I love Goodreads. The website is such a simple and brilliant idea. You bring people together, let them create a list of books they’ve loved and hated, and give them a page where they can request book recommendations from their fellow website users. (There are other things on the site, but that’s not of concern to me at the moment.)
You might be wondering what problem I could possibly find with that. So far, I have found none. However, the requests people make sometimes reveal a lot more about the person than is intended. If I might paraphrase a recommendation request I’ve seen:
Can anyone recommend a romance novel in which the male protagonist has to overcome many obstacles before finally getting the girl and living happily ever after with her? The book should also be suspenseful.
Hmmmmm. I understand that sometimes you’re in the mood to read a particular type of book. In spite of that, the requesting person is (vaguely) outlining a desired plot and determining in advance what the ending should be. I know that some people can’t live without their Disney-esque happy endings, but how can a book be suspenseful if you’ve already chosen that book based on how it turns out?
If the person were looking for Shakespeare or something substantially artistic or otherwise well-crafted, it might be fascinating to see how the chosen plot is carried through; I could understand such a request. I’d still question how much suspense would result, but I’d understand it.
And then there’s this:
I want to read Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie.
For requests like this, it’s pretty easy to suggest something. Of course, I’m thinking of the “Hooked on Phonics” workbook. Maybe these people couldn’t understand the instructions because their reading skills need help. Or maybe they’re announcing that they’ve graduated to grown up books.
I can’t remember the name of the book but I read it in high school. The main character was a young blond woman and she fell in love with her knight in shining armor, and then they moved far away where they opened a bakery. Does anyone know the name of this book?
This resembles the first offending request type, but it tends to garner fewer responses. If the request were targeting a well known book, one would hope that the requester could find the information on their own; instead, these descriptions resemble a million others. Since these are presumably not well known books, there’s probably a good reason why the requester can’t remember information such as such as the title, author, or uniquely identifying details that hundreds of other books don’t share. Odds are, the book was crap. Or maybe the requester was stoned the first time around.
One final request type:
I’d like to read a book from Japan.
Oh, where to begin? Would this person like a romance novel, war memoir, classic No drama, haiku collection, or maybe something else? A book’s origin alone will not determine whether you like it. Not much in Japan is so overwhelmingly Japanese that its Japanese-ness (Japanicity?) overwhelms every other aspect of the book. Is bibliostereotyping a word? On the other hand, I suppose I shouldn’t be so hard on someone who realizes that Japan creates more things than cars, electronics, and anime. This person already belongs to the smartest 5% of the population.
Nevertheless, it’s always encouraging to see people choosing to read instead of watch TV, no matter what book they choose. I shudder to think what the average TV addict’s Goodreads requests would look like:
Can anyone recommend a good DVD insert?
That request will surely be brought to you by the same people who want to know what issue of Playboy has the best articles.