I’ve mentioned in other posts that since discovering Goodreads, I’ve become quite a devotee. Like everything, it has its flaws, but as community web sites go, you’ll find it right up at the top of my list. Now when I read a book, I can’t wait to logon and see what others thought of it (much more fun than Amazon reviews, which annoy me, because Amazon reviewers seem to be of two camps: 1. very snobby, holier-than-thou, NYTimes-book-review-wannabes or 2. complete illiterates who make you wonder how they read the book). I love seeing what my friends are reading and browsing their ratings and comments about books. I love it when I read a book, comment on it, and inspire friends to add it to their “to-read” shelves. I like the fact that I can access it when I’m at the library, which is much more convenient than remembering to bring lists of books I want to read with me every time I go. And unlike LibraryThing, which I’ve always avoided, because my compulsive nature wants me to catalog our entire book collection, while my lazier side balks at such a time-consuming undertaking, Goodreads provides guilt-free ways to feed my book obsession.
I’ve been a member of Goodreads since June, and until now, I’ve pretty much been using it as described above. I haven’t invited any complete strangers to be my friends. I have browsed profiles of members who live near me or who have rated a book I liked favorably, but that’s all I’ve done. Most of them don’t seem to have similar tastes in books to mine (although, what that means, God knows. If you were to peruse my own virtual bookshelves, you’d probably conclude that I have a multiple personality disorder to rival Sybil’s). So, they don’t get invited to be my friends. Only those I know in real life or who have been long-time blogging buddies have received such invitations.
It’s October, though, my favorite month due to my favorite holiday Halloween. Is that why, suddenly, complete strangers are popping up and asking me to be their friends? And not just any old complete strangers but weirdly disturbing complete strangers. If these people showed up at my front door (especially the guy whose profile picture is of a very scary-looking clown straight out of Stephen King’s It), I’d be calling 911. And yet, I haven’t. As a matter of fact, I’ve agreed to be friends with some of them. I’m beginning to wonder, though, if this was such a wise move.
I’m not sure exactly how these people have found me, and I didn’t think to try to find out until I’d already agreed to be their friends. (“Why, yes, I know you’re wearing a very scary clown mask, but come on in. Would you like some tea?”). And I wonder, should I un-invite them? (“So, the only thing you like to read is macabre erotica? You’ve never even heard of Gabriel Garcia Marquez? Ummm, are you going to feel horribly unloved and unwanted if I decide not to be your friend?”) Goodreads doesn’t volunteer information like “psycho who has discovered you live where he’s planning his next trip and wants to get to know his next victim before he kills her and leaves an appropriate literary clue at the scene of the crime.” Unless the person requesting my friendship sends me a message or decides to “add a story” about me that needs my approval, I’m left clueless.
Recently, one of these complete strangers sent me a story to approve. Huh? How could she possibly have a story to add about me? I’d never even heard of her until that week. It turns out, she didn’t have a story about me. I’d never used the “add a story” option, but it allows users to go in and check boxes describing how they know you. They can also write something if they like, but all she’d done was check that she’d met me “randomly,” “online,” and “through Goodreads.”
This would all be fine if I’d gone to her profile, clicked on the “compare books” line, and discovered that she and I had something like 50% of our books in common. But we don’t. Would you like to know how many books we have in common? You guessed it: zero. Same with Scary-“It-Clown”-Monster-Guy (although he does read nothing but horror, has read books I love, and I’ve got a few horror titles on my goodreads shelves). Nor do we happen to live in the same area (not even the same area of the country). Nor, as far as I can tell, do we have any “friends” in common.
I’m beginning to be a little creeped out by this. I’m sure there is some natural “computer geek” explanation for complete strangers who randomly find me, have nothing in common with me, and decide they want to be my friends. Probably, there is some button I have yet to find somewhere that says, “invite all Goodreads members to be your friend.” Or maybe they've tracked me down through this blog (although that seems highly unlikely, because I get, like, 25 visits to this blog a day, and I know most of you).
My imagination obviously thinks that the invite button explanation is extremely boring. Who wants an explanation like that? Only those who want to believe that ghosts come about purely due to stimulation of certain areas of the brain. The rest of us, my imagination at the front of the line, want exciting explanations for weird things. Granted, I've been feeding my imagination lots of eerie stories this month, and the other night, we went to this. It’s jumping aboard that black stallion it so loves for its runaways. The black stallion is wearing a Freddy Krueger mask.
And so I’m being encouraged to ponder exactly how these people found me. I’m scanning my “currently-reading” and “to-read” bookshelves, and I don’t like what I’m finding. One book in particular is jumping off the shelf (or maybe it’s creeping off the shelf, big black wings poised to fly). When I added this book to the site, I was slightly concerned that it might attract unwanted attention.
The book in question is Katherine Ramsland’s Piercing the Darkness. I like Ramsland. She’s a psychologist turned pseudo investigative reporter who has also written a biography of Anne Rice (which I haven’t read. I haven't read any of Anne Rice's vampire novels, either, having been warned against them, although there's a part of me that thinks I ought to give them a go, the part of me that doesn't believe I'm allowed to have an opinion about something I haven't seen/read. But it can barely breathe due to being squashed all the time by the part of me that opines -- ad nauseam -- about things I've never seen/read). I read her book about ghost hunting a couple of years ago, then discovered that we had an ARC of this one, which is about vampire hunting. Yes, real vampires. Or those who think they are vampires. Or those who are role-playing vampires. Or those who are into truly unusual sexual practices. Or are they vampyres?
As you may have guessed, it’s all pretty confusing. I wrote on Goodreads that it's been a long time since I've found myself reading a book that's had me alternating so between disbelief, repulsion, fascination, terror, and theorizing about mythical "monsters" and the human need for story-telling. This is not a book for the faint of heart (or for those whose imaginations accidentally jump onto a sickly old brown mule, likely to stumble and fall during the first grisley encounter, instead of a black stallion ready to gallop onto the next gruesome detail). Overall, though, I’m enjoying it, Dracula being one of my all-time favorite books, vampires being one of my all-time favorite mythical monsters, and psychology being my most treasured fascination.
Perhaps, however, you can understand why I might be slightly alarmed by the prospect of people looking for this book on Goodreads, finding out that I’m reading it, and deciding they want to get to know me. Next thing you know, I’m going to be invited to some very strange midnight gatherings in the cemetery behind our house. I won’t be around on Goodreads to “approve the story” from my new "friend" Mr. BlackNight about the vampire fan who was lured away in the middle of the night. So, just to let you know that if I happen to disappear from the blogosphere without a trace, you’ll know what happened to me…
(I know. I know. I know. “Climb aboard the black stallion with your imagination, and get on with your novel-writing, Emily," right?)