Today marked the end of a book group which I started moderating last January over at Goodreads. Whilst I enjoyed being a moderator for the majority of that time, there came a point where I was forced to evaluate just how much time it was taking out of each and every day. The answer was a lot. I was having to spend at least an hour there daily, whether I liked it or not, and despite my putting seven more moderators in place to ease the load, the time I was spending there was not diminishing at all.
I loved the social aspect of running such a group, and being able to choose books and discuss them with a wide range of people was marvellous. I loved the diversity of the books and authors which I picked over those twenty months, which ranged from Virginia Woolf, George Orwell, Rebecca West, Dickens and Thomas Hardy to more contemporary picks – Marilynne Robinson, Amitav Ghosh, Lisa See, Louisa Young and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. We agreed on books we loved, and disagreed about many others. That, for me, was the beauty of an online book group. We were able to tell others of our thoughts and musings of different pieces, and they would be carefully considered and respectfully replied to.
Why, then, was there so much negativity when I decided to close the group? The decision had been brewing for several months before I sent a message to my fellow moderators, the majority of whom supported me wholeheartedly. I thought that the general members of the group (over 900 members by that point) would be much the same. Lots of them were absolutely lovely and detailed how much they would miss the group. One or two even said that the group was like a wonderful book which they didn’t want to end, which I felt was a delightful analogy.
With these kind thoughts, however, came much dissent. I faced a barrage of comments which detailed how ‘selfish’ and ‘inconsiderate’ I was for closing the group, and how my work there would stand for nothing when it was closed. They may be correct in this latter respect, but it was ultimately my decision, and I was surprised that they acted in such a way, if I’m honest. I still am. Evidently there was something not very nice always lurking under the kind facade of the group, and I hate to think that certain individuals have ruined the experience of moderating for me. Rather than look back on the experience as a great one which has shaped my reading for the better, I am afraid that a lot of the memories associated with the group will be bad ones.
At this juncture of my life, being the moderator of an enormous group is not a priority for me, and I thought everyone would understand that. The comments, however, have made me less likely to start another group in years to come (in fact, I am steering clear of this option entirely in consequence), and they have also made me rather dislike the general attitude of Goodreads. It seems to be a popularity contest rather than anything else at present. There is too much focus on writing scathing reviews to garner attention and ‘likes’ – far too social media for my liking, I am afraid – and not enough on that thing which I’m sure many joined Goodreads for: the discussion of books. I have had several comments on my reviews in the last few months which have told me that my opinion regarding a particular tome is ‘wrong’, and I believe that kind of attitude to be an absolutely awful one.
I will continue to use Goodreads, but only as a place in which to store my reviews and keep track of my to-read shelves. It is a real shame that the atmosphere of the website has changed almost entirely since I joined it back in 2009, and I think that such a change now, particularly with the addition of the Amazon takeover, is an irreversible one. Never again will it be an entirely happy place where each and every user is able to revel in their love of literature and the bookishness of others, and that thought makes me very sad. We had built up a community on the website over the years, and the sudden loss of that ever-present love and respect for books and others seems to have disappeared entirely.