An Interview with the Most Popular Reviewer on Goodreads

Posted by Marie on December 11, 2017
Since joining Goodreads seven years ago, Emily May has amassed more than 80,000 Goodreads followers and has written 1,300 book reviews and counting—making her the most-popular reviewer on the site. She loves reading across all genres and completes an average of 200 books per year. Originally from Yorkshire, England, she currently lives in Los Angeles, where she works as a freelance editor and beta-reader, giving publishers feedback on soon-to-be-released novels.

Goodreads chatted with May to get her advice on writing book reviews, upcoming trends she's seeing in the book industry, and her top 10 favorite books of 2017.

Goodreads: Why is reading important to you? What books got you hooked on reading?

Emily May: I don't remember ever not reading. Like most bookworms, I was a deeply shy and quiet child who preferred to keep to myself and live in books instead of the real world. Reading was, and still is, all kinds of things to me—an escape, an adventure, and entertainment.

The earliest books I remember reading were everything by Roald Dahl, [R.L.] Stine's Goosebumps series, and C.S. Lewis's The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. I still get a sense of that early excitement and wonder I felt every time I think of Lucy stepping through a plain old wardrobe in a house and discovering a whole magical world—that has always seemed like a metaphor for reading itself. Later I found that metaphor again in the Harry Potter series as well as others. Both Harry Potter and Lucy Pevensie cast off the mundane life they've always known and step into a world of magic where anything is possible—isn't that what happens every time we get lost in a good book?

GR: What inspired you to become a book reviewer? How did you get started?

EM: When I started writing reviews, I didn't consider myself a book reviewer at all. I was still a teenager, feeling—as a lot of teenagers do—constantly out of place and awkward in myself. I stumbled across Goodreads one day, and it offered exactly what I didn't know I'd been looking for—somewhere I could go where people genuinely loved reading and talking about books. There was no uncool on Goodreads. I could make hyperbolic statements like "I am dying for the next book" or "if this character 'chuckles darkly' one more time, I'm going to throw this book in the fireplace" (yes, I'm dramatic), and other Goodreads members would get it and share encouraging GIFs.

I made friends all across the globe, we gave each other "likes" and comments, and I stuck around. It was that simple, really. I'm still not sure I consider myself a book reviewer. As far as I'm concerned, I'm still that same weird girl talking about books with other book lovers.

GR: What's your process for writing book reviews? How much time do you spend on them? How do you define your star rating?

EM: With most books, I make notes and highlights (on Kindle) while I'm reading. Time permitting, I like to start writing a review immediately after finishing the book while everything is still fresh in my mind. It takes me approximately 30 minutes to an hour to write a review, usually depending on how passionate I felt about it. The hardest are the 3-star books because I have to somehow communicate "I liked it, but I didn't like it that much."

I typically try to follow the Goodreads star ratings—"did not like it" (1 star), "it was OK" (2 stars), "liked it" (3 stars), "really liked it" (4 stars), and "it was amazing" (5 stars). I especially like this rating system because the use of "liked" and "did not like" emphasizes that the rating is a personal opinion, not so much a statement about the quality of the book. I am one of those readers who believes all reading experiences, all experiences with art, in fact, are about perspective and interpretation. I don't believe I am in a position to make a universal statement about how good a book is; I can only say what I liked or didn't like about it, and why, and maybe some people will relate to that and find it useful.

GR: What do you hope your followers will gain from your reviews?

EM: I've actually had to school myself not to be too obsessed with what my followers, or anyone on the internet, wants from me and my reviews. Constantly worrying about how others will see me, especially when those others number in the thousands or tens of thousands, is the fastest way to bring on the anxiety. But, put simply, I hope people find books they love. I don't care if that's because they read a book I reviewed positively or if they saw something they personally enjoy in a negative review I wrote. It is not too much to say that books can inspire us, change us, even save us at times, and I hope everyone finds the book that they need.

GR: What advice would you give to a book lover who might be a little shy about writing a review?

