Thursday, August 27, 2009

Why I Don't Rate My Reviews--A Manifesto

many books to review From the cover of The New Yorker Magazine, Nov. 6, 2006

Recently Shannon Hale at Squeetus Blog posted a very interesting and complicated question to people who review books on their blogs. I'm not going to adress all the of issues she brought up, but the part about rating reviews really caught my attention:

If you review a book but don't rate, why not? What do you feel is your role as reviewer?

When I first started reviewing books--seriously reviewing them, not just saying, "Hey, I read this book and I liked it"--I didn't even consider doing ratings. The reason was simply that I wanted people to read my review, not jump immediately to the rating. Also, the way I feel about a book can't be summed up in a rating--not consistently, at any rate. Ratings carry the weight of being objective, and the fact is I'm rarely objective when it comes to books. I'm not even sure I want to be objective: reading books is a completely personal experience for me. Yes, I could say that, objectively, such-and-such book was good, but please. Bor-ing! I'm forced to be objective when I write papers for work; I don't want to do that for my fun writing.

But then Sarah at Monkey Bear Reviews did a blog on grading books, and I started to think about changing my anti-rating practice. It definitely seems that people like the convenience of a rating when perusing blogs (I admit even I find that convenient), and really what could it hurt?

There's still the problem of consistency, however. If I reviewed the same type of books over and over, I might feel more comfortable doing a ratings system, because then I would know at least all of the books would be relatively comparable. But how can a romance novel and a book about Egyptian Art stand against one another in a ratings system? I have totally different expectations for either book. Furthermore, I kind of pride myself on writing reviews in different styles for every book I read--not sure if I succeed, but that's the goal. To my mind, this makes a rating system rather pointless.

I admit I use ratings on other sites like Goodreads and Amazon, but they've turned into a personal code for me that wouldn't be useful to anyone else. For example, one star means I didn't finish the book; two stars means I skimmed it. They really have nothing to do with how good the book might be.

So I think Shannon is definitely correct when she suggests that a lack of ratings is a reflection of what I feel my role as a reviewer is. I want to capture the ephemeral experience of a book when I write about it. Ratings simply don't fit in with that goal.

Do you use ratings when you review books? Why or why not?

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