There used to be an online community, we idealistically thought. The internet was the best thing since the counterculture. Remember Readerville and the forums at Salon? I also belonged to several online book groups, and was delighted to meet fellow readers at book festivals. We saw the best of the internet, because we spent little time there. Our slow dial-up barely loaded webpages.
With the rise of social media platforms, everything has changed. Language has declined (think Twitter), and fake news and misinformation proliferate. Online book discussions have dwindled from mini-essays to a sentence or two. I often feel I’m on a long, reckless drive on the back roads of blogs, book clubs, and book reviews. Occasionally I find something good.
Goodreads is one of the better book sites, though I didn’t appreciate it at first. I couldn’t see the point. One blogger says she moved to Goodreads so she could lose the trolls. (Something to think about.) Personally, I like the consumer reviews, and I also enjoy the Goodreads Reading Challenge, which is a simple matter of stating the number of books you hope to read. Every time you note that you’ve finished a book, a picture of the book cover pops up. It is very cute.
Weirdly, many writers at online publications have written lately about their anxiety over their Goodreads Challenge. And they advise other worried readers how to meet their goals. (Let me sum it up : read shorter books!) What saddens me is this evidence of how social media can depress people. That number bugs them, and they feel distressed that others read more.
My favorite of these articles is Angela Watercutter’s light, witty take, “Goodreads and the Crushing Weight of Literary FOMO,” at Wired. She does read books, but feels she doesn’t read enough. “How do I know this? Fucking Goodreads.”
Watercutter joined Goodreads in 2010. She didn’t participate, but got updates about what her “friends” were reading.
Every few days or weeks, just when I started feeling positive about my biblio advancements, one of these messages would come across the transom: “Updates from…” Upon opening it, I’d find out that someone who I knew had a full-time job and active social life had finished two novels in the time it’d taken me to get through the jacket blurbs on David Sedaris’ latest essay collection. Deflation followed. Not only did I feel uninformed and slow, I felt somehow left out. I like talking about books, and thanks to Goodreads I had a constant reminder of all the great books I hadn’t read and all the conversations I couldn’t yet join. It was pure literary FOMO. (A point of clarity: I was also that sucker who tried to participate in Infinite Summer, the challenge to complete David Foster Wallace’s behemoth Infinite Jest. That summer ended in nothing but infinite regret.)
Yes, I, too, follow people who read a book a day. And I get notes on their Kindle progress. Should I be reading more and faster? It’s hard to obsess about a number on a website, though.
I’m a pragmatist. I would never challenge myself to an unrealistic goal. And since this “challenge” is just for fun (I like the pretty pictures of the book covers!), it’s one of the least stressful things in my life!
If you are upset about your Goodreads Reading Challenge, I have three solutions: (a) read short books, (b) change the challenge number, or (c) or keep track of your reading in a notebook, which doesn’t announce the percentage!