Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Haunting Good Reads

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?)

15 comments:

mandarine said...

Maybe it's just plain spamming. I have created a Skype account for work purposes, and am receiving maybe two offers a week of strangers willing to add me to their contacts, when I have not disclosed any specifics in my profile. So those 'strangers' are just another form of spam trying to get me to click to a cheap mortgage site (come to think of it, now may be the right time to stop offering cheap mortgage schemes).

litlove said...

Great story as ever! Oh, I feel guilty about not doing anything with my good reads account - there never seems to be enough hours in the day, although I'm sure it would be a very helpful resource if I worked my way around it. Although given some of the weird stuff I read, maybe it's not such a good idea! :)

ZoesMom said...

It seems to me that some people out there are just obsessed with having as many "friends" as possible on any given social networking site. I don't know or understand what's behind it, but I've seen it on GoodReads, on Twitter, on LibraryThing, on Facebook, you name it.

It is undoubtedly creepy. I try to only accept invites from people I know and just ignore the rest.

Jonnifer said...

I signed up for Goodreads, mostly as a way of keeping track of what I've read and what I'd like to read, but I found it overly time-consuming to add books to my list. I wish they would simplify this, it sounds like a great site once you get going.

I'm enjoying your blog, btw. Sorry about the scary clown stalkers.

knitseashore said...

I have a GoodReads account, though I haven't done much with it. But I do have a Ravelry (knitting) account, and have gotten a few friend requests from people I have never heard of. In that case, I can only imagine that they like some of my projects and want an easy way to "keep track" of anything I'm working on. Not sure if that is why you are getting "friend-ed" on GoodReads -- people wanting to follow your literary choices? But I think Zoesmom is right too -- there are some people out there that need to be as virtually popular as possible.

Pete said...

I find it vaguely disturbing that there is another social networking site devoted to books that is now subtly calling me to come and play. I agree about ignoring the friend requests unless perhaps there is a good blogging-related reason to befriend Mr BlackNight, compare reading tastes and then share it here on the blog ;-)

Emily Barton said...

Mandarine, my imagination isn't too keen on such a dull explanation as "spam," but you're probably right (especially since you know much more about these things than I).

Litlove, thanks, and don't feel guilty. I'd much rather you spent your time writing blog posts for me to read than cruising the Goodreads site.

ZM, it always amazes me to see that people have something like 357 friends. How on earth do they keep up with all of them?

Jonnifer, hmmm, maybe I DON'T know everyone who's reading my blog. Thanks for stopping by and commenting. And you're right, Goodreads CAN be very time-consuming.

Ms. Knits, oooh, now I have to go try to find you on Goodreads. (But don't feel obligated to respond. After all, I'm that weirdo who's reading about vampires :-)!)

Pete, well, looked at that way, I probably ought to be-friend all these people. I bet I could devote an entire blog to nothing but "People I Met at Goodreads."

Becky said...

Emily, I got the same invite from scary clown mask guy and I refused him. I do not like people I don't know wanting to be my online friend. I accepted the other woman, and now wish I hadn't.
Alas, my Goodreads account will shortly go the way of my Facebook account.

Dorothy W. said...

It's hard to figure out how to deal with some of these sites. I have people trying to befriend me on facebook, and I realize I probably did know them at one point, but I've completely forgotten them, and I have to figure out, if I can, who they are and if I did know them, or if they are some random stranger. These sites are really great for meeting and reuniting with people -- but motivations are hard to figure out!

Emily Barton said...

Becky, well you don't really need to be on Goodreads, because you do such a nice job of keeping track of your books on your blog. I wish I could learn to be as succinct as you are in my descriptions.

Dorr, oh yes, those mysterious "do I know this person?" invites. It must be really bad for those of you who have to deal with former students. How could you possibly keep them all straight?

Jonnifer said...

I found your blog through the blog of a blog I read regularly.

I went back and found a faster way of adding books so now I am properly obsessed. Thanks for the tip!

stefanie said...

I got an invite from scary clown guy too and have been keeping him in suspense as I try to figure out why he wants to be my friend when I don't even read horror. I think I will do what Becky did and say no. I also just got an invite from an author who has only one book on his shelf and whose profile looks to be an attempt to sell his books. All this to say I totally understand where you are coming from!

Emily Barton said...

Stef, actually, I think scary clown guy seems to be pretty harmless, but I see no point in befriending him if you read no horror, because that's all he's got on his shelves. I guess we're all on a learning curve...

Susan said...

LOL ok, so you decide to give the weird neighbors who corner you in your kitchen and give you their life stories, a miss, and now creepy clown people are asking you to be their friend, and you can't figure out if you should say yes?? If I lived closer I would come take you out for a cup of tea - or a walk - and advise you on the dangers of saying yes to everyone even if you are a minister's wife! (what does your husband say anyway about the stalkers in your life?) ON the other hand, at a birthday party for a friend a few weeks ago, I encountered the really weird people that hang out at science fiction conventions and used to be part of my old writing group, and now they've kindly, sweetly asked if I want to come back, and I don't know how to say no - and they know my face! no unseen cyber-group here....and Anne Rice's vampire books (the first three anyway) were must-reads for me years ago, so you could try the first anyway :-) and give that nit-picky voice inside your head a rest!!!

Emily Barton said...

Susan, proof positive that I'm absolutely nuts and have no business writing about other nuts, no? And I've dutifully taken note about Anne Rice (who I've noticed now apparently has a very bizarre-looking memoir out about returning to her Catholic roots).