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29 March 2015 @ 11:30 pm
Goodreads and Me: Not a Love Story  
I read Brenna Clarke Grey's post on why she quit Goodreads and decided to write up my own recent unfun experience there. (I haven't quit the site, but I'm on hiatus from it. Again.)

In January 2015 I was hungry for fiction and had run through my friends' recommendations, so I started looking through Goodreads. I found a book called Flight of the Silvers, by Daniel Price. The reviews were largely positive and the summary seemed interesting. I downloaded a sample and decided it was engaging enough to buy.

Trouble began shortly thereafter. At the 20% mark, I knew this book and I would never be friends. The story wasn't right for me for many reasons, ranging from Science Doesn't WORK That Way to These Women Are Like No Human I've Ever Known to Please Stop Using That Word Please Stop PLEASE JUST STOP. The pacing fell off as the author tried to manage more characters and a more divided plot than he knew how to handle. There were long chunks of text that desperately needed editing. And I was frustrated by the fact that one of the characters, Hannah, was described pretty much only by her boobs. Her characterization could be summarized as "the attractive one with the giant hooters." Her plot role was "the mobile boobs that everyone either admires or is jealous of." The obsession with her breasts was like a dripping tap: ignorable right up until it becomes all you can think about it. I read distractedly, waiting grimly for the next mention of Hannah and Her Boobs. (As there were typically multiple mentions per page in any section she was in, it was never a long wait.)

From 25% on, my notes in the ebook consist of:
  1. Increasingly sarcastic comments on some of the mentions of Hannah's boobs (they come too often to note all of them).
  2. Complaints about overuse of the word "shined." (Three months after reading the book, I'm still flinching when I see it. It was really overused.)
  3. Lengthy strings of question marks after some of the seriously, um, interesting word choices in the book. (After a while, I started to slip some exclamation points in these, too.)
Here's an example. At one point, one of the characters describes a pseudoscience substance as "both airy and dense." A male character (one of the good guys, of course; misogyny is a noted good guy trait) responds, "Huh. Just like Hannah." The next part, a direct quote: "More people laughed as the actress irreverently narrowed her eyes at Zack. He shined a preening smirk." Okay, so I think we can see that this is, just in general, really bad writing (he shined a preening smirk?), but what the hell is irreverently doing in that sentence? It makes no sense. My note on this one: "????? wtf wtf wtf EW also shined NO." As you can probably tell, the book was getting to me.

We all know how this goes. The bad writing distracted me from the, you know, actual story. (I probably missed a lot of it, which is what bad writing does: it gets between you and what the writer is trying to convey.) The pacing, already flawed, entirely stopped carrying me. I reached the point where I was looking for things to do instead of reading, which is weird for me. I'd read a page, spend five minutes on twitter, and come back and realize I had no memory of what I'd read, also very weird for me.

I should have walked away. I didn't.

When I was done (so very done) with the book, I went to Goodreads and reviewed it. I have to either adore or truly despise a book to churn out a 3000-word review of it. Flight of the Silvers didn't seem worth that, so instead of detailing all my problems with it, I wrote a description of what reading it felt like to me. The word "boobs" is featured very heavily. And that was it. Two people read my review, I think. No one really pays attention to that stuff.

All of this is textbook standard reader behavior. I bought a book, I read it, I didn't like it, I complained about it to my friends. And that should have been the end of it.

Except. Then Daniel Price read my review. And he got mad, which is totally understandable; someone slamming your work is always tough to swallow. (I'm going to guess that most authors know better than to read one-star reviews for this reason.) And then he decided to respond, which was probably not the best choice he could have made. His response makes me so embarrassed on his behalf that I've never read it all the way through; I get maybe a quarter of the way through skimming it and my brain just shuts down. But, basically, as far as I can tell, he was trying to be funny. He missed that mark for me, but maybe that was because I was, you know, writhing in secondhand embarrassment. Or maybe that's because I was his target rather than his audience. Hard to say.

And then a few of his fans got involved, which was inevitable -- they love his work, they saw him doing this, they assumed it was okay. (Guess how many comments it took before someone accused me of being his ex-girlfriend. GUESS.) He also started complaining about me on Twitter, which encouraged more of his followers to comment angrily on my review.

In response, I did a Dumb Thing (because not responding is the only way to deal with this stuff) and complained about this situation on Twitter myself, which meant that my friends started reading my review and Price's response. (This is how my review ended up the first one on the book's page on Goodreads. Authors, if you're looking for motivation not to get into it with a reviewer, there's a point to consider.) My friends also started searching through the other reviews. And noticing stuff. Several of them pointed out that while other reviewers complained about the boob fixation, Price only got publically mad at the lady who did. This may not be a coincidence.

The commenters on my review got personally insulting (remember, folks, it's not that you disagree with the reviewer, it's that the reviewer is a terrible person and a troll or simply a bitch) and kind of gross. I stopped visiting the page, which kept me from getting notifications about further comments. My friends kept on following them, though, so I got occasional updates on the situation. It apparently took Price a week or two to stop complaining about me on Twitter. (Or, I guess, for my friends to stop looking.) It took longer before his fans stopped insulting me on Goodreads. (If they ever have.)

And here's the thing: this is, by itself, a minor incident. But it isn't fun. It isn't how I want to interact with a community, or something I want to deal with. And I realized that using Goodreads meant accepting a chance of this kind of bullshit every time I posted a less than five-star review. There is a lot I like about Goodreads, but I am not that invested in reviewing in that space, not enough that it's actually worth being harassed by an author and his fans. So I finished my self-assigned challenge (rate the first 24 books I read this year) in February and started avoiding Goodreads again. I'll maybe try again next year. Who can say?

