Book Tag: Goodreads Was Wrong

A pair of burgundy boots rest on a bookshelf of fantasy novels

I saw this tag on on The Suspected Bibliophile who got it from Amanda @Literary Weaponry who had it from Way Too Fantasy (how did I miss it there? I don’t know) – although it originated with Gabs About Books on Booktube. I couldn’t resist. Reading is a very subjective experience of course and other opinions are also availableTM, but Goodreads is so often wrong…

I’ve combined a couple prompts because I’d over-answered the first one, answering a later one at the same time quite by accident.

What is the highest rated book that you gave a low rating? Plus: Choose two books with an average rating of 4 stars that you gave a lower rating

Sort your books in Goodreads based on Average Rating in descending order

I will die on the hill that 3 stars is not a low rating, but awarding them to The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss (average rating 4.51 stars) and The Martian by Andy Weir (average: 4.4 stars) feels a bit like throwing a gauntlet in the face of certain parts of the SFF community (in semi-related unpopular opinions, Gardens of the Moon bored me to death and I’ve DNFed Brandon Sanderson. Twice). I still think I was being kind to The Martian.

Even I consider a 2 star rating a bad score, so I’ll erm get my coat because that’s what I gave Dragonlance classic Dragons of Autumn Twilight (average: 4.24 stars) when I reread it a few years back. I have huge nostalgic affection for this teenage favourite, but as an adult I rolled my eyes through clunky prose, railroaded plot (it works best if you read it as a write-up of a D&D campaign) and the way it portrays its female characters (let’s just say it’s of its time in many ways. I should be lucky there were any, I guess, and they do at least develop to achieve heroic status in their own right. And I’m never getting over my crush on Kit).

No, I’m not turning in my fantasy fan shirt (or getting rid of my copies of Dragonlance. I’ve room for nostalgia on my shelf and I’ll likely reread it. I may even u-turn on my opinion. Maybe.

What is the lowest rated book that you gave a high rating?

Sort your books in Goodreads based on Average Ratings in ascending (reverse) order

True story: almost all the books on my GR Read shelf that have fewer than 3 star averages have no ratings (rare books) or really were terrible and I slated them too. So let’s dive straight in at yes I know 3 stars isn’t a bad rating, but I think you missed just how awesome this book was and I’m so sorry it didn’t work as well for you.

Book cover: Vellum - Hal Duncan (orange background with suggestions of handprints and writing; the title is burnt into it)

The first big disagreement is over foul-mouthed Scottish SF poet Hal Duncan’s Vellum (average: 3.3 stars; I gave it 5). I adored this precisely for its self-indulgence and play with words and worlds as angels, mortals and ancient gods fight to redefine reality at the end of days. I also gave 5 stars to Julian Barnes’s on-the-nose corporate and cultural satire England, England (average: 3.4 stars) – although I suspect it would physically hurt to reread now.

But the really divisive one – where I have 1 and 2 star vs 5 star disagreements with fellow bloggers I know and love (average: 3.38 stars) – is Anne Corlett’s post-flupocalyptic road trip romance The Space Between The Stars. I can understand why it doesn’t work for everyone – no, really – as I think this lives or dies by whether you have patience with the protagonist’s self-absorbed personal drama, but I loved it wholeheartedly for its core themes, messy characters and deft juggling of familiar tropes.

Book cover: The Space Between The Stars - Anne Corlett (a woman's silhouette against a pale blue sky)

What is the most popular book you disagree with the avg rating?

Sort your books in Goodreads based on number of Ratings in descending ordeer

Grab your rotting veg, it’s unpopular opinion time again! I just don’t get the love for The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho. If this is what it takes to “change the lives of its readers forever”, I guess I’m some kind of monster.

What is the least popular book you disagree with the avg rating?

