So there’s not really a show with the Goodreads Choice Awards, but I thought you little lambs would still like to know the truth about them, since the “Choice” being made here comes from us, the lumpenproletariat who read a book and immediately file it away with a star rating so that we know where it lands in our own personal hierarchies, and also so that other people will see that we totally like that one thing more than that other thing. It’s useful for knowing how your friends feel about stuff, and also pretending to feel differently about stuff than you really do!
The ability to do this in public is truly for the best in the best of all possible worlds.
Unlike the Spotify list presented earlier, the Goodreads list as a curated reflection of the person: you do, after all, choose not only what to tell Goodreads you’ve read, but also how you feel about it. Where Spotify’s play counts represent our immediate, un-hide-able id, Goodreads is our highfalutin’ superego, reporting not our pleasure but the manifestations of our pleasure that we want other people to be able to see.
The list itself consists of, like, a million nominees in each of a dozen genres (or pseudo-genres). I’ve elected to delve into the meaning of only the topmost in each category, mainly for the purpose of not spending the rest of my life writing this article. But you deserve to know, so I’m here to tell you.
WINNER: Drew Daywalt & Oliver Jeffers, The Day the Crayons Came Home
WHAT IT IS: A picture book about a kid who rescues his crayons, systematically (I guess?). His crayons, in the interest of disclosure, are in a particularly tragic set of perils. Pretty pictures though,.
WHAT IT SAYS: That we’re fine with encouraging children to grow attachment feelings to their crayons, even though the nature of crayons is their temporariness. In fact, children, the crayons you love the most are the ones you wear down the quickest until they are no longer suitable for use and are in some very grave peril indeed. This time, though, it is not peril from which you can rescue them. Good thing you learned that they were thinking, feeling objects. No, of course you can’t have a funeral for brick red. You’ll just have to learn to color Superman’s cape a different color, even knowing full well that it will not be right until you replace the crayon entirely, which necessitates buying a whole new box and, therefore, throwing out the neglected, unloved crayons you weren’t using anyway. They will never, ever come home, those crayons. Not ever. Sleep tight!
Middle Grade & Childrens
WINNER: Rick Riordan, The Sword of Summer
WHAT IT IS: The first of a new series of books about the children of gods, written by the guy that writes a whole bunch of these things.
WHAT IT SAYS: The appeal of these books, I can imagine1, is about as immediate as it gets: everyone would love to have their problems explained away by literally being superhuman. We all want to be the children of gods. Although the children of Norse gods would probably a little bit less….fun.
`1 I haven’t read The Sword of Summer, but I’ve read a whole pile of Riordan’s other books, and I have basically nothing bad to say about them. They’re fun, and it’s a shame what happened to the movies.
Young Adult Fantasy & Science Fiction
WINNER: Sarah J. Maas, Queen of Shadows
WHAT IT IS: The fourth book in a seemingly deathless series about revenge and stuff.
WHAT IT SAYS: That the young adult loves really complicated revenge fantasies, I guess. This probably makes them the easiest group to get away with upsetting, since their revenge would have a lot of moving parts and unnecessary family members and everyone would have, like, fifty names.
Young Adult Fiction
WINNER: Jennifer Niven, All the Bright Places
WHAT IT IS: It shares dynamics between the main characters with About a Boy (the book more than the movie2) and Harold and Maude, and it’s fine, but also: it seems to be contractually obligated to mention John Green when you talk about it, because it’s basically Another Fart in Our Different Car. Soon to be a major motion picture starring Elle Fanning!3
WHAT IT SAYS: It says that if children are learning the importance of carpeing some diems via their untimely demise we will be there. In apparent droves. Or at least we’ll tell the damn internet about it.
2 also this is a reminder that there was a tv show. Like. Earlier this year, even.
3 this is not only not a joke, but it’s how the Goodreads summary ends.
Goodreads Debut Author
WINNER: Victoria Aveyard, Red Queen
WHAT IT IS: A lady has a power or inner strength or something that enables her to rise out of her humdrum existence in a world strictly divided, Brave New World-style. I’ll cop to not knowing very much at all about this one, guys. Best case scenario is that it looks like it could be a sort of political-high-fantasy adventure-type story (not unlike what Riordan is doing a few categories ago, maybe?), worst case scenario is that the world has a bunch of these stories already, and while everyone should get to tell the story they’re telling, it’s awfully hard to make any one of them stand out.
