Some musings on superiority in the online book community and the Goodreads Choice awards

Hello, pals and gals! Today I’m back with another ramble/discussion. Today, I’m talking about some feelings of superiority in the online book community and how it manifests in the community’s reaction to the Goodreads Choice awards.

Also, this is in no way to defend the Goodreads Choice awards. I think there are a ton of issues with them (which I talk about below), and people should discuss and criticize those issues. People are allowed to be upset with the choices, or the awards in general, or whatever. I don’t want to invalidate those feelings in any way. This is just one specific type of reaction, which I think speaks to a larger issue in the book community.

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One thing I’ve always found interesting about the online book community is the subtle forms of hypocrisy within the community (full post on that coming at some point). One of these is how the bookish community views themselves and views the general public, or people who don’t have an online bookish presence (for clarity, I’ll be referring to “online readers” and “non-online readers” throughout).

There’s always a ton of discussion in the bookish community about how you don’t need to read 100+ books a year, or own hundreds of books, or read only popular books to love reading or be considered a reader. If you read, you’re a reader. No one is more or less valid based on their reading preferences.

As long as, it seems, you’re still part of the online community.

It seems like the online book community sometimes has this feeling of superiority. They view themselves as more book loving, or “better readers”, than those who don’t have an online presence. I think most people don’t really realize they have this bias, and would likely (and will likely) deny it if you were to mention it to them. I don’t think most online readers actively hold this belief.

However, one of the ways I see this belief manifest is in the Goodreads Choice awards.

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One of the common sentiments I see in the online community is something to the effect of “what? but these books aren’t even popular?”

To us. They aren’t popular in the online community. Clearly, if they’re being nominated for a Goodreads Choice award, they’re popular books.

I recently went to my local Chapters, and every single book that is nominated in the Mystery and Thriller category was on display. This was before the nominations had been announced. Further, I recognized a bunch of them from an excursion to Chapters my brother and I took in the summer. However, I haven’t seen at least seven of them discussed in the online community. Or they had been discussed by only a handful of people.

You could argue that I’m not involved in the Mystery and Thriller online community, and you’d be correct, so let’s instead look at the Fiction category. Four of them, I have seen discussed at length in the literary/adult fiction community. Two of them, I’ve seen discussed by a couple people. The rest (nine) I hadn’t seen online until this list. Some of those, I had seen at Chapters. Some of those nine had some of the highest number of Goodreads ratings, whereas one of the aforementioned four had some of the lowest number of ratings, despite being one of the most discussed online. So clearly, there is a disconnect between what is discussed online (on blogs, twitter, booktube, etc.) and what gets the most ratings on Goodreads.

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I think there are valid criticisms of the Goodreads Choice awards. It’s often a popularity contest, with the most popular authors winning every year, despite the merit of their book (however, the awards are user choice awards so idk what people are expecting). Often, somewhat because of this, they’re overwhelmingly white authors. They’re overwhelmingly traditionally published authors. Those are all valid, but they speak to bigger issues within publishing. Some people just disliked the books nominated and don’t think the book deserves it. But that’s ultimately personal preference and happens with every award, regardless of whether it’s peoples choice or not.

As mentioned, another criticism from people online is that they’re not representative of what people are actually reading. I think a lot of people feel that the Fiction category is missing some perhaps critical books. People often have a lot of thoughts about the fantasy nominees, and the romance nominees.

Again, this argument is really just “the books aren’t representative of what we, the online community, read.” But why is what’s representative of the online community more valid than what’s representative of non-online readers? Why are our reading tastes and preferences more valid than theirs?

In my opinion, it’s because online readers consider themselves “better” or “more” readers than non-online readers. I think the online community does a lot of good things; it champions diversity and underrepresented communities, including non-traditionally published authors. But I’m not convinced that that alone makes our reading tastes more valid. I think non-online readers would love to read more diversely, but again, that’s a larger issue with the publishing industry. I don’t think it’s the readers’ fault.

