The last romance novel I read was The Bookshop on the Corner by Jenny Colgan, back in December 2017. I liked it. It was fine. But because romance isn’t a genre I’m very interested in, I haven’t picked up anything else that’s categorized as a romance. It’s the same with thrillers. I haven’t read a thriller in a long time, not because I hate thrillers, but because I just don’t reach for them.
But Goodreads…. Goodreads constantly recommends both contemporary romances and thrillers to me on a daily basis, regardless of the fact that I haven’t read anything from either genre for literally years. Why? Because Goodreads is owned by Amazon and they’re trying to sell books, not provide a good or useful user experience. So that’s what shows up in my feed, masquerading as something that one of my Goodreads friends is reading.
As for the actual recommendations, I get things like this:
Because I am currently reading a nonfiction history book about four western European queens of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, Goodreads thinks I should read a mid-century Gothic novel set in the nineteenth century. And while I am not opposed to reading Daphne du Maurier’s novels, it seems like an odd suggestion to me. If I’m currently reading a history book, I would think that an algorithm might recommend… another history book. But no. Because (say it with me) Goodreads is owned by Amazon is is interested in selling books, not providing a good customer experience. Daphne du Maurier’s Gothic thrillers, I’m sure, are far more popular than even a well-known popular historian’s books about twelfth century queens.
Goodreads has other problems, of course. Its search function is frustrating, often finding titles that have nothing to do with what I’ve entered. Or finding nothing at all if I make a typo. It doesn’t allow half-star ratings, and the ratings are often skewed because people who haven’t read a title can rate it (with one-star reviews if they’re trying to hurt the book’s chances, or with five-star ratings if, say, it’s an upcoming release by their favorite author). If someone comments on your status update, you can’t respond directly to that comment, so it might get lost in a long string of comments. These are only a few of many problems that I have with Goodreads, which has long billed itself as a social media site for bibliophiles. As a social media site, it’s a bust. As a book site, it’s… meh.
But last year, I heard several Bookstagrammers talking up The StoryGraph, and after a while I decided to check it out.
And Readers, I was sold on it.
The StoryGraph was founded by a British Black woman, Nadia Odunayo, who was frustrated by Goodreads’s clunky functionality and lack of updates (it’s been basically the same interface since 2012), so she decided to create her own alternative to Goodreads. After spending months researching what other readers and bloggers wanted (and weren’t getting) from Goodreads, she developed a website that is clean, functional, and provides spot-on recommendations. It’s an ethical company owned only by Odunayo and one other partner (and they pay their taxes, unlike Amazon) that is constantly adding features based on user feedback, and tweaking other features to make the site even better. For example, you can’t rate or review a book unless you’ve marked it as “read”, so people can’t just give a book one star because they don’t like the author. If you decide not to finish a book, you can mark it as such without it sitting on your To Read pile or being incorrectly marked as ‘Read’. You can also provide a reason why you didn’t finish it, which helps other readers decide if they want to read it or not.
While Goodreads claims it’s a ‘social media’ site, that’s not the goal of The StoryGraph. Yes, you can follow other readers and they can follow you, but there are no messaging or comment sections. Odunayo did this on purpose because she didn’t want her site to become yet another social media site. I appreciate this, because while I don’t mind if some random person follows my sporadic reviews, I don’t enjoy getting random nasty comments from people who haven’t actually read my reviews.
Now let’s talk about the data. The StoryGraph gives you a comprehensive layout of things like genre, pacing, mood, and length, as well as a graph that develops over the year to show your books read and page count through the year:
This was my 2020 chart. It’s off by three books because when I imported my data from Goodreads, it wasn’t a perfect import and I couldn’t be bothered to track down those last three books for the year. I can really see how the hot months of summer affected my reading. I can also see that I was writing more than reading in February, and my stress levels in November (thanks, US elections….).
Here are examples of the other charts you can use:
The genres reflect how readers have listed the books, so one book may show up in multiple genres. This is How You Lose the Time War by Max Gladstone and Amal El-Mohtar, for example, is listed as both Science Fiction and LGBTQIA. Readers can also add content and trigger warnings so you can see if a book has content you would rather avoid.
Moods are also chosen by readers. This helps when you’re looking for a particular book kind of book, so if you’re looking for a funny book, you can filter your To Read pile to find a funny book. Or a dark one, or a sad one, or a relaxing one.
I find it funny that relaxing and hopeful books occupy the smallest section of this chart.
Pace and page number charts don’t really help you find books, but I find it interesting to see a breakdown of what I’ve actually been reading. I might think I’m reading a lot of tomes, but when I look at this chart I see that I’m not reading a bunch of super long books. And I read a lot of slow paced books. Who knew?
Just like in Goodreads, you can set a yearly reading goal for the number of books you want to read. Recently, the pages goal was added. I think this is a great addition, because if you like reading long, slow-paced books, it can hurt your progress on your (arbitrary) yearly goal. But if you’re shooting for a number of pages, that 1,000 page tome counts just as much to that goal as half a dozen novellas. Helpful! And you can see how far ahead or behind you are, day by day.
You can also make or join in reading challenges that others have made, so let’s say you want to challenge yourself to read more books by BIPOC authors or more of the books you already own, you can create a personal challenge and see how you’re progressing through the year.
I’ve really enjoyed my StoryGraph experience. I like seeing my progress through the year, and I like having all the the information about what I’ve read at my fingertips like this. Plus, the two times I have send in a question to the help desk, I have received a friendly answer within twenty-four hours. And if you follow StoryGraph on Instagram, Odunayo is active on Stories, providing site updates, Q&A sessions, and teasers about upcoming features. She also mentions if she’s messed something up in the site’s programming and knocked a feature offline (the few times that has happened, it’s been fixed quickly). Kudos to Odunayo for being such an engaged and responsive creator! It can’t be easy to be doing all this programming AND interaction at the speed she’s doing it all.
And have I mentioned the recommendations? That actually show me books I’ll be interested in? Instead of showing me current bestsellers in genres I haven’t read in years?
StoryGraph’s recommendations are great! I just opened a new tab, hopped over to my StoryGraph recommendations, and got suggestions for a Victorian Steampunk novel, a book about English history, and two urban fantasy novels. Spot on. If I were to go into the full recommendations page, it would give me a list of even more books that I would actually be interested in. Because the StoryGraph’s algorithms are based on what I’ve already read, not what an online shop wants to sell.
But if you want to buy a book you’ve found, StoryGraph provides links to Bookshop.org, which links you to local or regional independent booksellers who get a share of the sale. In these plague-ridden times, when every little bit helps keep our indie bookshops open, this is a super helpful addition.
So if you’re looking for a site to help you keep track of your reading and get useful recommendations, give The StoryGraph a shot. There is a free option that will probably have some ads when the full site is up, but I don’t think they will be the annoying and obtrusive ads that show up on Goodreads. There is a yearly paid option, too, that gets rid of the ads and gives you more statistics capabilities. I have the paid option because I wanted to help out and give it a shot for a year.
My experience with StoryGraph has been great, and I’m thrilled that we finally have a bookish site that is actually geared toward readers and what they want, and not toward selling things and collecting your data. If you’ve been constantly frustrated by Goodreads’s clunky interface, or are leery of sharing even more of your information with Amazon, give The StoryGraph a try.