WHAT IT SAYS: That we still all want to be fancy special people, delivered from drudgery by nothing but a quirk of our birth.
4 I think? Although, like, a fantasy Brave New World.
WINNER: Trista Mateer, Dogs I Have Kissed
WHAT IT IS: Poems. Formally dull, with subject matter that can be found in basically any volume of poetry anywhere. Trista Mateer is what I think of when I think “stock-model, nothing-at-all-special” poet. Which I guess means that it makes sense that she’s such a common denominator among the Goodreads reviewers.
WHAT IT SAYS: That Goodreadsers aren’t as sure of their opinions as they’d like to be – there’s a sort of sense that you have to “get” poetry5, and Mateer is clearly “good” in as close to an objective sense as possible, so it’s a good, safe bet to give it a high rating. And we love a sure thing, don’t we?
5 this is very much a complaint for another time, but let me assure any of you reading this that think you don’t: you get poetry in the same way that you get movies or spy novels or whatever. If you don’t respond to it, that’s not necessarily a failure of cognition. Now go forth and stop pretending to like this stuff.
Graphic Novels & Comics
WINNER: Brian K. Vaughan & Fiona Staples, Saga
WHAT IT IS: Probably the best comic series running6. Epic space fantasy about some parents and their kid, a bounty hunter with the coolest cat ever, and also some shit that’s seriously weird.
WHAT IT SAYS: Generally (as I’m sure you can tell) I’m disheartened by the popularity of things in the literary world, and it says that even occasionally public taste lines up with quality in a way that isn’t soul-crushing.
6 It’s worth pointing out that Lumberjanes and Rat Queens, the other two close contenders for the title, were also nominated. So good on everybody all around.
Food & Cookbooks
WINNER: Ree Drummond, The Pioneer Woman Cooks: Dinnertime and then the subtitle goes on for quite some time.
WHAT IT IS: The latest in the Pioneer Woman cookbooks. I don’t use them (I liked her recipes years ago, although whether that’s because I’ve changed as a cook or she has is anyone’s guess), but some people do? I don’t know a lot of people that are enthusiastic. I’m sad that The Food Lab sits at the bottom of the nomination stack.
WHAT IT SAYS: That people like recipes written by people they can see on tv. It also says that Ree Drummond has done a really, really good job building a brand.
Science & Technology
WINNER: John Hargrove & John Chua-Eoan, Beneath the Surface what is it with really long after-the-colon subtitles this year? Jeepers.
WHAT IT IS: Sort of a woodpulp-based companion to Blackfish (which is actually part of the nine-million word subtitle7), this is less a polemic and more a meditation on the part of an animal handler who had a change of heart.
WHAT IT SAYS: That we all feel pretty terrible about what we’ve done to captive cetaceans, honestly. That shit is brutal.
7 you know I think I’ve officially written more words complaining about the length of the subtitles of these books than are actually contained in the subtitles? I have no idea what I’m trying to prove here.
History & Biography
WINNER: Erik Larson8, Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania
WHAT IT IS: Narrative historical writing by the guy who does that basically better than anyone else going. This one is about the Lusitania, which sank under mysterious circumstances. It also has a pretty cool cover photo. That’s a snazzy photo.
WHAT IT SAYS: That people love true stories presented like fictional stories. Boy howdy do people love ‘em.
8 this is deeply unimportant, but I spelled “Larson” wrong twice while I was typing this out. Paid for by the Council to Standardize Scandanavian Last Names Plz.
WINNER: Connor Franta, A Work in Progress
WHAT IT IS: The memoir of a YouTube celebrity. The existence (not to mention popularity) of this book is enough to make me feel like Abe Simpson yelling at clouds, but here it is, the “best” according to Goodreads users, in the memoir category, a genre which I am not exactly charitable toward in the best of times.
WHAT IT SAYS: Well, my reaction to it says that I am a cranky old person. The popularity of it says that there’s a lot to be said for YouTube celebrity, I guess. At least that it’s a reasonably good way to build a lucrative brand.
