Sunday, 28 September 2014

Seeing Stars - Why I'm Scrapping the Star Ratings

Regular readers of this blog may have noticed that, in my last few book reviews, something has been missing.

That's right, I'm talking about star ratings!

Remember...? they looked like this!

Now, as I think I've mentioned before, I'm a sucker for reviews, and I take other people's opinions on a book very seriously when I'm considering whether or not it's going to be worth my time. Whenever I want to buy a book on Amazon, for example, I spend forever trawling through the ratings and reviews to see if it's really something I want to invest in. More often than not, there is always someone (or many someones) who slate a book for reasons that wouldn't matter to me in the slightest.

Like this...

...or even this!

Not only can star ratings turn you off books that you might really enjoy, but they can also become the only thing you take away from a book review.

It's the same when I get my uni essays back. Most of the time, the class tutor has taken the time to write thoughtful and constructive feedback which will make me write something better next time. But, inevitably, my eye always skips to the mark they've given me. That one tiny box with a number in it is all I can see. After all, the grade's the only thing that really matters, right?

Well, actually, no. The grade itself, while admittedly it's what will actually count towards my final degree marks, is just a number, and doesn't tell me anything about what exactly my essay was like. And not only that, it is also ridiculously subjective. It's common knowledge that all lecturers have different opinions on what constitutes a good mark (not to mention what constitutes a good essay!), and some are much more generous than others. Not only is this rather irritating (though inevitable), it also somewhat devalues the whole concept of using numbers as qualifiers for the standard of our work.

This is even more the case for rating books. Some people might lavish a book with five stars because it ticked all their romance boxes, or they just love all books about werewolves, while others might be particularly fussy about the writing style (me, for example), or dislike a particular genre. The way people rate books is so personal that it is really necessary to know something about the reviewer before you can properly assess their opinion on a book, which is where the star rating system falls flat.

Another reason I started to doubt the usefulness of my star ratings stemmed from my own difficulties in doling them out. When trying to rate books I would find myself trying to compare books that were just not comparable.

For example, I gave Americanah 4 stars, which was the same as I gave As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning and I Capture the Castle. But those books are all totally different and each merits a unique approach, rather than all being lumped together in the same category. Similarly, I gave The Road 4.5 stars, and it's true that I did really enjoy it. But I now can't remember what made it stand out to me as deserving a higher rating than those other books. Did something about it actually stand out to me as being superior to those other books? Or was it just the mood I was in at the time? Comparisons like this are just so difficult, and when it comes down to it they probably do more harm than good.

So basically I've decided to cut them out of my reviews, for the simple reason that I don't like putting them there. Though I'll admit I'm still swayed by the star ratings on Amazon (and everywhere else for that matter!), I hope I can be more intentional in future about taking these ratings for what they are, and not seeing them as an infallible way to judge a book.

What do you think of star ratings? Do you use ratings to help you choose books? If so, how has that worked for you? What do you think of my new plan to ditch the stars for good? Let me know in the comments!

1 comment:

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