Sunday, November 17, 2013

New Review Policy: No Numbers

I'm posting a review tomorrow for a blog tour, and this seems like a good time to mention that I've decided to stop rating things by number of stars. There are two main reasons:

1. I am fickle.
I have noticed that star ratings are very inconsistent for me. If I read a fun book over the weekend and I was excited and happy, I'll rate it 5 stars. Then, I might really analyze a book, write an intricate review, and in that context decide it is worth 4 stars only (because I am mentally comparing it to War and Peace/the best books I've ever read, etc). The books I've rated 5 stars are frequently not better than the ones I've rated 4 stars. It's very dependent on my purpose in reading and my mood. Looking back at my reviews on Goodreads a few months ago, I realized this bothered me. Publications such as Rolling Stone offer starred ratings and have a consistent system for doing so (I hope). Writing reviews is something I want to do for fun, with recognition that I'm reading some things for fun and some things more seriously, and I don't think that's compatible with the sort of star system that's on Goodreads or Amazon.

2. I'm not comfortable with the way I'm constantly being invited to rate things online.
I love to think and talk about books, movies, music, etc, and that's never going to change. However, I want to do that as a reader and engaged person, not as a consumer. I am weary of receiving e-mail asking me what I thought of whatever thing I just bought (food, book, movie, whatever). I'm not in that rating mode all the time, and I don't think it would be good for my mental health if I were. I don't want to constantly assess whether I've received my money's worth, and I don't think that's the most valuable discussion I can have about a book. This doesn't mean I won't criticize or praise. It means that I'll do it as a person, not as a wallet. The more invitations I've received by e-mail to rate things, the more I've become aware that they threaten to dehumanize both me and whoever created whatever I'm interacting with. Society is full of encouragements to ever higher levels of consumerism, and I think it's good to resist that as much as possible.

And there's one minor reason:

1. As a writer, I've struggled to be receptive to what amounts to a letter grade.
I'm not in school anymore. While I think reviews can be interesting to read, every writer knows that they're also fraught with minefields of impending insecurity. It is much easier for me to read someone's written thoughts, even if they're harsh, than to see my work reduced to a score. I especially struggle when I see a score with no explanation. In general, I try to avoid reading reviews of my own work, but when I can't help but look, I always deal with it better if I don't pay attention to the score. It takes the interaction into that school realm where I feel as if I need to worry about my GPA or something (and the way Goodreads and Amazon compile and average star ratings contribute to that further). If I could change one thing about reviews as a writer, I would take off the stars and letter grades. Since I don't like it myself, I'm going to do unto others.

I'll leave you with a comic on the subject of rating systems. I've always really enjoyed this one:

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