I look down on books of certain kinds and avoid them – no need in proving that to myself. But what about the books I’ve read during the years? I found myself wondering what my reading habits say about me.
And the best measurable poke I had at my reading habits was my Goodreads account. This post is about what I found.
I’ve been a member on Goodreads since February 2012 and have since then graded 193 volumes. This figure doesn’t include poetry and the books I’ve read but nearly forgotten over the years (or most school curriculum and science books I’ve read). For those who don’t know this, Goodreads’ scoring is based on a 5-star system: 1 – did not like it, 2 – it was ok, 3 – liked it, 4 – really liked it and 5 – it was amazing.
So I’ve graded 193 titles on the website. Is it a large figure? Maybe not. But is it representative of my reading habits?
At a glance I realized that most volumes were works of fiction, so a genre classification seemed redundant. Considering the things I’ve marked up in Goodreads over the past few years, I just went with the simplification that the titles I worked with had similar, or at least overlapping audiences – so no analysis by genre.
Exporting the data, I found that my Goodreads account hosts titles from a total of 22 cultural backgrounds. By this I mean the culture in which the author lived and created most of his or her work. French topped my hierarchy, with nearly half of my record being from that cultural background. What follows is a slope of 11 cultures from which I’ve read more than one book, and finally, 10 cultures from which I’ve read only single titles.
And while I didn’t consider genre specificity as being relevant, I did want to see if publishing time had anything to do with my preferences.
On a very rough estimate, I’ve read things written as far back as two and a half millennia. Averaging out the grades, it surprised me to see that my favorite century was the 14th. This didn’t seem right, so upon closer inspection, I found that the weight of the averages was skewed heavily by the amount of bad books I’ve read from other times. So I took a look at decades.
Now things seemed a bit more in tune. Topping my list were the 1800s and the 1860s – and while I won’t go into detail, I’ll just say that Germans, Russians, and the French were to thank for these decades’ good marks. These three cultures also created what is probably my favorite decade in literary history: the 1880s.
The 1880s were also demanding – some of the largest and most complex books I’ve ever read come from that time. And since I’ve come to this point, I’ve also found that the data indicates my suspected preference for larger reads.
Topping my list of preferences (again, based on my average ratings) were books that had between 701 and 800 pages. It turned out that only two titles contributed to this, but these works are masterpieces. Well, for me at least.
Which brings me to how I compare to the user base of Goodreads. Since averages are skewed by either really low or really high values, I calculated median values for all my reviews and compared them to the median values for reviews given by the entire Goodreads community. Again, surprises came about.
Polish, German and Argentinian are my favorite cultural backgrounds when it comes to authors. And while I agree with the numbers, I have to admit that I’ve only read one book from a Pole and one from an Argentinian.
Goodreads seemed to agree with me, at least in part. The highest median on the site was for Argentinians. But there were quite some differences between what I believed the books I read were worth, and what the community did. So I made a crude pretentiousness-meter to see how much of a snob I am.
My thoughts were proven right. By representing the difference between medians from me and the whole of Goodreads, I highlighted a fact I suspected but never measured: I’m a harsh reader.
It seems I don’t like the Japanese literature I’ve gone through until now – and I admit that some things were difficult to stomach. Poor choice of reading material, maybe? I’ll have to give a few more a go before this becomes truly representative. On the polar opposite are the Poles – it seems that the book I read wasn’t that well received by the general public, even though I judged it as a subtle masterstroke. Maybe too subtle…
Looking at this differently, it would seem that I overestimate a few cultures (i.e. grade them higher than their worth, as portrayed on Goodreads): German, Swedish, Argentinian and British. And I’m about on the mark when it comes to perceiving Russian, Portuguese and Spanish literature.
At 36%, the correlation between my reviews and those of the Goodreads community is pretty weak. But it fluctuates a lot by cultural background.
Excluding cultures from which I had read only single titles, I found that I tend to agree with Goodreads on the whole only when it comes to Czech books – and I’m in a complete disagreement when it comes to Japanese (which I consistently like less than the community) and Brazilian books (which I consistently like more than the community).
So am I pretentious? The short answer is, yes. I like books from the 1800s that count 700+ pages. And while I don’t disagree with this, I have to make one mention: if modern literature weren’t drowned in a sea of simple and poor titles given so much hype, maybe things would have looked differently.
Factoring in all of the above, The Brothers Karamazov would seem to be the best book I’ve read to this day. But it isn’t my favorite.
Maybe I haven’t read more than most people (please keep in mind that I’ve left out a lot of things from the above) – but according to Pocket I’ve been in the top 1% of web-based content consumers worldwide since 2014. I share the best of what I find on my Twitter account. You can find me at alexgabriel_i