The Ratings Game

Now that I’ve rated quite a few books on Goodreads, Amazon and Smashwords, I’ve decided I don’t like the five-star system. It’s too limited, at least the way I use it.

I give five stars only to books I believe to be exceptional. One star is reserved for really abysmal books; I haven’t as yet given this rating to any book and would have to think long and hard before doing so. Three stars are for books I deem to be okay but not great (not always for the same reasons, of course) and two stars are for books with a good idea behind them but poor execution. I give four stars to books I think are well-written and interesting,

I would be happier with a 7, 8 or 10 star system — strange, because I consider myself to be a lumper rather than a splitter in most ways. When it comes to books, though, I see nuances and approximations. There have been occasions when I really wished I could give 3.5 or 4.5 stars; in such cases I struggle with whether to go with the lower or higher rating and often end up feeling bad about my choice.

The main problem with the star system is that it’s purely subjective, unfortunate when it’s perceived to have so much effect on book sales. My five-star book may be someone else’s two-star, with the reasons behind those ratings emotionally-based and ultimately indefensible by rational means. That’s why I don’t base my book acquisition decisions entirely on the star system or even on readers’ reviews although I do pay attention to them. I mostly ignore reader’s comments associated with five-star ratings and find that single stars often accompany complaints about a book’s formatting or other issues that have nothing to do with the writing. Four-, three- and two-star ratings tend to have the most interesting  and thoughtful reviews.

Some say that “customer” reviews can’t be trusted because they are supplied by the writer’s friends and family (if wildly positive) or (if negative) attempts by rival writers to “game” the ratings system. That may be so in some cases, and is yet another reason to distrust ones and fives.

Finally, I recognize that what people call “reviews” on Amazon or book-related social media sites are not reviews in the traditional sense. Rather, they are comments or opinions that range from ignorant to sophisticated. With all their faults, they do give a prospective reader or purchaser some idea of what a book is like.

I do wish there were more stars to play with.

Well, back to reading The Zombie Autopsies by Steven C. Schlozman, MD. No doubt I’ll be rating it and commenting on Goodreads once I’m finished. Right now I’ll just say that I don’t recommend reading it during meals. Along with a lot of queasiness-inducing stuff, it has pictures.

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