WINNER: Aziz Ansari & Eric Klinenberg, Modern Romance
WHAT IT IS: Something of an advice/self-help book co-written by a comedian9 and a sociologist about romance in this ever-changing world in which we’re livin’.
WHAT IT SAYS: Well, beyond saying that Aziz Ansari has, essentially, a perfect batting average for “stuff with his name on it”, it also says that people like humorous romantic advice more than anything that could’ve been here that was more serious10.
9 who had a pretty creatively remarkable year, all told
10 Between the World and Me, Missoula, H is For Hawk and Guantanamo Diary all sit in the “not as good” pile below Modern Romance
WINNER: Mindy Kaling, Why Not Me?
WHAT IT IS: Mindy Kaling’s second book. This is one of the times when the Goodreads people got it right, as even the other not-awful books (such as Felicia Day’s You’re Never Weird on the Internet, or Patton Oswalt’s Silver Screen Fiend) are featherweight joke-receptacles. Why Not Me? at least ends up dealing with a lot more stuff effectively.
WHAT IT SAYS: That Mindy Kaling is funny enough that in this one category the best and also most “serious” (perhaps ironically) book is the one that rose to the top.
WINNER: Dean R. Koontz, Saint Odd
WHAT IT IS: Oh, go fuck yourselves, Goodreads voters.
WHAT IT SAYS: That Goodreads voters should go fuck themselves. Slade House, Thicker Than Blood, The Annihilation Score and Day Four all sit in the bottom of this pile while Dean R. Fucking Koontz is voted to the top. You people are the worst.
WINNER: Pierce Brown, Golden Son
WHAT IT IS: “Hey, I hear kids are really into stories about a kid who doesn’t know stuff learning stuff and then overthrowing a government! Let’s focus-market this thing into existence!” That sentence becomes more annoying when you realize that it’s not only what happened here, but that this book got more than twice the number of votes of the runner-up, the infinitely more worthy Seveneves.
WHAT IT SAYS: That voters do pretty well for the most part (almost every other book in this category that got enough votes to make the list would’ve been a less-infuriating winner, although Station Eleven should’ve gotten enough votes to make the list and didn’t), but when it comes to picking a winner, are infuriatingly susceptible to marketing.
WINNER: Colleen Hoover, Confess
WHAT IT IS: I’m going to have to punt, here. I know so little about Romance as a genre that you can write what I do know on a post-it note and still have room for a couple of phone numbers. To the romance-heads in my readership, I apologize, and let me know how this book shapes up.
WHAT IT SAYS: That the Goodreads readership has more opinions about Romance books than me (which is basically inevitable).
WINNER: Neil Gaiman, Trigger Warning: Short Fictions and Disturbances
WHAT IT IS: The latest Neil Gaiman short story collection. Too many poems, but Gaiman has grown into a predictably good writer, and TW is no exception.
WHAT IT SAYS: That people like Neil Gaiman enough that I don’t have to consider the inky black abyss of the other titles voted into contention in this category. Also that not enough people read books by Kelly Link. Why are you people not reading books by Kelly Link?
WINNER: Kristin Hannah, The Nightingale
WHAT IT IS: A book about Nazis and France and stuff. I know only slightly more about Historical Fiction than I do about Romance.
WHAT IT SAYS: I mean, it’s not necessarily a bad thing that we remember nazis all the time. That’s probably important.
Mystery & Thriller
WINNER: Paula Hawkins, The Girl on the Train
WHAT IT IS: The popular literature sensation of 2015, really. I mean, there’s some more to say in the next (and last) category about that book, but this one is, of all the non-sequels-to-American-classics, the 900 lb. gorilla of books in 2015. Sort of in the less-problematic-Gone-Girl vein, it’s probably not a surprise that this took off the way it did, but it’s also not a surprise at all to see it at the head of this category.
WHAT IT SAYS: I mean, we do love tense mysteries about normal people in over their heads and also tragic backstories. This was probably a shoo-in, honestly.
WINNER: Harper Lee, Go Set a Watchman
WHAT IT IS: Oh come on, you know what Go Set a Watchman is.
WHAT IT SAYS: That the vestigial monoculture can still rise up and be into something, given the proper circumstances for that something. In this case, it’s Go Set a Watchman, even despite the…uh…challenging nature of the contents. Especially where books are concerned.