I know today’s discussion is probably going to be coming from an “unpopular perspective”, but my experience through Twitter has made me realize a lot of things about the book community. Including that it can be quite annoying, lol.
So, today’s post was inspired by a lot of tweets I’ve seen of people questioning what an “underrated book” really is. And, apparently, people have very STRONG reactions when you use the word “underrated”, lol.
First and foremost, what is the meaning of “underrated”?
“Not rated or valued highly enough”.
We typically use this word to talk about books that we don’t see enough people praising or hyping up and that we feel like deserve more recognition.
So, here’s how I feel about it. (Pls, feel free to disagree with me in the comments!)
ONE. THE BOOK COMMUNITY IS NOT A MONOLITH
Like any other community, the bookish one is also full of “bubbles”. In the sense that, if you’re in book twitter, your experience will probably be different from if you’re on book tube, or even book blogging.
I know of books that are very popular amongst book bloggers and yet, I hardly ever see booktubers talking about it. An example is C.G. Drews’ books. As a blogger, Cait’s books are very well known within the book blogging community, as well as bookstagram, but not necessarily amongst booktube.
So for people who consume mostly booktube content, it’s possible that they’d have never heard of A Thousand Perfect Notes or The Boy Who Steals Houses.
Not only that, but some creators focus more in one genre than the other. There are some cult-classic adult fantasy out there that I’d never heard about in my life. That, of course, doesn’t mean these books are “underrated” simply because I have never heard of them, BUT it can create the feeling amongst others that this book doesn’t get recognition enough because it’s not talked about in the bubbles I am in. (Which is not the adult-fantasy bubble).
This disparity even happens between countries! There are some titles that were very popular in the US and, yet, were never published in Brazil (where I live), because Brazilian readers are not interested in this type of content. Meaning that, if I was to talk about a book for Brazilian readers, even if it’s very well-known for an American audience, it can be a completely new title for them.
It’s also important to remember that not everyone who reads is in the community actively every day. Some people simply walk into Barnes and Noble and pick up whatever seems interesting to them. And that probably means that the books who are not in the “best-sellers” display shelves probably come across as “underrated” for them, because their metric is not what’s being talked about in social media, but what’s being advertised as popular.
TWO. THIS LOWKEY LEADS TO GATE-KEEPING
Gate-keeping’s definition is “the activity of controlling, and usually limiting, general access to something”.
Even though I’m sure that some people don’t consider this a big deal, I imagine it must be discouraging to tweet about what you believe to be an “underrated” or “not appreciated enough” book just to be made fun of.
The book community should be for everyone, including the people who only read popular books! And if by their definition, this book is not “appreciated enough”, whether that is in their community and following/followers, aka, inside *their* bubble, they should be able to express that without feeling embarrassed.
When I first joined book blogging, I was very scared because I didn’t read enough books, and most importantly, I hadn’t read some really “popular” series (like Throne of Glass, Daughter of Smoke & Bone, The Lunar Chronicles). And, at the time, that was the sentiment: that some series were must-reads and in order to take part in some of those discussions, I felt the need to also read them.
Now that the sentiment has changed, meaning that the book community has grown so much that people have become tired of hearing about the same books and want more “refreshing” and “not as well-known” recommendations, the feeling also changes: now I should *not* be reading the popular books and, instead, turning into something else.
It’s a lot to keep up with.
(I also won’t even get in the discussion that when people say they want “refreshing” recommendations, what they really mean is: “I want a book series exactly like this really popular one but that is not as big”, not *actually* unknown books, such as translated works by marginalized authors.)
Basically: let people say what they want, lol. It shouldn’t bother you this much.
THREE. CHECK YOUR FOLLOWING!
I do understand that some people may feel like the act of having popular books being classified as “underrated” gets in the way of *actual* indie books being talked about in the way they should. But I consider that more a problem with the following and the part of the community you’re interacting with.
If you feel like you’re only being recommended the same books over and over, and even the “underrated” recs are already familiar to you, then perhaps that means you need to refresh your following!
There are a lot of bloggers and booktubers out there who are constantly recommending indie authors/self-published books, or simply books that are less talked about in the community.
(A personal favorite of mine is Ashley @ Bookish Realm, who’s a librarian, and has a lot of recommendations for all different genres/age groups for less-known books).
I think this feeling of frustration from people misusing the word “underrated” could change if people just followed people who then, actually gave them the “underrated” recs they’re looking for.
FOUR. THE “1,000 REVIEWS” IS NOT A GOOD ENOUGH METRIC
I’ve also heard people trying to now coin the term “underrated” to only be used when a book has less than 1,000 reviews on Goodreads.
This metric doesn’t work not only because Goodreads is not ~the~ platform, and there are plenty of people out there who read a ton and talk about their reads online and who still don’t use it.
Our Wayward Fate by Gloria Chao. Despite this book only having 814 ratings on Goodreads, I have 10 friends on Goodreads who either have read it or marked it as to-read, meaning they’ve heard about it. Gloria Chao is actually a well-known author, at least in my online bubble.
A Thousand Fires, by Shannon Price. This book only has 366! ratings on Goodreads, and yet, I remember seeing it in SO many lists of “end of the year” releases back in 2019. So much so, I was intrigued to pick it up. (
And I’m not one for reading “””indie””” books).
Let’s Call It a Doomsday, by Katie Henry. This book does have over a 1,000 ratings on Goodreads and yet I hardly ever see anyone talking about Katie Henry, even though I mostly follow people who also talk about YA contemporary a ton. (To compare it to Wayward Fate, only 5 of my Goodreads friends have it marked).
A Boy Worth Knowing, by Jennifer Cosgrove. This one has close to 2,000 ratings on Goodreads, and yet, when I talked about it in my recommendations post, all the comments said they’d never heard of it before. (Only 3 friends have it marked).
Now, of course, that experiment doesn’t really mean anything, as I am comparing it to *my* perspective – aka *my* Goodreads friends, *my* comments, and what *I* see in other blogs. Which just further proves my point that the whole debacle of using or not using the word “underrated” is dumb because every person in the community is going to have a different perspective on what’s popular/what’s not.
Also, there are a lot of books who were particularly popular when they came out (2016, 2017), but are not as talked about today. And it doesn’t mean whatever discussion that book evokes is no longer relevant. So if that means adding a popular book from 2016 into an “underrated books” list, if that will make people more interested in picking it up than if it was a “backlist reads” list, then so be it! “Old” books can still be relevant. (
It’s tragic to even think that 2016 books are considered “old”, when that was literally 4 years ago, lol. But that’s a discussion for another day).
SO: what are your thoughts? Do you get frustrated when you see someone talking about a popular book/author being underrated, or you don’t care? Do you think a metric should exist for how we talk about these books? What are some of YOUR personal favorite “underrated” reads? Let’s chat in the comments!