How Accurate Is Goodreads’s “Readers Also Enjoyed” Feature?

This content contains affiliate links. When you buy through these links, we may earn an affiliate commission.

Addison Rizer


Addison Rizer is a writer and reader of anything that can be described as weird, sad, or scary. She has an MA in Professional Writing and a BA in English. She writes for Book Riot and Publishers Weekly and is always looking for more ways to gush about the books she loves. Find her published work or contact her on her website or at addisonrizer at gmaildotcom.

As an avid bookworm obsessed with tracking my reading and discovering new favorites, I’m on Goodreads regularly. The discussion boards, giveaways, and yearly goal keep me coming back over and over again. I think I’ve tracked my reading there for at least six years, and my TBR shelf is full of remnants from every phase of my reading, especially the YA dystopian romances of my teenagehood. On multiple occasions, I’ve found new books when perusing the page for a favorite in the “readers also enjoyed” feature. Lately I’ve been wondering, though, just how accurate that tool is. So, I decided to test it out, reading 13 books related to one of my favorite novels to compare.

How Does It Work?

First, let’s talk about how the tool actually works. When it was launched in 2011, Goodreads didn’t give much context except basically saying it is data-based and a way to get more personalized recommendations. In a discussion board about the feature from 2015, a Goodreads librarian stated it is powered by an algorithm that analyzes all books shelved by Goodreads members to produce that section. Meaning, if my favorite novel is shelved on 1,000 shelves along with the same six other novels, those would appear in the “readers also enjoyed” section.

Picking a Book to Test

I'm Thinking of Ending Things by Iain Reid book cover

Onto the actual reading. I chose a pretty divisive book, rather than a crowd-pleaser, to see how accurate the recommendations would be. If I chose a super popular book, I figured the rest of the recommendations would just be more super popular reads. So, I picked Iain Reid’s I’m Thinking of Ending Things. It’s both distinct enough to polarize audiences and popular enough that the algorithm had enough to work with that its accuracy could be tested.

The “readers also enjoyed” section recommended:

Book Cover for The Troop, by Nick Cutter
I'm Glad My Mom Died cover

At first glance, not a lot of these books appear on external-to-Goodreads “books like I’m Thinking of Ending Things” recommendation lists, which is interesting. I’d have thought, with so many readers shelving the same books over and over again, they’d be linked together on recommendation lists and the like frequently.

But the Goodreads algorithm doesn’t take into account the specific aspects of a book a reader might enjoy. Lists that have I’m Thinking of Ending Things are often focused on the psychological horror aspect or the sort of surprise reveal-at-the-end plot style. When an algorithm just takes into account that lots of readers read all of these books, it stands to reason a person who enjoys horror, in general, will pick up new releases or popular reads within the genre, not necessarily only reading psychological horror or horror with distinct plot styles. That explains the inclusion of McCurdy’s memoir. That book’s just plain popular! It also means that these lists are likely to not be very diverse: there is a disproportionate amount of white authors represented here.

My Personal Test

Out of the books listed under I’m Thinking of Ending Things, I read:

things have gotten worse since we last spoke book cover
  • Things Have Gotten Worse Since We Last Spoke by Eric LaRocca
  • Bunny by Mona Awad
  • I’m Glad My Mom Died by Jennette McCurdy
  • Come Closer by Sara Gran
  • My Best Friend’s Exorcism by Grady Hendrix
  • The Cabin at the End of the World by Paul Tremblay
  • A Head Full of Ghosts by Paul Tremblay
  • Hidden Pictures by Jason Rekulak
  • Nothing by Blackened Teeth by Cassandra Khaw
  • We Need to Do Something by Max Booth III
  • The Last House on Needless Street by Catriona Ward
  • Comfort Me With Apples by Cathrynne M. Valente
  • This Thing Between Us by Gus Moreno

The things I enjoy most about I’m Thinking of Ending Things are the building dread and the seeming cloaking of the reader’s eyes to what’s really going on until the end. The type of book that is entirely different after finding out new information at the end and it changing how you see the whole thing. A pulling out of the rug from under my understanding of the novel. So, when reading these, those are the sorts of things I was looking for to determine how similar the recommendations were.

And, really, a lot of them did have an aspect of hiding something from the reader and/or the main character.

The Last House on Needless Street by Catriona Ward book cover

Comfort Me with Apples is about a housewife living with her husband in a house too big for her and discovering that things in her perfect community aren’t as they seem. We Need to Do Something is about a family trapped in a bathroom after a tornado with strange, unexplained happenings outside the door they can only open a few inches. The Last House on Needless Street is full of shiftings of what’s actually happening as a woman searches for her sister’s possible kidnapper or murder.

Not so much the titular story, but the second short story in Things Have Gotten Worse Since We Last Spoke and Other Misfortunes, about a couple on a remote island after the suicide of their son, was majorly ambiguous. In both of Tremblay’s novels this is present, but especially The Cabin at the End of the World, as a family is challenged to decide which of them should be killed to prevent the apocalypse that could or could not be happening outside the windows.

This Thing Between Us about a man whose reality is dissolving after the death of his wife is one of the more ambiguous endings I’ve read, and Hidden Pictures has a big pulling-the-wool over the eyes of the main character and reader as a young girl becomes a live-in-nanny for a well-off family and her charge, a young and quiet boy, draws weirder and weirder pictures. Bunny’s strange clique and the goings-on behind the scenes, too, while maybe less ambiguous than the others on the list, do leave questions in their aftermath.

Does that mean I liked all of the recommendations? Of course not. An algorithm in general would have a hard time sussing out what bits and pieces a reader connects to, and therefore it’s inevitable some of those it included will be a swing and a miss. Reid’s writing style is also a huge thing I like about the novel, but the styles of others just didn’t connect with me as much. What I’m willing to believe in one story might be too far-fetched in another in the eyes and words of a different character, in a different time. I attempted to read the two majorly body-horror novels (Tender is the Flesh and The Troop) and I couldn’t finish them, or really get started, because that’s just not something I enjoy reading. But they’re popular horror novels, so it doesn’t surprise me that they ended up on the list.

So How Accurate Is It?

So, how accurate is the feature, really? I think as accurate as an algorithm tallying up books on Goodreads users’ shelves can be. Because that’s really all it is. That’s why McCurdy’s memoir — which I rated well, by the way — is sitting alongside psychological and body horror galore. It’s a numbers game.

For what it is, I think it was pretty accurate. Ten of the 13 titles that I read I rated four or five stars, which is a fairly good return when it comes to book recommendations and how personal reading tastes are. At the very least, it gives readers a place to jump off of, to explore what it is they like about a novel and how to find more of it.