Jeff O'Handley

The Doubting Writer Finds His Voice

Goodreads Is Not Your Living Room

“Imagine that you are a reader who has shelved your own books in your own personal, idiosyncratic way, with shelf tags that amuse you and help you remember where things are, your own personal organisation of the way you think and read …

And suddenly there is an author in your reading space complaining publicly about your filing system and where they fit in it.

Creeeeeeeeeepy.”

That quote came from–where else?–Absolute Write, during a discussion of yet another tempest in the teapot that is Goodreads. Said tempest seems to be the result of a series of misunderstandings and mildly bad behavior that got blown way out of proportion, some of which revolved around a few unfortunate names some Goodreads user gave to her bookshelves, and a misinterpretation over what those names meant by an author. The usual charges of bullying were leveled, accusations were made, you know the drill.

I’m not on Goodreads, and I have no plans to be on Goodreads anytime soon. This post is not about Goodreads and its merits, it’s not about authors behaving badly, or about the fact that everyone is so eager to call everything the other guy does ‘bullying.’ No, this is another ‘What do you expect?’ post.

When I read that quote in the particular AW thread mentioned, that was my immediate reaction. I was derailed for the moment from the rest of the discussion. Wait, I thought. You set up a space on the internet, invite a bunch of people to come in and look around, and then get upset when someone actually, you know, stops in and has something to say? What did you expect? And why is it creepy?

Goodreads is not your living room. It is not a private place. It is a public space where anyone with a password (and maybe not even that, I don’t know, I don’t use Goodreads) can drop by and visit. And because people are people, and the internet affords both intimacy and anonymity (or, more correctly, the illusion of both), people feel quite comfortable sharing their opinions on your space and everything in it. Creepy? Maybe a bit, but if you don’t want people coming and commenting, why have a public space? Why invite the scrutiny?

Look, I get that it would be strange to have someone come to your house and immediately start telling you that your couch is too old, your drapes don’t match the carpet, and oh, what a shame, you’ve got that one mismatched chair in your dining room set, what a pity. No one wants to experience that. In person, most people wouldn’t do that (though you can always feel it, can’t you? You can see people looking around in that particular way, and you just know what they’re thinking), but the internet plays by different set of rules. The Golden Rule should apply, but it doesn’t (This, sadly, seems to be the standard rule for too many) it’s foolish at this point to assume that it does.

Well, hey, that was pretty downerific, wasn’t it? On a more positive note, Meghan Masterson recently conferred on (upon?) me a Liebster Award! Thank you, Meghan. Somehow, the Liebster has morphed quite a bit from when I first did it; the poor thing seems to have been absorbed by the Ten Things thing that went around a couple of years ago. I appreciate the award, though I’m not in the most participatory of moods just this minute.

And that’s it, we’re out of time here, folks. Thanks for dropping by and have a great weekend!

12 Responses

  1. "intimacy and anonymity" That's a dangerous combination.

    Yeah, I read the post by the writer and her claims of what came from a simple question are scary.

    I started using Goodreads because I was coming across so many books I wanted to read that I didn't want to forget about. I don't get involved in much more than that. I'm glad now.

  2. I do love Goodreads, but unfortunately it does have a dark side. I guess that's true of any social network though. It seems that no matter what website you use, somebody, somewhere, will make it unpleasant.

  3. Well said. When are people going to realise that the Internet isn't private?

    I love Goodreads, and I undertake the majority of my author social networking there, but I have seen Internet shit storms in the past, and I stay well away.

  4. Melissa, the comment I quoted in my post was in an AW thread related to this whole Lauren Howard thing. Howard herself said in a now-deleted post on a now-deleted blog that the whole thing was largely the result of misunderstanding, which was then misrepresented in several places. Based on my understanding of that situation, it is also being misrepresented on the Stop the Goodreads Bullies site, which is nothing new for them.

  5. I don't want to get too much into the Lauren Howard situation here (or not at all). I don't doubt she was treated less than respectfully, and it's unfortunate, because it looks like the resulting s-storm has driven her out of the community all together.

    You know, the sad thing is I'm guessing Goodreads is by and large a great community, and of tremendous benefit to a lot of people most of the time. Stuff like this is what you hear most about, however, and that's unfortunate.

  6. Take this blog, for instance. It would be a perfectly happy place if it weren't for that annoying guy with the glasses and mustache–oh, wait.

    In all seriousness, I think you're right. It's up to all of us to do what we can to rise above that junk, and in so doing, maybe it will help lift everyone. Thanks for commenting!

  7. I certainly wouldn't put anything I don't want unfamiliar internet personas knowing online… I use Goodreads purely to keep track of what I have read, am reading, want to read, and what people I know have read, are reading, and want to read. No labels or huge controversial opinions. Fair enough if people don't want to use it though! The internet can get scary sometimes. Like you said, what do they expect?

  8. Well, it's not so much a case of someone posting overly-personal stuff on the web, it's the fact that they got upset that someone commented on their space. Now, I get it, I would be kind of upset if you (or anyone) came in here really bashing this blog. But the fact is, I can't really complain, since it's a public space, and everyone's entitled to her or his opinion, and is free to express it.

    Of course, I can wield the mighty banhammer, if I'm *really* upset…

  9. The illusion of both . . . so very true. I remember the fervor over this which seems to have died down a bit now. You're quite right about the what do we expect thing. *sigh*

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