Sidebar: I think there’s also a disconnect between online and non-online readers just in general. Whenever I go to a book store, I always recognize a bunch of books from the online community, but there are also a bunch of books I don’t recognize that are being advertised as popular. Sometimes, they’re more diverse than some of the books promoted by online readers. My local Chapters has a huge Indigenous authors section. I have seldom seen an Indigenous author promoted online.

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As a bit of a sidebar, I also saw this happen a few months ago regarding Five Feet Apart by Rachael Lippincott, which topped the New York Times best sellers list for weeks. I saw a few people on Twitter,,,, not complain, but exclaim how it was weird the book was so successful because no one was buying it.

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I’m not saying either of these people thinks they’re superior to anyone. I’m not saying they think they’re better than non-online readers just because they’re online, or that they think they’re better than any readers.

But clearly someone is reading Five Feet Apart if it managed to top the NYT list for that long. Presumably some of those people who read it are “actually into” the book. Maybe it’s successful because, I don’t know, it was the biggest teen movie of the summer? And the teens who enjoyed the movie wanted to read the book?

Just because a book isn’t popular online doesn’t mean it’s an unpopular book. Surprisingly, people who don’t have an online presence read and enjoy books. And that enjoyment isn’t any less valid than the enjoyment of those who express it online.

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I don’t really have an answer to why online readers hold this feeling of superiority, but if anyone has thoughts or insights, let me know. I think a lot of people think something along the lines of “if you talk about books, you love them, if you don’t talk about books, you don’t love them”. Or feelings that you can’t be a “casual” reader. Or maybe a feeling that if you’re more informed about the book community in general, you’re more of a reader. But I’m the least-informed person ever. I never know about when books are being released. There’s a reason I’ve done one anticipated releases book.

Does this make me less of a reader? Less of a fan of books or reading? I would argue no. It’s the same argument people always have in regards to sports teams or bands or movies. You don’t need to be 100% informed on everything related to a thing to be a fan of that thing.

So why do online readers feel superior to non-online readers?

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Idk, but I’d love to know your thoughts! Have you noticed this superiority? What are your thoughts on it? What are your thoughts on the Goodreads Choice awards? Do you agree with me at all? Disagree? Let me know!

Thanks for reading! xx

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29 thoughts on “Some musings on superiority in the online book community and the Goodreads Choice awards

  1. Damn Ally this is like… a really good point. I think I definitely have a bit of a superiority complex when it comes to being online, maybe because it makes me feel like a more “active” reader rather than a passive one? Idk, that’s definitely something to mull on. At least I usually see not knowing the nominees to be a personal failing of myself rather than Goodreads picking “unpopular” books, but clearly there are people out there who feel otherwise. I do think the criticisms about the nominees being very white are legitimate, but you’re definitely correct that this can be attributed more to traditional publishing as well as the reading habits of readers rather than Goodreads picking white books.

    This all definitely makes me want to browse bookstores more, as I mostly go just to get what I need rather than to find new books for my TBR. It’s interesting to know that you’ve noticed a marked difference in what you see hyped online vs marketed as popular irl.

    This was a lot to think on, thanks for bringing it up!!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ahhh thank you, Sarah! 💕 I’ve definitely had moments of superiority for the exact reason you mentioned. It’s something I had to work on, especially when I first started having more of an online presence.

      Same! I often think it’s more of a me problem when I don’t recognize books. And exactly! The criticisms are valid criticisms, but they’re not solely Goodreads’ fault.

      It’s always interesting to see what bookstores choose to promote! Often, I’ll recognize most of the books, but it’s interesting to see which ones I don’t recognize. It’s also a good way to find lesser-known books!

      Thank you! 💕

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I do love the online book community, but as someone who also works with books it is easy to see how people who only discuss books within their small blogsphere are not getting a full view of publishing today, or average reader habits. I also think the online book community skews younger (not a problem at all!) but that means that topics more acceptable to younger audiences are championed, and those that deal with more boring adult issues are not. There also seems to be a bit of a keeping up with the Jones attitude where everyone has t read the same 5 popular books and review them and include them on every type of list ever.

