Why I Hate the GoodReads Awards (and MY Favorite Books of 2021)


Why I Hate the GoodReads Awards (and MY Favorite Books of 2021)

Every year the GoodReads awards roll around in November and I start to practice clamping my mouth shut to keep from giving everyone I know an earful about them.

Because one, most people don’t care. They don’t want to hear my TED talk on why these awards are trash. And two, I mean, it’s Christmastime. Who wants that downer?

Well, my friends, I’ve saved it just for you. I figure if you care enough to click through to this post maybe you, too, despise the site’s annual user-voted awards.

If you aren’t familiar with them, GoodReads gives us 20 choices in each category, which are then narrowed down to 10 after a first round of voting. The final results are revealed, and you can clearly see how many votes each book got.

Here are the reasons I hate the GoodReads Choice Awards:

  1. My number-one vendetta is that most people are voting for books they’ve heard of and not books they have read. In 2015, Harper Lee’s book Go Set a Watchman won the best fiction title. This title has a 3.3 out of 5 rating on GoodReads and I gave it 2 stars. It was a not-great book with a ton of publicity. It won against A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara, which has a 4.3 average and My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You I’m Sorry by Fredrik Backman, which has a 4.05. This win for Watchman was enough to set me against the awards for life.
  2. Just to reiterate that point: often there are more votes for a certain book than there were people who actually rated the book on GoodReads. In 2020, Cemetery Boys almost took the Best New Author category, with over 51,000 votes…on a book that has 42,627 ratings.
  3. Many of the books in the awards came out so recently that there is little chance for most people to have read them. 2020’s memoir and autobiography winner, A Promised Land by Barack Obama, came out on November 17, 2020…and the awards started voting on October 27, 2020. Somehow this book won without actually being in anyone’s hands save maybe some reviewers. They do seem to have changed this so that the book actually has to be published before the awards this year, but it could be a few days before.
  4. Authors campaign for votes, again urging you to vote for books you haven’t read or ones you didn’t like that much.

I still vote every year ONLY for books I’ve read and that I actually loved. (Although, here I am, hurting the system: I told my husband I was voting for TJ Klune’s Under the Whispering Door for fantasy because (1) it was the only book I’d read in the category and (2) I always want Klune to get all the attention he deserves, even though it wasn’t my favorite of his books.)

All that said, I’d much rather get my book recommendations from friends and bookish podcasts, like Currently Reading and What Should I Read Next? These books are read and vetted for me, and often I get hidden gems rather than the huge new titles.

So what WERE my favorite reads in 2021? I’m so glad you asked!

I’m limiting this to books published in 2021, although I’ll drop in a few more favorites at the end.

Concrete Rose by Angie Thomas – This prequel to The Hate U Give was so eye-opening to this middle class white lady. It’s the story of Starr’s father, Maverick, who is 17. His father is in jail, his mother is hurting for money, and he’s left to decide what path to take as he looks to the future.

On Fragile Waves by E. Lily Yu – An absolutely heart-wrenching short book about a family trying to escape Afghanistan and immigrate to Australia. Told from the viewpoint of the daughter, this one is haunting but beautiful.

Amelia Unabridged by Ashley Schumacher – My favorite YA pick of the year. Amelia is struck by tragedy and deals with it by trying to solve a mystery in small-town coastal Michigan. There she encounters an almost magical bookstore and a reclusive young writer.

The One Hundred Years of Lenni and Margot by Marianne Cronin – It’s coming to my attention as I write this that maybe I just like sad books. Ha. Lenni and Margot are both in a Scottish hospital, and they’re both there indefinitely. Their ages add up to 100, and they discover a special bond through art and stories.

Apples Never Fall by Liane Moriarty – I felt like this was a callback to Moriarty’s earlier books, and I loved that. Stan and Joy are the parents of four adult children. They all grew up playing tennis at their parents’ tennis school. One day Joy goes missing, and in dual timelines we find out what happened when a stranger entered Stan and Joy’s home and discover if the family will fall apart or come together.

A few honorable mentions for books that weren’t from 2021 but I read this year and loved: The Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai, Ordinary Grace by William Kent Kreuger, The Smell of Other People’s Houses by Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock, Dear Edward by Ann Napolitano, and Goodbye Days by Jeff Zentner.

Did you have a favorite book from this year?