EM: I would tell them to first and foremost write for themselves. Approach every review from the standpoint of "how did this book make me feel?" and try not to worry too much about what other readers will think. When you start to review yourself, and scrutinize every word you put down, it becomes impossible. There will always be someone with a different opinion from you. It's a cliché, but true: You really cannot please everybody. So stop trying (maybe one day I will take this advice, too). And if you feel like you're the only person in the world who liked or didn't like a particular book—I guarantee, you are not. There's a whole bunch of people out there, like you, who have or haven't connected with a book for whatever reason, and your review could be exactly what they need to hear to feel like they're not alone.

GR: What books do you find yourself recommending the most?

EM: To be honest, I actually think I'm pretty good at recommending books specific to the individual asking. There have been many books I haven't enjoyed but have passed along to my mum, dad, or a friend because I know it's more their thing.

Just in general, though, I take great pleasure in recommending authors I perceive to be underappreciated; for example, Marcus Sedgwick, Abigail Haas, Jodi Lynn Anderson, Kathleen Duey, and Melina Marchetta. Some other authors I recommend a lot are Tana French (for mystery and thriller fans), Neil Gaiman and N.K. Jemisin (for fantasy fans), Courtney Summers (for YA contemporary fans), Roxane Gay (for fans of short stories), and Margaret Atwood (for literary fiction fans).

GR: Are there any interesting book trends you've noticed in 2017? Do you have any predictions about trends in 2018?

EM: Absolutely, but I don't think I have anything particularly enlightening to reveal. YA has moved away from all the fairy tale retellings and is now becoming all about superheroes. It's been slowly building for a while with [Brandon] Sanderson's The Reckoners series and [G. Willow Wilson's] Ms. Marvel graphic novels, but now, this year, we've already seen [Leigh] Bardugo's Wonder Woman: Warbringer and [Marissa] Meyer's Renegades. Also of note is the lesser known Dreadnought by April Daniels that has a transgender superheroine. Next year the buzz will undoubtedly surround [Marie] Lu's Batman: Nightwalker and [Sarah J.] Maas' Catwoman: Soul Stealer, too. With such major authors all writing in the superhero genre, I would be surprised if many others didn't follow suit shortly after.

There's also been a huge increase in diverse books published by major companies since the start of the We Need Diverse Books campaign. 2017 has been the year where I've really seen the difference the movement has made. It's so wonderful to finally be able to go to the new YA releases and find characters of all skin colors, sexualities, and gender identities, plus characters with physical disabilities or mental illnesses. I had very few diverse books growing up; I am thankful my kids will have more.

GR: What were your top 10 reads of 2017 and why? What impressions did they leave on you?

EM: This is such a tough question, but I somehow whittled it down to these (in no particular order):

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I love, love, love historical epics that just tell a really great story. Boyne's latest is a sad and funny tale about the life of a gay man, from his conception in small-town Ireland to 1980s Amsterdam and later New York City in the middle of the AIDs crisis. It's a very bittersweet story.

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This deserves 100 percent of the hype it has been getting. It is a dark, beautifully written ghost story set in modern-day Mississippi. Ward is really great at evoking emotions through her dreamy descriptions of each scene, and all of the complex characters are the kind who stay with you.

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The Hate U Give is so important. And so good. And important. I don't know which to sell to you first. It's a much-needed story for our times about a very real and relevant issue, but it's also a great look inside the mind of a scared teenage girl.

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I'm obsessed with this series, and I can't wait for the third book. It instills in me that sense that I am tiny and the universe is so much bigger and more dangerous than I could have imagined. It reminds me of all the things we do not, cannot, know. Reading books like this is an overwhelming and breathtaking experience.

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I am a huge Laini Taylor fan, and her latest book is no exception. She creates such complex and interesting fantasy worlds, and she's one of the few writers who, in my opinion, can get away with writing purple prose. I don't know; it just seems to work for her.

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Look, I had to include a fast-paced, guilty-pleasure book on this list. And, you know, I don't even really feel guilty about it. White has reimagined Vlad the Impaler as a woman, and this sequel to And I Darken tells of the fall of Constantinople and the reclamation of Wallachia. It's all very dark and dramatic—of course I loved it.

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I always say that the books that hit me the hardest are the ones that are subtly sad. The ones that, on the surface, might be funny and entertaining, that don't feel like they're trying really hard to make the reader cry. That's this book. It's the kind of book you don't realize is sad until you're tearing up. And Eleanor is such an unforgettable character.

