Those of you who know me will probably also know that, when it comes to my hatred of the star rating system on sites such as Amazon and Goodreads, I’m pretty humourless. I just can’t help it, you know. I try to see the funny side, I really do. The problem is that I loathe having to decide how many stars I think a book merits, not least because it’s such an unsophisticated system. How, after all, can something as complex as your reaction to a book be summed up by a row of asterisks?
Oh well. I keep on assigning stars, partly because sites such as Amazon demand it, and partly because other people (not least authors) expect it. Unfortunately, deciding on how many stars to give a book is, to me, no easy matter.
I rarely, if ever, give a book less than 3 stars, simply because, even if the book in question didn’t do it for me personally, I kind of know what the author went through in creating it, and I respect that. If I can’t truthfully give a book at least 3 stars (a pretty good rating, in my opinion), I probably won’t review it at all. However, the question of what makes the difference between 3 and 4 stars, and between 4 and 5 stars, can be a fraught one.
There was a time when I only ever assigned a mighty 5-star rating to books that I thought might be considered “great literature”. Then, gradually, it began to occur to me that this was a bit of a mean-minded approach. Consider, for example, a standard thriller or jolly chick lit romp. These may not be immortal works of literature, and probably make no claims to be such. However, they do what they’re intended to do, and they do it well. Isn’t it a bit unfair to mark them down on the basis of what they’re not, rather than what they are? Besides, and as someone else rightly pointed out to me, posterity will be the judge of what may be considered great literature.
But then again . . . anyone looking at my Goodreads shelf would see a large number of those “good but not great” books sharing a 5-star rating with the likes of War and Peace. It’s no insult to say that many of these books are not on a par with War and Peace; frankly, very little is. Do we need a special 6-star rating for things that are more than just (just?!) very good? Wouldn’t that 6-star rating quickly become just as devalued as the 5-star rating has?
And herein lies another problem with the star rating system: it’s pretty much an invitation to corruption. When you see glowing 5-star reviews for a book, it’s all too easy to think, “Ha! Somebody’s friends and family members have been busy!” And that, of course, is vastly unfair, because many of those ratings were no doubt sincerely given and honestly earned. On the other hand, it’s a fair bet that at least some of the damning 1-star reviews you see were written by someone with a personal score to settle, or by an author trying to scupper his or her rivals, or by someone who was simply having a bad day.
I don’t know. Perhaps it’s time we stopped worrying about stars, and just concentrated on writing considered, detailed reviews. What do people think?