Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Don't Fence Me In

I can't stand a five point rating system. Goodreads uses a five star system to indicate how you feel about your books, and it just kills me. (Roger Ebert, by the way, whose days revolve more around star counts than mine, agrees with me.) I know five stars is for awesome, and one is for dreck. I don't do zero stars because that looks like I forgot to rate it. But how do you sort out the in-between?

Goodreads offers you rollover text: 5 for "loved it," 4 for "really liked it," 3 for "liked it," 2 for "it was okay," and 1 for "didn't like it." I can handle that, I think--I try to save 5s for things that had me clutching my seat, weeping, shrieking. Anything I just plain liked gets a 4, something I didn't NOT like gets a 3--maybe I just sort of didn't care, but it wasn't bad.

Two holds a lot of, "eh, not really." Two is for a book that I don't think, objectively, is a bad book, but that I didn't enjoy at all. Or, alternatively, it's for a book that objectively is an awful, awful book, but that I enjoyed a little on some level--but not enough to transcend its awfulness. And of course, 1 is just yuck, yuck, don't ever read this. I want those hours of my life back.

But what I find, often, is that I'll finish a book, and I'll feel one way, but then when I look back at my rating a while later, I'll be shocked. I finished, for example, The Queen of Attolia, and called it something I really liked, a 4. But a few weeks later, when I think about that book, I remember loving it passionately. I want to read it again right now. It's SO good. Why didn't I give it a 5?

Or Just Ella, why did I only give it one star? It wasn't totally without redeeming qualities--I saw enough in there to run out and--rather maniacally, I'll admit--read pretty much everything else the author's written. Shouldn't it have at least gotten 2?

I think the problem is, when I'm sitting with a book, I see the complexities. I see the imperfections, the flaws. Isn't that a sad way to be? It's not that I'd always be wishing it was better, but when you analyze something technically, it loses its sparkle. But from a distance of a few weeks, I remember impressions. I remember the big moments, or the big feelings.

So is it better to record my in-the-moment reactions, or what lingers? Is what matters the experience I had then, or the memory I have now?

And for heaven's sake, why can't the scale be more reasonable? Like 1-100? Just Ella gets a 24.

Well, 23.8.


Claire said...

Good post! Couldn't they at least give half stars?

Criticker is a movie rating site that does 1 - 100. Gives more nuance I think.

Unknown said...

Heck, I'd settle for 1-10. Below the 5 is shades of "why did I read this" and 5 and up for the range of "pleasurable passing of time" to "mindblowing."

I also hate 1-5. Although a 3 from me means it was decent. Not fab, decent. I'm terribly stingy with 4s and 5s. So some of my 3s I really liked and some I was sort of meh on.

Not so helpful.

I do go back and change my ratings. For example, if a week after reading the book I'm still complaining about it, I knock down the score.

Also don't feel so bad, I gave Just Ella a whopping 2. I don't give 1s unless I was actively angered by the book.


LibraryHungry said...

I think my problem is that I keep redefining the star levels every time. I think, though, that using phrases--even the rollover text--instead of a relative thing like stars will help.

So, Love It, Really Like It, Like It, It Was Okay, and Didn't Like It. I just have to remember that. I'm glad I'm not alone, though!