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I almost didn't read this because, if I'm being honest, the cover and title didn't grab me, but it turned out to be a really fantastic family saga set in Korea and Japan. I really love these multigenerational family tales, especially when set in regions or during time periods that don't often appear in mainstream fiction. Really fascinating.

You can find more of Emily May on her blog, "The Book Geek." Be sure to also follow her on Goodreads, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.

Comments Showing 1-50 of 82 (82 new)

message 1: by Kay Dee (new)

Kay Dee i was like "hmm i follow a reviewer called Emily May. is this her?"
and yes. yes it is. :-)

message 2: by ♛ Garima ♛ (new)

♛ Garima ♛ Emily May is first person I started following on GR and always look forward to her ratings. But I agree with her, I don't let anyone define book for me and even though she rates book low, I keep myself reaching for it. Her reviews are very useful in getting well rounded summary of entire book without any spoilers.. keep writing Emily :)

Thebookmeditator Emily May is my inspiration on goodreads. Not only does she seem like such a nice person, but her reviews are fantastic. When I read her reviews, she either sums up completely why I liked a book, or offers a different perspective that opens my eyes. She is a very inspiring woman.

message 4: by Amy (new)

Amy Emily's reviews are always super relevant to me, and it was neat to read a little more about her :) Good interview!!

As a side note, when I clicked "Waking Gods" it takes me to "Turtles All the Way Down" instead.

message 5: by Kay Dee (new)

Kay Dee Amy wrote: "Emily's reviews are always super relevant to me, and it was neat to read a little more about her :) Good interview!!

As a side note, when I clicked "Waking Gods" it takes me to "Turtles All the Wa..."

oh is that what happened! i click on things and then go back and read all the tabs i have opened. i was confused when i saw that one.

message 6: by Amy (new)

Amy Kay Dee wrote: "Amy wrote: "Emily's reviews are always super relevant to me, and it was neat to read a little more about her :) Good interview!!

As a side note, when I clicked "Waking Gods" it takes me to "Turtle..."

Same! I was like, "but I've already read the reviews for this one, why's it open?"

message 7: by Diana (new)

Diana I follow Emily because she has similar tastes as me. Her reviews are usually bang on, and like she says it's her own interpretation.

message 8: by Carol She's So Novel꧁꧂ (last edited Dec 11, 2017 10:48AM) (new)

Carol She's So Novel꧁꧂ I don't follow Emily any more as her reviews routinely top the best reviews on the World list (& I have a bug where I don't see the reviews of people I follow anyway) but I really enjoy her reviews - even when I know the book isn't my genre at all.. :)

message 9: by Rachel (new)

Rachel Love this interview!!! Anytime my husband buys me a book as a gift he first goes to Emily’s goodreads to see what she thought of it because he knows it’s important to me haha.

Thanks for all your reviews!!!!

Nikki "The Crazie Betty" V. Emily's reviews are some of my go to's when it comes to determining whether I want to take a chance on a book or not. She's always so thoughtful and specific in her reviews, without giving the whole thing away. As a side note, I was very excited to see "Waking Gods" on here. We basically both started this series at the same time and it has been awesome to see that we share the same thoughts on it :)

message 11: by Erin (new)

Erin Emily was the first reviewer I followed on Goodreads and she remains one of my favorites. Fantastic interview!

message 12: by Lauren (last edited Dec 11, 2017 10:28AM) (new)

Lauren Biondi I may have differing opinions from her sometimes but I respect Emily May like no other. A great deal of my reading choices come from her.

message 13: by idiffer (new)

idiffer Emily was the first person I started following on GR, and I don't regret it. She's probably the only one on GR who I don't know personally but with whom I'm scared of having an argument, lol.

message 14: by Rebecca (new)

Rebecca Goodreads powers-that-be: since she lives in Los Angeles, can you make sure Emily May's location is changed to USA, please? Otherwise she's falsely taking up the #1 reviewer spot for the UK. Thanks!

message 15: by Mike (new)

Mike "I am one of those readers who believes all reading experiences, all experiences with art, in fact, are about perspective and interpretation. I don't believe I am in a position to make a universal statement about how good a book is; I can only say what I liked or didn't like about it, and why, and maybe some people will relate to that and find it useful. "

I've followed Emily May for several years now and she was one the first people I actually started following when I first joined Goodreads. Even though we don't see eye to eye on everything, Emily conveys how a book works or doesn't work for her and she presents aspects that I might otherwise have missed. I've always appreciated her passion for what she reads and her ability to express herself in wonderfully creative ways. As a result, I've expanded my own reading horizons and continue to look forward to what she has to say.