Sort your books in Goodreads based on number of Ratings in reverse order, and find the first book you disagree with the avg rating

I think this was prompt was intended to champion an underdog, but some years back I reviewed Felix Guattari’s batshit screenplay A Love of UIQ for Strange Horizons. This is a hodgepodge of badly-executed tropes, with screen directions dripping in sexism and classism and dialogue adorned with discriminatory asides. It’s achieved a 3 star average (I gave it just 1 star) because apparently it’s brilliant if you are familiar with Guattari’s work and are ‘versed in concepts of schizoanalysis, transversality, institutionality, and groupuscules’. Imagine my long, steady gaze to camera if you will. So long. Very steady.

Choose two books with an average rating of 2 stars but you rated higher

As I mentioned earlier, this is really rare in my collection. I have several books with no ratings (old, rare and/or academic) and then the lowest is 2.5 stars for MG dystopian sequel Fireglass Machine by Patrick Wood. I rated this 3 stars – so not a lot higher than average – and all I recall is that it wasn’t as good as Viaduct Child (average 3.3 stars; I gave it 5). Still, I was disappointed that Wood either never wrote more or lost his publisher (I’m not sure which) – I didn’t feel the story was done. Full disclosure: Patrick is the son of an old family friend, so I have to declare some personal bias here; he and his brother let me play with their amazing train set once.

There is no second book in this category – the only other book with a 2.x rating is The Missing Person’s Guide To Love by Susanna Jones, and I gave it 2 stars too.

Choose two books with an average rating of 3 stars but you rated higher

I’ll happily bang the drum for more overlooked faves! This happens a lot; some of my favourites are quite divisive I guess.

First up, I’ll shake my head that Alan Garner – whose books have bewitched me since I was – only achieves 3.x star average ratings. His books are rarely easy (and that’s before you tackle his adult fiction) – he’s keen on ambiguities and compromise, and unafraid of difficult endings (arguably he’s afraid of endings; two of his books crash stop as much as finish). But they’re magical and brave and his (pre)teen characters more real for their defects. Extended musings on why I adore Garner.

The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters likely suffers from its ambiguity too – that, and marketing. It’s a post-war Gothic ghost story, I thought as I dived in (along with most readers, I suspect). Waters says she didn’t set out to write a Gothic novel, and whether there’s a ghost is ultimately left to the reader (or the film director, in the case of the excellent recent adaptation) to decide. This is an atmospheric tale of class and envy and possessiveness that mistakes itself for love. It’s brilliant (and very long), but I can understand why some readers might finish it (or not bother) in frustration.

I’ll end with two bonus nods – both Corey J White’s psychic space opera Killing Gravity (first of the Voidwitch novellas) and Jeannette Ng’s religious Fae portal fantasy Under the Pendulum Sun (winner of our first Subjective Chaos Kind of Award for fantasy) split opinions. Too fast, too slow, too female-led, too diverse, too hard to grasp, too flimsy to grasp – each found a way to rile somebody. They’re pretty much polar opposites to each other, but they’re both firm favourites for being bold and immersive and not particularly interested in what the reader thinks, in the end. And I think they’re all the better for it.

Do you tend to agree or disagree with GR average rating and do you use GR as a guide for books you want to read?

While I regularly rate reads a star higher or lower than the Goodreads average, I rarely disagree wildly with it (well, except for Sanderson and Malazan apparently). This is fairly reassuring, in the sense that it means I can and do glance at Goodreads ratings when considering a potential read. I think it helps that I’m not put off by a 3.x star rating – if I were, this would be hopeless – and I always read the reviews as well as glancing at the average rating. Understanding why someone (especially someone whose tastes I’m familiar with) loved or hated a book gives me a far better idea of whether it might be a hit or miss for me. And in the end, genre, subgenre and blurb determine whether I even look at the ratings and reviews (a 4/5 star average rating and rave reviews from bookfriends are still unlikely to indicate my enjoyment of grimdark or YA romance. Or Brandon Sanderson*).

Fancy sharing your unpopular Goodreads opinions? Tag yourself in and drop a link in the comments so I can come take a look!

*Flippant jokes aside, this isn’t an anti-Sanderson blog. I don’t hate Sanderson; there are just too many amazing lesser-known authors for me to push through his doorstops “because it’s amazing after 600 pages / 4 books”. It may be, but there’s too little time and too many books to read – and I’ve bounced off his twice already.