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How Popular is Your Favorite Novel?

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James Wallace Harris

Staff Writer

James Wallace Harris is a retired computer guy. Jim dreamed of writing science fiction in his social security years, but discovered he loved writing essays more. Life is short and novels are long. He’s written over a thousand essays for his blog Auxiliary Memory. Jim wrote about science fiction for SF Signal before it folded, and now for Worlds Without End. BookRiot gives him the opportunity to write about all the other kinds of books he loves. Finally, he has all the time in the world to read and write, but he never forgets poor Henry Bemis. (Who also found time enough at last, until an evil Twilight Zone fate took it all away.) Twitter: @JimHarris28

Ever wonder if other readers also love the novel you love most? Ever love a story that makes you feel unique? Ever feel you’ve found a forgotten classic that no one else reads? Well, Goodreads has a stats feature that can confirm or deny your hunches about your favorite novel.

Go to Goodreads and search on your all-time favorite book. I’m going to use The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood as my example.

Goodreads - The Handmaid's Tale

Title page at Goodreads for The Handmaid’s Tale

From the main page, we know that 657,626 people have rated The Handmaid’s Tale, 33,939 have written reviews, and it has scored an average of 4.06 out of 5 stars (657,626, 33,939, 4.06).

However, if you click on the “Stats” hyperlink on the upper right (circled in red), you see another set of very interesting statistics.

Goodreads user stats for The Handmaid's Tale

Goodreads user stats for The Handmaid’s Tale

The blue line is the key indicator. It tells how many readers added this title to their Goodreads library each day. Red reveals how many readers rate the book, which usually happens just after they read it. Green shows how many readers hope to read the book. And yellow, even though it’s usually the lowest number, tell us how many readers took the time to write a review.

Now, type in titles of more of your favorite books. Compare their numbers with each other, and with very popular books. This will give you an idea of how relatively popular your reading tastes run. Try to find the most popular book you’ve read, and the least popular.

I find the books I love with the lowest stats reveal the most about my personality. It can hurt when you discover that something so special to you is completely ignored by the rest of the world. But it can also be sharply defining.

Study the graph above. Notice that just after Donald Trump took office there was a surge in buying The Handmaid’s Tale, and another surge when the TV miniseries came out on Hulu. Currently, about 2,600 copies are added to Goodreads each day. That’s quite remarkable. Quite often there are dramatic spikes in the Goodreads statistics. I wonder if Book Riot (or other bookish sites) published something that makes folks run out to get the book?

I just compared these results to the book I’m currently listening to, We Are Legion (We Are Bob) by Dennis E. Taylor. (11,535, 1,213, 4.32). Roughly 120 people a day add it to their Goodreads bookshelves. These numbers aren’t super high compared to famous books, but very high compared to other new science fiction books, revealing Taylor has a hit on his hands.

However, one of my personal all-time favorite stories, Empire Star by Samuel R. Delany (586, 58, 3.8) is seldom added to Goodreads, at best one copy a day on average. I recently wrote about this novella for Book Riot, “Simplex, Complex, Multiplex: Samuel R. Delany and Experience vs. Reading.” Between the Goodreads stats and the response from the essay, I know I’m in love with a tale that few people care about or know.

Popularity is not an indicator of quality, but it does show how our interests intersect with the interests of others, and I find that rather fascinating.