Personal Life

Mindless Book Consumption

There is a trend on Goodreads and other sites for book lovers that I’ve noticed lately and bothers me as a reader, an author, and an English professor: mindless book consumption.

What the hell are you talking about? you might ask. To me, mindless book consumption is reading hundreds of books a year (or a month– yeah, I saw someone supposedly read 120 books in February), but the books you’re reading a) aren’t given time to be digested or be enjoyed b) chosen for the most part just because they’re easily accessible c) many of those books are not actually finished but are considered “read” and rated on sites like Goodreads.

I have LOTS of problems with this gluttonous treatment of reading material. First off, let me say that I am all for reading tons of books. Last year, I read 120 books, and I totally get how people can read 300 books in year. I wish I could read that fast, but I know, I’m a comparatively slow reader. If you’re a voracious reader who likes romances, I can understand how someone could consume that many books in a year. Many romances are short and fairly straightforward, so if you enjoy them, it’s easy to burn through book after book in a genre you like.

On the other hand, what I’ve witnessed on Goodreads is very different. Goodreads attracts a lot of reviewers or those who are famous on Booktube or Bookstagram, and often that fame is tied to how many books they read in a year. If you’re a reviewer, the more books you read, the more posts you have, the more people read your posts, and the more followers you have. It makes sense from a marketing standpoint, but what has happened on this site is the idolization of gluttonous readers, especially those who pan books. I would like to challenge this ideal because what I’ve seen has been nothing more than binging books with little regard for enjoyment or synthesis of the products consumed.

My concern is the mentality of quantity over quality in the book community. What is the point of reading 300 books if you can’t discern one book from another or you DNF (did not finish) more books than you finished? DNF-ing in and of itself is problematic in the context of the mindless consumption mentality because many readers count them as “read” on Goodreads and rate them despite not reading the entirety of the work. From an author’s standpoint, I wouldn’t want someone to read half of my book and pass judgment without receiving the complete picture, especially if a perceived flaw in the narrative turns out to later play a part in the plot. As a reader, there are plenty of books I didn’t love at page thirty that I adored by the end. Perhaps my stick-to-it-ness comes from being an English major and being forced early on to read outside my comfort zone. By being made to read books I didn’t think I’d like, I ended up branching out to new genres, and I know that if I had given up on Jane Eyre or The Canterbury Tales early on, I would have missed out on stories I now love.

Besides missing out on some great books by DNF-ing, there is the matter of ethics. Is it ethical to mark a book you didn’t read in its entirety as “read”? Even worse in my mind, is it ethical to rate a book you didn’t finish?

The former issue is at the heart of the problem. It’s very easy to inflate the amount of books you’ve read if you didn’t actually read the entirety of the book. Of course, people stopping by your profile on Goodreads wouldn’t know that unless they looked more closely at your reviews and reading history. Others see the inflated number, they feel the need to compete with it, and they might attempt to fudge their numbers and perpetuate the cycle.

The greater problem is how society seems to adore cynical, jaded reviewers. This is a centuries old issue that spans every artistic medium imaginable, but with the internet and social media, you no longer have to be a reviewer for the New York Times to disseminate your views to a large audience. Unfortunately, good reviews garner little attention. Bad reviews, especially those of popular media, stick out. It’s one thing to genuinely not enjoy a work, but in a time where social media users regularly try to gain likes and followers, I have to wonder if some people are more likely to read in order to find fault with a book rather than read to enjoy it. If you combine the fact that people feel special when they go against the grain with the need to meet a very high reading quota, you end up with reviewers on Goodreads and Amazon who specialize in panning and DNF-ing books, which of course they stopped reading because they didn’t enjoy them and then rate them poorly.

The question is, how do we combat this and should we combat it? Of course it is within your right to not finish any book you start and then rate them, but you don’t have to read those reviews or follow accounts that exhibit suspect behavior. Much like avoiding brands that have questionable policies or practices, we can abstain from giving those bloggers attention whether it’s liking their posts, following their accounts, or leaving disparaging comments.

Conversely, if you’re a reader, perhaps seeing this behavior will make you more mindful of how you consume books. Being mindful has become a buzzword lately, but when it comes to consumption, I think it’s necessary to reflect on why you do what you do. If you’re reading to fill a vacuum or to meet a numerical goal, it may be worth wondering why you feel the need to do so. Are you reading because you want to be entertained or learn something or is it because you are in competition with someone or to live up to a perceived standard?

Stay tuned for another post about mindfulness and reading soon.

4 thoughts on “Mindless Book Consumption

  1. DNF-ing?!! I didn’t even know this could be a thing, much less a category. Did Not Finish can NEVER count as reading and you certainly can’t review something you Did Not Finish. Of course, I shouldn’t be surprised because I have suspected for some time that theater reviewers don’t always stay until the end of whatever production they are reviewing. I also didn’t know there was such a thing as Booktube and Bookstagram. So thanks both for the info and the critique. I couldn’t agree more with your pinpointing consumption and the model of marketplace reviewing as being two key problems. And important to also remind us that reviewing happens everywhere now, thanks to social media, so it’s even more important for your timely post questioning the mode of reviewing and pondering new models for reviewing. I know in the academic world of the theater, two theater scholars, Jill Dolan and David Roman (as well as others) have been developing/modeling/theorizing something they call “critical generosity” which asks us to reject unhelpful and too-often arbitrarily determined categories of “good” or “bad.”

    1. I will be looking up Dolan and Roman when I finish this post. I would love a better way to critique literature. For a while now, I have foregone reviewing books because I don’t like the polarizing gushing or hating on books. I ended up just writing recommendations that are more like “If you like x, y, and z, you’ll like…” I’ll be looking into “critical generosity” as a viable alternative.
      DNF-ing bothers me to no end. What I would like to see happen is Goodreads add another main category for DNF to their preexisting read, unread, and currently reading. You can add it as an additional category, but then you need to also tag the book in one of the main three as well. I understand why they add their DNF books to their read books, but it doesn’t feel right to count it that way.

  2. I personally never mark a DNF book as ‘read’. I always make it a point to either try and finish it or just take it of my currently reading list. I never rate things I haven’t fully read. Great post – I totally agree and need at least a day to digest a good book I just finished.

    1. Thank you! I completely agree with you, I can’t rate a book I haven’t finished. I hate Goodreads’ system right now where there is no place to put DNF books except, unread. I wish they would make a DNF shelf to eliminate this problem.

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