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The reading background of Goodreads book club members: a female fiction canon?

Mike Thelwall (School of Mathematics and Computing, University of Wolverhampton, Wolverhampton, UK)
Karen Bourrier (Department of English, Faculty of Arts, University of Calgary, Calgary, Canada)

Journal of Documentation

ISSN: 0022-0418

Article publication date: 27 June 2019

Issue publication date: 12 September 2019




Despite the social, educational and therapeutic benefits of book clubs, little is known about which books participants are likely to have read. In response, the purpose of this paper is to investigate the public bookshelves of those that have joined a group within the Goodreads social network site.


Books listed as read by members of 50 large English-language Goodreads groups – with a genre focus or other theme – were compiled by author and title.


Recent and youth-oriented fiction dominate the 50 books most read by book club members, whilst almost half are works of literature frequently taught at the secondary and postsecondary level (literary classics). Whilst J.K. Rowling is almost ubiquitous (at least 63 per cent as frequently listed as other authors in any group, including groups for other genres), most authors, including Shakespeare (15 per cent), Goulding (6 per cent) and Hemmingway (9 per cent), are little read by some groups. Nor are individual recent literary prize winners or works in languages other than English frequently read.

Research limitations/implications

Although these results are derived from a single popular website, knowing more about what book club members are likely to have read should help participants, organisers and moderators. For example, recent literary prize winners might be a good choice, given that few members may have read them.


This is the first large scale study of book group members’ reading patterns. Whilst typical reading is likely to vary by group theme and average age, there seems to be a mainly female canon of about 14 authors and 19 books that Goodreads book club members are likely to have read.



Thelwall, M. and Bourrier, K. (2019), "The reading background of Goodreads book club members: a female fiction canon?", Journal of Documentation, Vol. 75 No. 5, pp. 1139-1161.



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