Book History and Digital Humanities
Center for the History of Print and Digital Culture, University of Wisconsin-Madison
“What shall the individual who still desires to read attempt to read this late in history?” asks Harold Bloom. Writing at the end of the 20th century, Bloom’s quote anticipates the information explosion that the age of the internet brought to the reader (even if his emphasis is on the unpopularity of reading rather than the explosion in options). Social media sites like Goodreads prove that reading is still popular, yet Bloom’s question of what does someone read is still salient. More than ever, reading is a social activity, to be shared, debated, and justified between millions of would be critics. If choice is tied to larger social constructions of taste, how does this influence contemporary reading values on the digital landscape?
With almost 55 million registered users, Goodreads is a behemoth on the online reading scene. Perhaps co-opting the language of popular online dating sites, Goodreads encourages readers to “meet their next favorite book,” and encourages the building of online bookshelves that showcase the books that users have read, are reading, and want to read. Users stake claims online to knowledge about books and to their own ability to judge content and aesthetics, in a reversal of centuries long deference to the defined the educated palates of the elite. This paper explores what role, if any, taste or “good” taste play in the conversations about books online through Goodreads.
Although what to read and why to read it has appeared often in literary criticism and discussions about the value of reading, the personal ramifications and social aspects of taste and what is read has been ignored. Goodreads provides a window into the inner workings of performed taste, on the online landscape; how this taste differs from taste performed in other venues remains to be determined.
Burns, Dylan, "How to Rate a Book: Goodreads, Taste, and Reading in the 21st Century" (2017). Library Faculty & Staff Presentations. Paper 106.