Reflecting on ratings and bias

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On average, I rate books on Goodreads that I read around 3.8. When I choose authors, I try to be thoughtful and deliberate. There’s lots of books on the shelves by straight white guys, and many genres such as history, politics and business are dominated by them. When I read, I try to read authors from equity-seeking groups: women, racialized authors, non-binary, queer and gay authors, and I try to read them outside of pigeon-holed genres.

One of the exercises I undertake to try to be a better ally is to not just read those authors, but to be aware of how I’m bringing my own biases to the table. Below, I’ve got a chart that looks at my ratings for books that I read in 2023. Interestingly, while straight white guys are a (deliberate) minority of what I read, I tend to rate those books higher than I do for, say, women. 48 of the books I read in 2023 (65% of what I read in total) were by women (or non-binary authors), to which I gave just 3 a 5-star rating. I read 10 books by (to the best of my knowledge) straight white guys (13.5% of what I read in total), but gave 4 of those a 5-star rating.

What were the three books by women/non-binary authors to which I gave a top rating? Carolyn Whitzman’s Clara at the Door with a Revolver is a whip-smart, fast-paced non-fiction look that seamlessly creates an intersectional analysis foundation for a true crime story. Monica Brashears’ House of Cotton is a cutting, raw novel in the Black Southern Gothic vein. Creep: Accusations and Confessions is a raw collection of memoir essays by queer Latinx author Myriam Gurba. I recall feeling like I’d been gut-punched several times reading it.

And by the straight white guys? They were all non-fiction books. Rowan Jacobsen’s Truffle Hounds, Oliver Franklin-Wallace’s Wasteland, David Lipsky’s The Parrot and the Igloo and Brian Merchant’s Blood in the Machine: The Origins of the Rebellion Against Big Tech were all thought-provoking and well-written and gave me tremendous insight into the issues they explored. They’re also firmly within the wheelhouse that seems to have been assigned to men by publishers, dealing with the economy and politics. 

How I rate books is intensely personal, but scanning these stats on New Year’s Day as I set a new reading goal for 2024 has been interesting. We can all read more thoughtfully and deliberately. Being aware of how our own biases, expectations and perceptions of books is a part of that.