Should You Be Using Goodreads’ Book Reviews to Choose Your Next Read?
There’s nothing like finding the perfect read: a page-turner that keeps you hooked and up all night because you can’t put it down; a novel that takes you to a distant, fascinating world and lets you escape from reality for a little while; or a book that teaches you about something you’ve been longing to learn about — like pizza making, dog training or career development.
But finding the perfect book is no easy task. I have the feeling that sometimes I spend more time figuring out what my next great read will be than actually reading. Because once I find that rare novel that checks all of the boxes, I devour it.
I’ve developed certain tricks when it comes to discovering that great next book: asking my friends with similar reading tastes for recommendations; checking the new releases from some of my favorite authors; reading book recommendation lists from those authors; and visiting NPR’s annual, curated selection Book Concierge. But these last few years I’ve also turned to Goodreads.
Goodreads is a social network and book database that launched in January 2007. Amazon, which started its giant retailer business as an online bookseller, bought Goodreads in 2013.
"Our mission is to help people find and share books they love," Goodreads’ website says. Goodreads’ social network aspect lets you create an account, track what you’re reading and keep a log of it. You can also add friends and see what they’re reading. One of my favorite features is the "Reading Challenge." Every January you can set a number of books you want to read and then work your way toward that goal amount throughout the year. Setting a realistic yet somewhat challenging goal can be the perfect way to persuade yourself to read just a little bit more, even if it’s just one or two more books than the previous year. And this is one of those competitions where you’re just measuring yourself against yourself.
You can also just use Goodreads as a catalog to look up a book’s author, publication date or number of pages.
Goodreads’ Reviews, Ratings, Lists and Annual Choice Awards
In addition to tracking your progress and seeing what your friends on Goodreads are reading and favoriting, you can use this social network to see what its millions of users (statistics website Statista estimated Goodreads had 90 million registered members in July 2019) are perusing and how much they’re liking their reads. Need some more help navigating the site? Here are some of Goodreads features that can help you choose your next book:
Reviews: Book reviews are one of Goodreads’ most appealing offerings. And while those reviews are written by users, not professional book critics at major publications, some of those who write book reviews do it regularly. They may even be bloggers who read about specific topics or genres. Think about it like the type of restaurant review you can get on Yelp.
Per Goodreads review guidelines, commercial reviews are not allowed. If a reviewer receives a free copy of a book, they must disclose it in the review. Some reviewers receive advanced readers' copies (ARCs), which makes it possible for a review to hit Goodreads before a book’s publication date.
Ratings: Lazy readers, like myself, prefer to give a book just a 1-5 star rating instead of writing an actual review to go with it. Most books have a bigger number of star ratings than actual reviews. I trust Goodreads’ users enough that I might avoid a book with a rating lower than 3.5 stars. Also, the bigger the number of ratings, the more reliable the metric tends to be.
I use ratings and reviews in conjunction to help me determine whether I should start reading something or not. One of the most recent reviews for the first book in the Bridgertons series, for instance, already warns the reader about the book’s most controversial passage. So, even if that book has a 3.89 rating, a review can help you make a final decision. And yes, reviews might end up being a bit spoilery. So be careful when you do your research.
Lists: They can be created by users or the Goodreads’ team and they are a good way to find reads in specific genres. If you like a book, you can see what lists that title is included on and discover something similar. There are lists for everything, from Scandinavian/Nordic Mysteries to Science Fiction Books by Female Authors or Food Books for Readers to Devour.
Goodreads Annual Choice Awards: This is probably my favorite part of Goodreads. Each year users can choose their favorite books in different categories — Fiction, Mystery & Thriller, Fantasy, Romance, Science & Technology, Historical Fiction, Horror, Humor, and so on. Not only is this a good way of giving some love to the authors you’ve enjoyed reading, but the winners and runner-ups also tend to be solid books to add to your list. (They might even help you with your holiday shopping.)
And while Goodreads has received its fair share of criticism for being a bit outdated — I don’t remember the last time the website or app were refreshed — I still can’t see myself not using it. It’s buggy sometimes and it lacks some usability features, but it sure has allowed me to discover authors and books I would have totally missed otherwise.