Bruce Springsteen’s Born to Run, an autobiography about the acclaimed singer-songwriter, is one of the year’s bestselling and critically acclaimed autobiographies. You wouldn’t know this if you get your book recommendations from Goodreads, though.
Of the millions of books published in 2016, only a few titles have made it into the Goodreads Choice Awards. For what it offers, Goodreads is one of the highest trafficked websites on the Internet, providing user reviews, ratings, and periodic lists of recommendations on what to read.
In this year’s Goodreads Choice Awards, several of its categories are biased towards books that push views on social justice and feminism. This is partly due to how many more women read books compared to men, but that isn’t enough to explain how the site shortlists novels for the awards.
Contrary to the loud voices of ideologues, feminism isn’t exactly popular among women. In a poll conducted by YouGov, most American women refused to identify as feminists, with a 47% majority considering them to be “too extreme.” Vox reported similar results, with only 18% of Americans considering themselves feminists.
Per the website, opening round nominees are selected by the following process, offering a vague explanation on how it operates:
We analyze statistics from the millions of books added, rated, and reviewed on Goodreads to nominate 15 books in each category. Opening round official nominees must have an average rating of 3.50 or higher. Write-in votes may be cast for eligible books with any average rating, and write-in votes will be weighted by the book’s Goodreads statistics to determine the top five books to be added as official nominees in the Semifinal Round. A book may be nominated in no more than one genre category, but can also be nominated in the Goodreads Author category. Only one book in a series may be nominated per category. An author may receive multiple nominations within a single category if he or she has more than one eligible series or more than one eligible stand-alone book.
In short, users have very little say on which books are nominated, and titles are selected by the staff. This lack of transparency has caused many of its users to raise questions about the process.
Some of the books that are on the list aren’t even out yet, so even though readers will never pick them for the next round of voting, their presence on the list will certainly drive up sales later, including novels like Marissa Mayer’s (not to be confused with the former Yahoo! executive) Heartless. Many more were only just released, providing readers little opportunity to read and cast votes for them, including Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race, and Liu Cixin’s Death’s End.
Books that rant about the evils of men will undoubtedly be popular among the crowd of people already indoctrinated into the mindset, and it remains to be seen whether titles like All the Single Ladies, and Lindy West’s Shrill will dominate the awards.
You won’t find books by John Grisham (too male-focused), Nicholas Sparks (too problematic), or Bill O’Reilly (isn’t it obvious?) ever shortlisted for awards on Goodreads.
What’s certain is that Goodreads has become an echo chamber for people with similar opinions, and its recommendations will only serve to push their views to a broader audience rather than serving as a guide for books that are worth reading.