    I’m always surprised and interested in the books my patrons are reading. They are rarely books I see people cheering about on blogs.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Yes, exactly!! That’s super interesting that you see it in your work, as well. There are definitely the same books always promoted online (I’m definitely guilty of this, too), which makes it seem like a bit of an echo chamber sometimes.

      There are so many books in bookstores that I rarely see talked about online!

      Like

  3. All. Of. This. I have often had to sit back and do some deep breathing at the absurdity of the online bookish community. You didn’t even touch upon all the times they run a book out of town before it even releases (Blood Heir was obv the most prominent) or just bashing one completely because someone’s negative review is suddenly 100% accurate and true, despite no one going in to verify it. It’s tough sometimes, but I try to give books the benefit of the doubt and form my own opinion. I do have to remind myself not to judge, but it’s no easy task.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you! 💕

      Yes, there are so many absurd and ridiculous things about the book community. The Blood Heir fiasco is a great example of that. I hate the mentality of jumping on one review and taking it at face value as the truth.

      Like

  4. This is such a great post! I hadn’t really thought of it that way before, but I can see exactly what you mean. I suppose those directly involved in a community feel they have a stronger claim on it, which is totally unfair. Some of the most passionate and voracious readers will never have even considered starting a blog, joining Goodreads, etc., but their status as a reader is just as valid.

    As for book award longlists, I love when there’s a mix of books I’ve heard loads about and books that are entirely new to me. I added 3 poetry books to my TBR yesterday that I never would have known about if they hadn’t been nominated for the Goodreads Choice Awards.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you, Callum! 💕💕

      Exactly! I have friends who love reading just as much as I do, but they would never share their thoughts online. It doesn’t make them less of a reader or book lover, though.

      Same! It’s always a great way of finding new books or finding books I would have never thought to read

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I’ve noticed this myself in what I’m interested in and what the blogosphere as a whole is excited about, but I always assumed it was because of the age difference. I’m twice the age of a lot of the other bloggers I follow (presumably, at least, based on random comments about what books were being released when they were young). A lot of the books that are popular online are ones I’ve heard of, but don’t read and am not going to buy. And a lot of the books I have bought and read and loved get nearly no mentions online.

    I mean, though, my whole family reads. (4 generations of readers still actively reading.) But of approximately 10 readers in my family, I think I’m the only one who’s active online. (Granted, one is only 6-years-old.) That doesn’t mean they love reading any less, they just share that love differently than I do.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think age probably has something to do with it, too. I find most of the books that are popular online tend to be YA or new adult, or just feel “younger” overall.

      And same! My entire immediate family all read, but they would never start a blog or twitter account to share their thoughts (my dad especially lol).

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      1. It’s interesting to think about. I don’t know if it’s because the online population generally skews younger, or if YA books are just more prone to hype. Maybe it’s the marketing?

        Two of my family members are on Goodreads, but they do very random updates no matter how much they’re actually reading. That’s the most that anyone else in the family does as far as the online book community goes, though. I don’t see that changing unless maybe my niece gets into reviewing when she’s older.

        Liked by 1 person

  6. Great post Ally!! Personally I find the GR awards much to America centric for my more European taste every year, understandably so with Goodreads being traditionally a domain for privileged English speaking readers and the largest number of said readers coming from the USA.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. This is such a good post!!! I have conflicting feelings about the Goodreads Choice Awards and everything you brought up here – on the one hand, I just have no interest in any popular vote-based literary awards; it’s just not my bag. So yes, I see the GCAs and think ugh, this is more based in popularity than merit, I hate it. But, of course ‘merit’ is subjective blah blah so this is just a personal hangup where I can fully admit to being a bit of a snob (and you did a great job of laying out how that’s a big issue in this community).

