How to optimize your Goodreads “To-Read” list

A few weeks back, I posted about how we select the books we want to read now, next and never.

On a related theme, I just spent an hour culling unwanted books from my Goodreads “To-Read” list. 

Because what good is a “To-Read” list if you don’t really want to read the books on it?

After my very well-intentioned husband took the aforementioned list to the library and returned with many of the books it contained, I discovered few were readable in the land of Mrs. Rebecca Klempner. Three offended my (admittedly rather sensitive) sensibilities so much that I immediately took them out to our van and left them there to be returned to the library. Ugh.

How do such books get on my “To-Read” list in the first place?

  • I’ve previously enjoyed that author
  • The summary sounded appealing (I’m a sucker for anything sci-fi, anything touching on anthropology, Jewish authors that don’t hate Chareidim, unreliable narrators, and cozies).
  • Someone I respect raved about the book.
  • It got referenced tangentially in conversation.
  • I enjoyed reading an interview of the author.
  • I know the author (not necessarily well).
  • The book got 4 stars or more.
  • The book won a prestigious prize.

Discovery: the most important reviews to look at on Goodreads are those of three stars or less.

4- or 5-star reviews mostly highlight the positive aspects of any book. Some of them are from people who differ in tastes from you. Other readers are so enthusiastic about the book, they will tell you almost anything in order to get you to read it. Some reviewers are just less astute (especially teenagers).

So, look at every review of 3 stars or less. Of course, you have to throw out every review that looks like it was written by a troll. How can you tell? These reviews usually reflect little actual detail of the book (you can’t tell if the person who wrote the review had actually read it before slamming it). “Poorly written” means nothing. “Dumb” or “Couldn’t finish” type comments aren’t helpful either. Ditch those.

You’ll be left with reviews with specific details about why various readers felt the book let them down.

Reader, know thyself!

Know your preferences as a reader. What do you like in books? What do you hate? If the reviews you read tell you the book contains anything you pretty much uniformly dislike in a book, ditch said book from your list.

My personal preferences are for books that contain:

  • No “love” at first sight (unless later upended in the plot)
  • No completely unnecessary foul language of the more offensive variety
  • No extreme violence
  • No graphic sex
  • No molestation or extreme harm to children (that’s one of the things that set me off last night)
  • No extreme stance of moral relativism (didn’t they live through the 20th century?)
  • Nothing that will give me nightmares (I’m wimpy that way)
  • Nothing that is longer than 250 pages and doesn’t appear tightly written (and tightly edited)
  • No bad writing in the first 5 pages (so long Twilight!)
  • No obnoxiously over-intellectual writing.

I realize that other people have other dislikes; these happen to be mine. Just write yours out.

Now, look at those 3-start-and-less reviews. Are any of your naughty no-nos singled out in the review? Don’t read those books. Don’t buy them. Don’t get them out of the library. It’ll be a waste of your time.

There is no shame in having different taste than your friends, relatives, or even mentors.

I pretty much know that half the books I read will be despised by my best friend (she hates mysteries), and I barely read anything written by her favorite author (mostly because of my no nightmare-inducing rule). This isn’t about who is right and who is wrong. It’s about efficiency and keep you happy in your reading adventures.

Which reviews or reviewers most influence your book selections? Please comment below.


4 thoughts on “How to optimize your Goodreads “To-Read” list

  1. I also have the no-nightmare-inducing rule. I’m sure there are some really fantastic horror novels or graphically violent novels, but they’re not my cup of tea. I certainly would never have picked up Girl with a Dragon Tattoo if I had any inkling of the nasty graphic stuff going on.

    I have a profile on Goodreads but haven’t been on in a while; you may have just inspired me to go back to visit. 🙂


    • You gave the perfect example!

      After so many people raved about The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, I picked it up at the library…and then ditched it after deciding the narrator was annoying and hitting the rape scene. If only I had checked reviews first!

      If you visit Goodreads again, be sure to friend me…


  2. I also use the less than 3 stars reviews to choose books. Actually, I go thru and find all the 1 or 2 star reviews. I’ve also found people to follow because of their reviews. One of them is the opposite of me in everything! If he likes it I know I’m going to be disappointed in the book. He writes a mean lean book review w/o plot spoilers, so I actually enjoy reading the reviews.
    I also have a 50 page rule: if I don’t love a book after reading 50 pages, I just stop and get another. ( learned that at BookLust)
    Now that I think about it, I think I review more books I’ve disliked than loved. Those have been the books that fall apart in the last 50 pgs: no ending, bad ending, inconsistent ending, “where was the editor/agent???” ending.


    • I need to follow that 50 page rule. I’m much, much better than I used to be, but I still occasionally lapse into hoping that the book will, must!, get better at some point.

      My biggest complaint also is against editors. There are many books I ditch because of the overall writing quality or because there are too many “dead spots” with passive voice, unnecessary detail, and little action. Robin McKinley — whose early books I love — has put out so many books like this lately (that look like an editor did nothing more than proofread), that when her newest one came out (this month, I think), I decided to pass.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s