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Ceridwen

Ceridwen

You kids get off my lawn. 

OFF-TOPIC: The Story of an Internet Revolt by G.R. Reader - G.R. Reader I'm not even sure what to say here. I'm not reviewing this, obviously, because I had a hand in this book's creation. I'm pretty happy it's out there, but I'm also happy I just won't have to think about the book again now that it's published. Never having gone through the publishing process - even though my involvement was peripheral in many ways - I do have some insight into how an author might feel about reviews now, in a way I hadn't before. I'm not going to be reading reviews, and I super don't care if you slag the book. It's too late for constructive criticism, and I'm never going to be writing something like this again, so it's not even a matter of "honing my craft" or whatever.

It's available on Lulu for 99c, because 99c is the lowest you can set the price, and all of that money goes to Lulu for hosting it. The copyright permissions allow you to make copies and distribute them, so if you want a free copy, ask around. (I'd offer to send copies out, but honestly, that sounds like a pain in my ass, and I'm deleting this account next Friday anyway.) It's not a book that's going to be of interest to many, and admittedly the whole idea of publishing a collection of stuff about the changing Goodreads started out mostly as a joke. But it did eventually allow me to say a couple of things in a way that isn't impermanent, and that's become important to me based on some things that have nothing to do with the book.

I wrote the afterword, which I'm going to replicate here:

One of the hardest parts of collecting this book has been figuring out how to write this afterword. I’ve been alternately staring at a cursor and writing paragraphs of what I feel are tangents and digressions, unable to formulate a coda. The contributors are all clear in at least one goal of this book, which is this: to create an indelible document of our experiences and opinions regarding the policy change at Goodreads and the review deletions that followed. It’s a taxidermy of a conflict, sewing up the wounds and straightening the bowtie on the cadaver of a corner of the Goodreads community. Each individual record is by nature individual, and we don’t even agree with each other in places. This document does not aim to speak for all, and only maps the smallest part of a specific time in the changing community that makes up Goodreads.

It has been noted many times that this is a tempest in a teapot, but this is our corner of our teapot, and here is where we have scried the leaves. We have undertaken compiling this collection partially because of the fundamental ephemerality of the Internet. Sometimes ephemerality is a good thing, as least where it pertains to the documentation of the off-handed and the ill-considered things we all sometimes say, and especially online. I have been reviewing on Goodreads for five years now, and there are certain reviews that I wince at when I see them again. I don’t even agree with myself anymore, my opinions and perspective having changed in the years since I wrote down my thoughts on a book. Goodreads is both a real time conversation, and an archive of those conversations, and the archive is often incomplete because of the nature of the Internet record.

But when the review deletions started, that very ephemerality took an ominous turn, not just the inevitable bubbling of conversation that people pop into and out of, but this chilling intrusion for reasons that were not clear, and have not been made clear to the satisfaction of many. What many of us wanted when most of these pieces were written was a clear dialogue with Goodreads. Not many of us believe anymore we will get one, and the protests have one by one fallen silent as people left the site, decided to stop reviewing on Goodreads, or just decided the policy wasn’t so onerous they couldn’t live within it. Goodreads has been, for many of us, a beloved community, one that has been materially damaged by this conflict.

The other thing I can say about this collection is that no one intends this to be a revenge piece, sharpening the knives of our discontent at the expense of Goodreads. So much of the anger expressed in this collection comes from a place of real love for the Goodreads community, and the hurt that came out of so much of this conflict. Beyond the fighting on the feedback thread or the nose-thumbing protests, there were sometimes heated quarrels between users about tactics, methods, ideology, the concept of reviewing itself, or even old grudges. Many of these arguments were, in the parlance of our times, off-topic, but still important exercises in community. We were a community in crisis, and in many ways, we still are.

Some of us have given up and gone elsewhere. Some of us are tired of the discussion, and are waiting to see if Goodreads can sort this out their own. Some of us have hope that Goodreads is listening, and that a dialogue is possible. Which one I am varies minute by minute. This is a recording of a moment in time, and that is the only thing we can agree on. This lack of collective coda is in some ways a fitting tribute to the community I loved, because argument and the cacophony of voices was what I found so thrilling about Goodreads. As the voices fall silent, the individuals who make up the amorphous and always changing community must decide for themselves, as they always have. I can’t write a coda because I can’t speak for others. I can only and ever speak for myself.