    And on the other hand – and I was just talking to someone about this – I find it infuriating sometimes how the online book community thinks that our trends and tastes are always indicative of the trends and tastes going on in publishing at large, when that is not! the!! case!!! Like, remember the Tomi Adeyemi drama where she accused Nora Roberts of plagiarizing her title, and a bunch of online YA readers jumped in to back her up? That was freaking ABSURD – Nora Roberts is one of the bestselling authors of all-time, she is a household name, and Tomi Adeyemi is… not!!! There can be such a disconnect sometimes between the current pet darlings of the online book world and actual bestsellers, and you can absolutely count on the GCAs to put that into perspective, and in a way I kind of love that?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ahhh thank you, Rachel! 💕💕

      Honestly I feel the same way. The awards are always just a popularity contest, but also that doesn’t mean the books that win are bad books or less deserving of it. I think it’s just an issue with readers choice awards in general.

      And YES!! The Tomi Adeyemi/Nora Roberts thing was such a great example of this. I remember seeing someone say something along the lines of “who even is Nora Roberts, no one reads her” and thinking,,,,, oh honey. Roberts has been a household name for decades now. Just because her books aren’t popular in the online community doesn’t mean the rest of the world doesn’t read her???

      And yes!! I feel like the GCAs could be a good way to put the online community in their place a little and be like “see? there are other books that people enjoy” but instead the online community takes it as a personal attack lmao

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Now I need that post on hypocrisy in the online community.

    Hmmm I think if I were being charitable, it could be that people are suspicious of books that aren’t popular in the online community because of all the previous drama (I think there were authors who bought their way onto the list but that is a whole different topic about why NYT isn’t accurate either). Or perhaps people just assume that they are the de facto standard reader and that people who read differently don’t exist or something.

    But that’s assuming good faith on their part.

    I have noticed that most of my bookish friends don’t have dedicated online presences for books. Those that do, tend to be on Goodreads and they tend to just rate, so I’m not surprised that Goodreads likes different stuff from me.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Haha hopefully it’ll come soon!

      Very true, I hadn’t thought about that. I’m sure there are some authors the online community has deemed Do Not Read that the non-online community would still read.

      I feel like there is definitely some belief that the online community is the baseline, and everything else is out of the ordinary.

      True! I have a few friends who use Goodreads to keep track of and rate their books, but other than that, they don’t have much of an online presence.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. I followed you rightaway after I read this post because Ally, YOU GOT A POINT. I’ve seen this superiority a lot around book twitter. The constant “I’m better than you because I read this book” vibe I’m getting is tiring. Of course you can read whatever you want to, or support whatever authors you want to, but no need to be superior about it, right?

    Before I started my blog, I used to follow what everyone’s reading on Twitter and search for the “hidden gems” on Goodreads. But lately, my local bookstores and Goodreads offer me with a lot better books with different variations. I wish these books are being talked about more on online-community, and I think it’s our job (bloggers and reviewers) to promote these books so it’ll be as hype as the rest.

    If you want to check it, I also talked about this superiority and its connection to book-shaming here: https://readlogy.wordpress.com/2019/11/15/book-shaming/

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ahhhhh thank you! 💕💕

      YES exactly! There’s such a weird dynamic of “no one reader is better than any other reader but we’re still better because we read these books” and it’s exhausting? Just let people enjoy reading and move on.

      I’ve found the same thing! I’m way more likely to find hidden gems through looking around a bookstore than looking on Twitter or Goodreads. And the online community could do a way better job promoting less-popular books.

      I will definitely check out your post, it sounds fascinating! Thank you for reading! 💕

      Like

  10. This is excruciatingly valid!! I try not to complain about the books in the GR choice awards, as I usually haven’t read most of the books nominated (even in my preferred fields), but rather sob in the corner that my favourite book for the year didn’t make the cut. But that’s ok. Just because I liked it doesn’t mean that it was available in every country, widely marketed, or even liked by other people. This is why we can write in answers.
    I do assume that the books nominated have very large marketing budgets and are well placed in bookstores to ensure that people buy them (and hopefully read them too!). So, even if I haven’t read them, it doesn’t mean we can just throw them away!!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ahhhh, thank you, Meeghan! 💕

      LOL that’s fair! And same, I generally assume that books that make it are books that have good marketing and large marketing budgets. But that’s how it works for a lot of awards, not just book awards. Publishers/studios/etc. have to promote a book/movie/etc. for it to be considered for most awards, so it makes sense when the most popular ones are there

      Liked by 1 person

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