Why I am deleting Goodreads and maybe you should, too | Kat Smith

I can’t remember the last time I enjoyed reading a book where my enjoyment wasn’t tied to the euphoric sense of achievement I got from finishing it. This is not because I don’t love reading, or would rather watch television. No, it’s because of a little app on my phone called Goodreads.

Home to about 90 million readers worldwide, Goodreads is a website that lets users track their reading and broadcast their tastes to the world – or, in my case, a few friends and vague acquaintances. At its core, it’s a harmless concept: an online community for bookworms, and an opportunity to discover new books your friends have loved.

It’s also extremely satisfying. Since joining Goodreads a few years ago, the annual roundup I receive tallying up the books I have finished that year has become the clinching point of my reading experience. I get a buzz from increasing my reading goal every 12 months, and from comparing how many pages I’ve turned or hours of audiobooks I’ve listened to with other people’s numbers. I feel a sense of accomplishment every time I update my “progress” with a book.

But that’s exactly what’s wrong with Goodreads: it turns reading into an achievement. Quantifying, dissecting and broadcasting our most-loved hobbies sucks the joy out of them. I find myself glancing towards the corner of the page to see how much I’ve read. I compare the thickness of the read pages I hold in my left hand to the unread ones in my right. Even when absorbed in the climax of a story, one eye is always on my proximity to the end, when I’ll be able to post it all to Goodreads.

It’s not just our reading habits that have been gamified. From our runs on Strava to the films we’ve watched on Letterboxd, there’s now a popular app to quantify all our hobbies. But with reading come the associations of intelligence and work that are not granted to our habitual consumption of other art forms; if I documented the amount of television I watch, I would feel more embarrassed than triumphant. This is why tracking my reading activity on Goodreads is far more performative than I have previously admitted to myself: I love reading, but I also love the feeling of people thinking I’m well read.

While some people’s qualms with Goodreads are rooted in its clunky interface, or the fact that it is owned by Amazon, mine lie in its very concept. Reading is something I do to relax, learn and enjoy. It’s not just that I don’t need a pie chart detailing my reading habits, the chart has poisoned the whole experience. Even if I were to switch to another book app without the social aspect, I know that I would remain obsessed with finishing books over enjoying them.

It’s human nature to get a sense of satisfaction from seeing something through to the end. But, without Goodreads, it won’t matter if I give up on a book I’m not bothered about halfway through, because no one will know or care – as if they did anyway. I won’t be self-conscious if I read yet another thriller bought in a supermarket deal, instead of something others would consider as smarter or better.

If Goodreads provides a sense of community, good recommendations and doesn’t make you obsess over what you’re reading or how much, then great. Maybe it’s just a few of us who aren’t compatible with it, and end up developing a toxic relationship that distracts from the magic of getting lost in a book. But right now I am reading my first book Goodreads-free since I installed the app. It feels just like it did when I was a child, with no awareness of what others think about what I’m reading, how quickly I’m reading it, or what I haven’t read. From now on, my reading habits are staying between me and my book.


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