Congratulations Emily. This was a wonderful interview.

message 16: by Emily (new)

Emily Amy wrote: "Emily's reviews are always super relevant to me, and it was neat to read a little more about her :) Good interview!!

As a side note, when I clicked "Waking Gods" it takes me to "Turtles All the Wa..."

This should be fixed-- sorry about that!

message 17: by Megan (new)

Megan "I don't believe I am in a position to make a universal statement about how good a book is; I can only say what I liked or didn't like about it, and why, and maybe some people will relate to that and find it useful." I think this is a great way to approach writing a book review and I have enjoyed following Emily May. Also, Strange the Dreamer and Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine were two of my favorite reads this year, too!

message 18: by Victor (new)

Victor Davis Keep it coming. You've turned me on to a number of great books I hadn't heard of before, and always very astute reviews.

message 19: by Alyson (new)

Alyson Stone Great post! Emily has such good tastes in books.

message 20: by Melrose's (new)

Melrose's I love her taste in books! I have struggled with exploring different genres to read and when I saw her reviews it was always insightful and detailed. So, I'm very glad to have found her ♥

message 21: by Thaizi (new)

Thaizi I loved this interview, especially her top 10 because it's a good recommendation (I love favorite books list ♥ ).

message 22: by Katya (new)

Katya Vinogradova How wonderful to have Emily featured on the site and read a longer piece from her than the usual review!

message 23: by Akinola (new)

Akinola i simply love it.

message 24: by Jeanny (new)

Jeanny My hat goes off to you Emily May. Reading 200 books a year is doable. However, comprehensively reviewing even half of that many books is truly a difficult task. Kudos to you & keep up the fantastic job. I appreciate your taking the time to write those reviews. =)

message 25: by Mimi, Goodreads employee (new)

Mimi Emily much love for all you do - it inspires me to read more and more critically!

message 26: by Rebecca (new)

Rebecca Natalie wrote: "If Emily lives in the USA...why is she listed in the UK!?"

My question exactly....hoping Goodreads admin will sort it out.

message 27: by Jacquie ♡ (new)

Jacquie ♡ Wow, what an inspiration! I was reading the December Young Adult Newsletter when I came across the section mentioning Emily May. I was astounded and immediately knew that this is the same Emily May I've previously read reviews from. I even followed her on Youtube and watched a few videos. I'm very happy for this great achievement and for being interviewed by Goodreads! Amazing and I'm certainly impressed!

message 28: by Sara (new)

Sara I'm glad to see Goodreads interviewing reviewers. :D

message 29: by Emily May (new)

Emily May Natalie wrote: "If Emily lives in the USA...why is she listed in the UK!?"

Just to clear this up: Goodreads doesn't ask for our current location, but for our country. My country is the UK. I am a UK citizen, not a US citizen, and the UK is my home where almost all my family and friends are. Sorry if this seemed in any way confusing or dishonest, but my nationality doesn't change just by spending a couple of years in a different country!

message 30: by Ronyell (new)

Ronyell Awesome! I'm so happy that Goodreads interviewed Emily May! She is such a fantastic reviewer and I've been following most of her reviews since I first got on this site!

message 31: by Joud (new)

Joud Great interview! Emily's reviews are really thorough, informative, and always enjoyable. I read three books from this list and all of them were amazing so I'm really excited to read the other books too.
I recommend doing a list every year Emily, because your taste in books is impeccable.

Rachel Reads Ravenously Love this! I feel the same way about 3 star reviews. I liked it, but didn't love it. And people always tell me sorry when I rate 3 stars. It's not a bad thing!

