Unfortunately necessary postscript added
In Manny's foreword he writes about Goodreads
At first I couldn’t really see the point of entering all your books on an internet database, writing reviews of them, and comparing them with reviews other people had written . . . but, remarkably quickly, I found I had become an addict. I have now posted well over a thousand reviews….
So what is the point, you may ask? I’m not quite sure I can explain, but let me try. Your first reaction, if you’re a sensible person, is that it’s silly: how can you possibly think of something new and interesting to say about Hamlet, or Jane Eyre, or even Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows? But every person reads the book in their own way and has their own associations; to themselves, to the people they know, to other books they’ve read. Writing about a book is a way of writing about your whole life
How true this is. So perhaps this is a good moment to ask what Goodreads is and what it has been doing for the last few years. Which is to say what we have been doing. Or haven't.
For me there are two big things we aren't
1) we aren't professional – the pros come in two sizes, the professional reviewers who you read in the Sunday papers or in the LRB/NYRB; and the lit crits. The first lot are I think getting worried by all this online reviewing. I've read a couple of articles asking if they have a future – why trust a professional reviewer who you know is a novelist moonlighting for extra dosh as a reviewer of novels written by people she might well have had … lunch with that very day - why not trust a fellow reader with no axe to grind? As for the lit crits, you have to have a gun at your head to read most of them.
2) we aren't Amazon - there are still many great reviews on Amazon but it isn't a community, and strangely, patchily, goodreads is. I've noticed there are almost no idiots on goodreads whereas you can't move on Amazon for grossly misspelled ranting by people who don't get out much.
More from Manny :
I don’t want to make exaggerated claims for Goodreads. Like
all social network sites, it’s a tremendous time-waster. People
have bitchy conversations and fight for meaningless status rewards
(there is intense competition to see who receives most
votes for their reviews).
Also true. I've even written one review in the form of a begging letter for more votes. And given the enormous popularity of YA and romance fiction unsurprisingly the famous Top/Best lists are sclerotically clogged with YA/romance lovers and the all time best reviews list constipated with Twilight parodies which will remain there until goodreads freezes over. So the lists are only partially useful/fun. In chart terms there have always been R&B charts, dance charts, folk charts, country charts (no one buys enough jazz for them to bother). GR could do with YA top 50s, romance top 50s and SENSIBLE top 50s. What we have at the moment is democracy gone mad.
The vote-grabbing does tend to tempt certain persons into bad ways, though, it must be admitted. My third-most popular "review" is of New Moon, just some cute things Georgia (daughter aged 12 at that point) said about the books and the movies. I have no intention of reading New Moon but I knew people would like to read her observations and they did. And sometimes I think all I do is comedy reviews, which isn't good, or reading something because I think I can get a funny review out of it, which is worse. I should delete those. You can see some people flogging themselves to do a really thoughtful piece on some big serious history book and getting three votes. Must be disheartening.
I'd take issue with Manny about time-wasting, however. Was it a waste of time for him to take the idea of the Celebrity Death Match and transform it into the surreal caravanserai of readerly lunacy it became last year? No – who would not want to reead about Jane Eyre beating down Winnie the Pooh and leaving him stuffed half in and half out of a storm drain?
And in general, speaking for myself, I was always a big reader but I never liked the chocolate-box aspect of reading, just gobbling up one book after another. I like to discuss and debate the thing of words which just passed through my brain. I like to figure it out if I can. But I don't know anyone in real life who also likes to do that. Or if I do, they're reading other stuff. And book clubs don't work for me either because they have so many rules – you have to read a book everyone agrees to – but I only want to read the books I want to read when I want to read them. Is that unreasonable? No! On goodreads someone is always reading the book I'm interested in. Imagine if you're living in a foreign country, you don't speak the language, you're walking along the streets of the capital city, you turn down an unfamiliar road and there sprawled out across the pavement is one of those loud shouty cafes full of people who not only speak your language but grab you and sit you down and buy you a drink and tell you their latest theory about Bram Stoker. That's what this place is like. Something like that.
Oh yes, and Manny's book is really good, but you know you can read all that stuff for free online. Don't tell him I told you.
this was written before the GR minnow was swallowed by the blue whale of Amazon, and so point 2 above rings a little hollow now - but still, I'm in the blandly optimistic "they won't kill the goose that laid the golden egg" frame of mind at the moment.