on godaddy creates havoc, we're probably going to be moving to a more reliable solution soon.
Bibliotech show
Posted by Otis on June 12, 2009 1

I appeared as a guest on the pilot show of Biblio Tech Show, hosted by my friend, fellow internet entrepreneur, and author Mark Jeffrey. We had some good discussion about the Kindle, Scribd, ebooks, and other interesting stuff. Check it out!

Follow your favorite reviewers and authors
Posted by Otis on June 09, 2009 1

Relationships made through reading no longer have to go both ways. We just launched the ability to follow the reviews and status updates of your favorite Goodreads members.

In the style of Twitter, members of the site can now follow the updates of people they admire without having to form a typical "friendship." When you follow another Goodreads member, you can see the books they add and their reviews, but as a follower, there is no pressure to reciprocate.

This new way of connecting on Goodreads will encourage many more book reviews to be published and consumed. Here are some of the ways members will benefit from this feature:

  • Independent bookstores and book reviewers to gain the following they deserve
  • Micro-celebrities in the book world don't have to be swamped with friend requests and can also build a large following
  • Authors can also now build a following for their book reviews
  • Members can now follow their favorite authors without having to friend them

Following is designed to make Goodreads more useful to people who use it. Here is how it works:

  • Reviews and status updates from people you follow now appear on your homepage.
  • You can now filter your homepage by friends, top friends, or people you follow
  • When you view a book you will see a new section of reviews from people you follow
  • You can disallow anyone from following you in your my account
  • Anyone you block will not be able to follow you

Partial credit for inspiring this feature must be given to Tim O'Reilly for his blog post Goodreads vs Twitter: The Benefits of Asymmetric Following. O’Reilly made the astute point that relationships in the real world are usually not symmetric, and that "Asymmetric follow is why I use Twitter regularly and Facebook much less often". We’re predicting that pretty soon following will be a hallmark of all social networks – the benefits are clear. Indeed, Yelp already supports it, and Facebook is trying to hack it in with their Facebook Pages.

So now the question is: who should you follow? Here are some interesting folks. Post more in the comments!


Neil Gaiman
Stephanie Meyer
Sarah Dessen
Paulo Coelho
Jennifer Weiner
Meg Cabot

Indie Bookstores:

Vromans (Pasadena, CA)
Tattered Cover Bookstore (Denver, CO)
Modern Times Bookstore (San Francisco, CA)
Lemuria Bookstore (Jackson, MS)
Staff Fig Garden Bookstore (Fresno, CA)
Powells Bookstore (Portland, OR)
Orinda Bookstore (Oakland, CA)

We even have a few celebrities:

Felicia Day
Wil Wheaton

Here are some techies I was eager to follow:

Kevin Rose
Veronica Belmont
Catarina Fake
Tim O'Reilly
Jason Calacanis
Evan Williams

Here is what a profile page looks like now - you can friend or follow someone at your leisure:

Here is what the new homepage filters look like:

To discuss the new feature click here.