An Open Letter to Goodreads

Hello Goodreads. I really like your site. I use it a lot—I was rated one of your “top readers” before you changed the algorithm, and I still add a couple dozen books a month to my “library.” I used to keep lists of the books I read on pen and paper, but for the last few years you have been my official record, my memory aid, my canonical list of everything I read.

And then, recently, something disappeared from my collection of books.

You removed the entry for The Turner Diaries. It used to be here, but now there’s only a skeleton, a collection of non-information. There are no reviews visible. There is no title, author, cover, or even page count.

I understand why you’d do this: It is an evil book. I read it some years ago when I was doing research about American hate groups for a novel. You’ll note that I also read James Ridgway’s Blood in the Face, Michael Barkun’s book on Christian Identity, and a couple books about the KKK.

Of course, none of those books are evil. I didn’t give any of these books one star, as I did for The Turner Diaries. But I did read The Turner Diaries. I read it, and I marked when I read it (June of 1999), and eventually I put it on Goodreads so I could remember.

Except it’s no longer there.

Can you see anything Orwellian about your decision to remove the book from my library? I don’t mean to overuse an already overused word, but I think Orwellian is apt here. Insofar as Goodreads was my memory-aid for what I’ve read, you have, in essence, stolen my memory. You’ve rewritten my reading history. Sure, the book is evil, but I didn’t read it for an evil purpose. Imagine if Google calendar decided that one of my appointments was unsavory and just removed it. Imagine if my “contacts” app decided that one of my friends was a bad person and deleted her phone number.

I suppose you could say I am free to find a less principled book cataloguing site—but if course you removed this book without warning or notifying me, so it’s not like I had a choice. I only noticed because I obsessively scroll through books I’ve read (and spotted one marked “NOT A BOOK”). I only figured out what book it was by cross-referencing with my older, non-Goodreads records. While I wasn’t looking, a small part of my history disappeared quietly. That’s why I say “Orwellian.”

We all know why you did this. It’s not because you want to rewrite history; it’s because you’re scared. You remember how an angry mob compelled Powells Books to close one of their stores (“to ensure the safety of employees, protestors, and neighbors”) because they wouldn’t promise not to sell Andy Ngo’s Unmasked online (they had promised not to shelve it in store). You remember how Toni Weisskopf got dumped by Discon because she “allowed” people to post “extremist” views (milder than those in The Turner Diaries) on an online forum. You remember blah blah fill in the blanks. I understand that you’re afraid, afraid someone’s going to say, “Look, Goodreads allows people to write positive reviews of a hate book!”

But do you think that you can appease a mob? Has this ever worked? Has anyone ever successfully said, “I acknowledge you have power over me, but I’m sure you’ll let me live my life unmolested”? What book will be next? Mein Kampf—should we allow people to review that? Dixon’s 1905 bestseller The Clansman, which is (IMO) more racist and hateful than The Turner Diaries, and has arguably inspired more murders—surely we don’t want to “allow” anyone mark that as read. Anti-vaxxer kid’s books? The Art of the Deal? Ngo’s Unmasked? Look how many authors have done horrible things or been horrible people, and Knut Hansun and H.P. Lovecraft and I guarantee you there are individuals who will want you to remove Harry Potter from your site, either because it’s Satanic or because it’s transphobic, and what are you going to do? Remember all of this has nothing to do with letting people read these books; you’re merely acknowledging their existence. How many books are you going to pretend never were? Honestly, what makes The Turner Diaries sui generis, that we should believe it will be the only book to get the “Stalin’s airbrush” treatment?

Maybe just admit it up front: “We are Goodreads, a site that decides what books you are allowed to admit to reading. If you read a book we don’t like, we’ll help you pretend it never happened.”

“Goodreads: Where you may only read what we say is good.”

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