Also, GOODREADS! Can we have more of these reviewer interviews? This was fun to read :)

message 33: by Amber (new)

Amber I'm proud to be a friend (on GR) of Emily! We sometimes share different tastes, but I love seeing what she thinks of a book, and I'll often decide whether or not to give something a go based on how highly she values it star-wise

Would also love for you to interview other popular reviewers, Goodreads!

message 34: by SueK (new)

SueK I was not a follower of Emily May, but thanks to this post, I will be. What an intriguing list of books - since I've only read one of them, I can't wait to get started!

message 35: by Lieu (new)

Lieu Dinh Thanks Emily so much for your review!
God bless!

Elizabeth of Silver's Reviews Thanks for introducing us to Emily!!

message 37: by Jessie (new)

Jessie I love that Emily is always completely honest in her reviews, and acknowledges that how she felt about a book may not apply to someone else, or that she may have even felt differently if she had read the book at a different time. I've learned that certain things bother or excite her more than they do for me, so I can read her reviews and make the judgement call about whether a book might be better or worse for me than it was for her. I wish more reviewers on Goodreads were as unabashedly honest about their experiences with books as Emily, and that everyone was as respectful of other peoples opinions as she is. We follow you because we trust you Emily, so by writing your reviews for yourself first, you're giving us exactly what we need.

message 38: by Sarah (new)

Sarah Wonderful interview! I’m also eyeballing her recommendations. Seems like she has some good ones in there.

message 39: by Jill (new)

Jill Goodman Glad to see Goodreads recognizing her hard work. She is a wonderful part of the world of books.

message 40: by Marie (new)

Marie No nonfiction?

message 41: by Dave (new)

Dave Whole lotta make believe on the list Em.

message 42: by Diane (new)

Diane I loved your responses to your interview questions Emily. I feel I can identify with you as a person. I will follow your reviews as I am retired now and have more time for reading. I am a slow word-for-word reader so it takes me a while to finish a book. But like you said 'I go through the wardrobe and right into the story'.

message 43: by Celia (new)

Celia Moore Really interesting and the comments here just show how much Emily's review mean to people - obviously spot on with what they say and how they are written - well done Emily you are obviously a star and you have a new follower now (me)

message 44: by Richard (new)

Richard Fin ɦѳw ɗѳ i gɛt tɦɛรɛ?

message 45: by Steve (new)

Steve Sherman It's nice to encounter a reviewer who takes genre literature seriously. The best of it appeals to the same part of me that responds to Jane Austen, Robertson Davies or Margaret Attwood. Three titles that are more adult than C.S. Lewis or Harry Potter: Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy (despite its label as being for young adults); Susannah Clarke's Jonathan Strange and Mr Norell; and especially Jack Vance's Lyonesse trilogy (Suldrun's Garden; The Green Pearl; Madouc).

message 46: by Jessie (new)

Jessie Marie wrote: "No nonfiction?" Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body is a memoir, so there is one nonfiction on there!

message 47: by Richard (new)

Richard Porter Being a beginning author, your Blog is really helpful for me. Maybe with the help from you, my books might start selling. I am on number five and so far not selling great. They are all novels with real locations and very probable events.

message 48: by Kathlyn (new)

Kathlyn Casey All reviewers should state their bias as clearly as Ms. May. I find it interesting to read of the book preferences of younger people ( mostly women). They reflect the power of the entertainment world in shaping opinion. Opinions on books seem more concerned with emotions than intellect. I enjoy reviews that understand what, if any, ideas are in a book. Older people understand that life makes you cry more than any author is capable of doing.

"Diversity" as published today in YA publishing may not be a positive influence. In my childhood, in the US in the 1940's and early 1950's ,I read books written for children about the "black" experience, physical deformity, mental illness, migrant workers,people living in totalitarian countries , war and human suffering in different nations over the world. Today, many YA books seek not to educate and inform but to preach and intimidate the reader to accept as normal some situations of questionable social value. Ms. May's interview and book choices appear to acquiesce in this view of publishing as Preacher.

However, her proud identification as a UK citizen leads me to value her opinions on books since the writing coming from UK writers tends to be more skilled than that of present US writers. Am I alone in thinking that too many contemporary novels are written on the verbal level of tv scripts.....intelligible to 3rd graders? But, that can be an advantage to those who read 200 or more books a year.

message 49: by Abdalla (new)

Abdalla Rko Nice

message 50: by Florette (new)

Florette Small Any really interesting mystery books???

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