Is there a way to avoid this? I don't know. But Goodreads doesn't seem interested in trying. And, in the end, this part of the internet isn't important enough to me to wade through the sewage.

Wanted: a mostly sewageless place to review and discuss books.

(Also wanted, always wanted: recommendations for great books you've read lately.)

Also posted at Dreamwidth, where there are comment count unavailable comments.
Staceyslb44 on March 30th, 2015 03:12 pm (UTC)
Wow. Just, wow. *shakes head*

As for reading. I'm currently reading The Cake House by Latifah Salom and it's a real page turner. I can't wait to pick it up and read some more. Mind you it might be triggery for some people as it deals with a parents death and possible abuse but the young female protagonist is a fascinating character and I'm anxious to see how it all wraps up in the end.
keerawakeerawa on March 30th, 2015 03:13 pm (UTC)
All the energy and interactivity of fandom, with none of the community norms that keep wank relatively sparse? And with added sexism! Ugh. Just ... ugh.
springwoofspringwoof on March 30th, 2015 04:50 pm (UTC)
Not commenting on your awful experience so as not to dwell.

My recommendation: I've been revisiting the works of Lucy Maude Montgomery, the famous Canadian author, who wrote far more than Anne of a Green Gables. Her work holds up surprisingly well, and is very worthwhile on the whole. I like how her protagonists have real, everyday problems (some of these problems are particular for that time period and/or location, but nonetheless real problems), and how people have important relationships with others that may or may not be romantic relationships.
Lauratavella on March 30th, 2015 06:28 pm (UTC)
...at least he didn't follow you to a grocery store and hit you over the head with a wine bottle?

I was vaguely aware of Goodreads pre-Amazon era, as a fairly innocuous book-review site. The above incident was my re-introduction to it, and yow, the crazy.
A pink plastic crypt that fits in your palmfiveforsilver on March 30th, 2015 09:34 pm (UTC)
I like LibraryThing. No comments on reviews, and very active forums (aka Talk/Groups).

Best books I've read recently: Ancillary Justice and Ancillary Sword by Ann Leckie, the October Daye series and the Verity Price series by Seanan McGuire, Toad Words by T Kingfisher (aka Ursula Vernon), and The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms and its two sequels by NK Jemisin.
The Gauche in the Machine: Don't Lookchina_shop on March 31st, 2015 12:41 am (UTC)
So many things about this make me weep for humanity, not least "He shined a preening smirk." *weeps* I'm sorry you had to deal with it. *continues to hide out in comfortable corners of DW/LJ*

Book recs: Spirits Abroad (short stories) and The Perilous Life of Jade Yeo (novella) both by Zen Cho.
shark_hat: boosh curtainshark_hat on March 31st, 2015 09:52 am (UTC)
Spirits Abroad was so good!
Other good things I've read recently, all SF/F:
Andrea K Host's newest, Pyramids of London: the protag's brother and sister-in-law may have been murdered; a tiny clue leads her to decide to contract to be a vampire's food source, in order to investigate his household. Compliactions ensue. Very hard to characterise... Egypto-pagan-clockpunk? (The society it's set in is multiracial and bisexuality-friendly.) Really page-turn-y.
Sarah Tolmie, The Stone Boatmen: Set over several generations; the first main characters are a prince who gets interested in his people's ceremonies and becomes almost an anthropologist in his own city, and a scientifically minded fisherman. (Later generations include female protags). I liked the atmosphere- it seems a bit more reflective than many fantasies.
Tanya Huff; The Silvered: A society where werewolves are the aristocracy is at war with one that has declared them abominations. Main character is a low-level mage whose mother wants to marry her to one of the Pack.
Yangszee Choo, The Ghost Bride: A girl from a family that's come down in the world is sought in marriage by a wealthy family... for their dead son. Creepy and atmospheric.
a particularly troubled Romulan: water entranceillariy on March 31st, 2015 03:10 pm (UTC)
Wow, those sound like awful experiences (hers and yours both). So sorry you had to go through that. I had been thinking of adding Goodreads or LibraryThing accounts to my online life as I've long wanted to track my reading and maybe get some recs. This tips the scale rather heavily toward LibraryThing. (Also, my main library is on LibraryThing and integrates its OPAC with LibraryThing tags and reviews, which delights me. You can even write a review on LibraryThing via their interface but it reminds you to write it in German language, hehe.)

I am reading Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and it is quite good so far but I've only read the first 20 pages. It's about a Nigerian woman coming to the US and experiencing Blackness in America and then, as the book begins, she plans to move back to Nigeria.
filkferengifilkferengi on April 2nd, 2015 03:18 am (UTC)
I highly recommend _Gentleman Jole And The Red Queen_ by Lois McMaster Bujold, coming out from Baen next year, probably Feb. of 2016. It's a long wait, but well worth it.

jrprongsjrprongs on May 5th, 2015 01:05 am (UTC)
Wow, that sucks. I'm... technically on GoodReads, but I never actually go on there. Now I have no desire to. As for book recs, I just finished The Girl in the Steel Corset, by Kady Cross. It's the first of a series. Hm, how to rec this... Wait, I know.
There's robots! And romance (not with the robots, but one of the guys does count as a steampunk cyborg)! It has kick-ass ladies! There are men of dubious intent and virtue! There is some violence but there are no children and therefore no harm to any. The only animal mentioned is mechanical and it doesn't get hurt anyway. The science is pseudo-y, but only if you try to make sense of it by our universe standards. In universe, the science is perfectly sound. There are some meta-hints of both Frankenstein and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde