I have been doing a lot of reading experiments this year. I’ve read books based on my zodiac sign, I’ve twice now let Buzzfeed decide what I read based on how I answered quizzes, and I’m planning a few other similar experiments. But what if there was an algorithm that really knew your reading tastes? Today, we are going to find out if Goodreads can do just that.

I went onto the Goodreads recommendations page and chose five books they recommend based on my favorites shelf. My criteria was that I wanted to choose books they recommend based on two or more of my favorites. You would think this would give me some great recommendations, right?

But even going this fairly narrow criteria literally designed to give me books I will love, Goodreads still recommended Fifty Shades of Grey (apparently it thinks I will enjoy it because I loved Memoirs of a Geisha and IT – which is kind of a horrifying conclusion if you think about it). Well, guess what, Goodreads? I have read it and I hated it and just didn’t mark it as read because I didn’t want to remember having read it. (I only read it because a friend in college swore it was “actually really well written” and I needed to prove her wrong because I can be an asshole sometimes. But it’s still an awful book, and I stand by that.)

This is clearly off to an excellent start. Good news is I had plenty of books to choose from, so hopefully the ones I picked for this experiment are a little better than Fifty Shades of Grey. Let’s find out together, shall we?

As always, I blogged about these books in the order in which I read them so you can experience this experiment right along with me.

In the Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado

This book was recommended because I loved Smoke Gets in Your Eyes, Stamped from the Beginning, Know My Name, Kindred, & The Starless Sea. So, I obviously HAD to pick this one for the experiment since it is apparently is at least a little bit related to five of my favorite books. But it’s also an “inventive memoir” and apparently plays with the format, so I am definitely intrigued. This sounds like something I probably would have picked up on my own eventually. Though whether or not I would have gotten around to reading it is another question.

And, because of this post, I actually read it! And I’ll be honest, I totally get why this was recommended based on Smoke Gets in Your Eyes and Know My Name. The rest? I kind of don’t get. But it was still a great recommendation! I did find the actual writing and style of this memoir very interesting and enjoyable to read. I ended up listening to the audiobook, because it’s read by the author and I always like to go that route for memoirs when I can. And it was a pretty good one.

While the writing itself definitely made an impression, the story was also really impactful. it is about the author’s experience in an (emotionally) abusive same-sex relationship. She explores how toxic same-sex relationships are viewed by the outside world, how that affected her as a person, and what she went through during that time. I can’t say it’s a favorite memoir or favorite audiobook, but I do think it was an important one, and I’m really glad I read it. This was an easy four-star read. I think this was a solid start to the reading experiment (for once).

Luster by Raven Leilani

Goodreads recommended this based on Kindred, Know My Name, Stamped from the Beginning, and Smoke Gets in Your Eyes. Which is interesting, because there is a very specific book this reminded me of, and it is not one of those. I definitely got some Such a Fun Age vibes from this book. It’s also a commentary on race, especially within primarily white communities. Which I think is important. However, in this book, I felt like the message was kind of overshadowed by the overcomplicated and honestly pretty uncomfortable relationship dynamics.

The main plot of this novel involves twenty-three-year-old Edie, a black woman, having an affair with a white, older, married man. Which isn’t really something I’m particularly interested in reading. I know this book was supposed to make me uncomfortable, and it absolutely succeeded, but I don’t think it was in the way it was supposed to. And it really isn’t what I enjoy reading. I’m also at a point where I’ve read enough that the events of this book didn’t shock me like I think they were meant to, so it didn’t quite have the desired effect.

For me, this book was just fine. And I’m not really surprised given the mixed reviews this has been getting. If you’re looking to read a book along these lines, I’d say skip Luster and go for Such a Fun Age. Unless, of course, you like slightly icky family dynamics and graphic sexuality (but not in a fun, steamy, romance way, in a “please stop talking about your genitals” way). I didn’t dislike this book, but I can’t recommend it, either. Not for me, I gave it three stars.

I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness by Austin Channing Brown

This recommendation based on Kindred, Know My Name, & Stamped from the Beginning absolutely makes sense to me. I have been reading a lot about racism and the experiences of non-white people. I’m learning a lot and really enjoying it. And this book was already on my reading list. I actually picked up a copy on sale a while ago and was really excited to have an excuse to read it.

However, since I have been reading all of those other books, this one didn’t really provide me with any new insights. I’m going to be completely honest and say I should probably have read more about this book going into it. Because I think this is kind of like the other books I’ve been reading, but geared towards Christians, especially white Christians. And I don’t have anything against that, I just don’t exactly fit into that audience (I was raised Catholic, but am currently nonreligious).

I gave this book three stars. It wasn’t anything particularly helpful or enlightening for me, personally. But I do think this is a good one to pick up if you’re just starting to read more about these issues and want to learn, or if you are Christian and would prefer to think about racial issues in that context. This wasn’t overtly religious until the end, but it’s definitely there. And I think it could be helpful for some people. Again, just not the right book for me. I gave it three stars.

Long Bright River by Liz Moore

I was pretty curious about this one because it was recommended based on me loving Know My Name, We Were the Lucky Ones, & The Starless Sea. Which is a little bit of a strange combination, but based on those books I thought I kind of knew the vibe I was getting into – a slower paced, but really impactful. And to be totally fair, I can see Long Bright River being that book for some people. But I was SO BORED.

I did not like this book. Honestly, I kind of wasn’t totally expecting to. This kind of book – a detective story about the opioid crisis – is really not my thing. But I’ve been proven wrong multiple times and ended up loving books I didn’t think I would or were completely outside my comfort zone. So I was totally open to that happening again, but this book wasn’t it. “Thrillers” that are not at all thrilling are starting to become a huge pet peeve for me. If I pick up a book labeled a thriller, I would like to not be lulled to sleep slowly. Or dread picking it back up again.

My second biggest gripe with this book is that it is so, so long. I think this could have been an interesting thriller if it was condensed to like 250 pages. But it is 482 pages, which means all of the things that should have been exciting were dragged out until they died. Just because “long” is in the title does not mean the book has to be. I’m just saying.

As much as I’m complaining about this book, I didn’t totally hate it. I ended up giving it two stars. I didn’t think this was anything particularly special, and I wasn’t a fan of the writing style, but it wasn’t the worst book I’ve read for a reading experiment. I can see why people might like this. I just didn’t. And I am very thankful I borrowed my copy from the library instead of picking one up at Target the other day like I almost did. Because this would immediately be going into the donate pile.

One book left! And it’s the one I have the highest hopes for. Keep your fingers crossed.

The Huntress by Kate Quinn

This book was recommended based on We Were the Lucky Ones & How to Stop Time, both of which I absolutely loved last year. It’s also a female-centric historical novel, which just sounded right up my alley. I went into this kind of expecting it to be my favorite of this experiment, so I saved it for the end. (Also, it’s the longest of these books, and I was just being lazy and procrastinating.) And despite it taking me longer than I would have liked to get through this book, it did end up being my favorite.

The Huntress revolves around three women and their connection to a prolific Nazi murderess: The Huntress. It’s set both during and after WWII, and I thought it was done really well. There were definitely storylines I enjoyed more than others – I found the post-war story more interesting, which was odd because there was more action during the war scenes – but I did really enjoy this book as a whole. I ended up giving it four stars (it was almost a five-star read).

I am a little surprised that this book hadn’t crossed my radar before (especially since I’ve seen Kate Quinn’s two other books everywhere). If you enjoy WWII historical fiction, I highly recommend this one!

And that’s it for this month’s experiment. Overall, it was pretty fun. But I honestly don’t think Goodreads is very reliable for recommendations (unless it’s a friend recommending it through Goodreads). I didn’t really understand the logic behind most of these recommendations. And while I did enjoy most of these books, I also chose the ones I was most interested in out of a fairly large selection, so this experiment was a little skewed. There were also quite a few recommendations I just wasn’t interested in at all.

Now that I think about it, I kind of feel like I could have come to the same conclusion without reading these books. But whatever. While I don’t think that this is your best bet for finding a book you’ll love, it might be a good place to look for something new. My two favorites of this experiment ended up being the ones I was not already planning on reading this year. So I am kind of glad I did it.

But I’d love to hear what you think of this! Do you utilize Goodreads recommendations ever? Is there another place you rely on for good book recommendations? Let me know! (I did attempt to do this with Likewise, but after I added a ton of my favorite things, got a single book recommendation in a sea of movies and TV shows. Which wasn’t exactly what I was going for, so that didn’t work out.)

And check out my bookshop, where you can buy books and also shop my curated collections of my personal favorites AND all of the books I’ve read for my reading experiments. Or you can just buy whatever books you want to. I get a small commission at no extra cost to you, and you get to support your choice of indie bookstores – it’s a win all around! 

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21 thoughts

  1. This is a really interesting experiment! I have always wondered whether the algorithm on Goodreads was actually any good as the weird rec’s I get sometimes just make me laugh! x

    1. Yeah, even though I enjoyed most of these books, I don’t think the algorithm is all that great. I put this together a while ago, but I wish I’d taken screenshots of some of the terrible recommendations 😂

  2. I don’t use Goodreads’s recommendations at all. They make no sense (going by the “because you liked….” bit), and always seem to be by authors whose books I have tried and disliked.

    1. Yeah, I definitely agree. This wasn’t the best. And I kind of feel like they’re pushing certain authors no one’s interested in sometimes.

  3. Once again, such a great idea for a reading experiment!! I feel like Goodreads recommendations aren’t nearly as tailored as they could be. Then again, if they took a look at what I read and tried to recommend something based on it, I wouldn’t be able to blame them for getting things wrong. My reading habits are random af.

    1. Thank you! Yeah, some of these didn’t make sense to me, and some of the ones I didn’t use were totally off base. But also, the algorithm that lumped Fifty Shades with IT and Memoirs of a Geisha is scary and not okay. Like, that one makes sense but in a horrifying way.

  4. I’ve never used the Goodreads recommendations that are suggestions based on my reading. They always seem kind of weird and sometimes totally random (I should pay attention and come up with some examples, but usually I just roll my eyes and forget about them ASAP). I do look at the “Readers also enjoyed” lists on individual book pages, and sometimes find interesting books that way. I loved reading about your experiment and I’m glad you had at least some decent reading experiences.

    1. Thanks! I do agree that the “readers also enjoyed” lists are probably more accurate. But this was a fun way to find some books I had never heard of.

  5. Enjoyed your reviews of the books Goodreads recommended for you. It appears they pretty much struck out, except for a couple of books.

    I personally don’t really consider books that Goodreads suggests for me. I tend to look at the recommendations on my Kindle. 🙂

    1. Yeah, this was honestly pretty much what I was expecting. I am still glad I read these books, because the ones I didn’t really like I was definitely curious about and the ones I liked were new discoveries. So it was worth it.

      I didn’t even think to look at the Kindle recommendations. I might have to look into that. Though I don’t know if I use my Kindle enough for that to be at all accurate. Might be fun anyway.

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