Books Are Not Made of Stars

By now I should probably address something – why I don’t use a five-star system, a percentage system or a points system when I review fiction.

Books are not made of stars.

To quote John Keating, the late Robin Williams’ character in Peter Weir’s film Dead Poets Society, “we’re not laying pipe, we’re talking about poetry.” To simplify a book that someone has slaved over, sometimes for years, into a neat little five-rank system seems a gross injustice to both the writer and the potential reader.

In reviewing at Goodreads and on Amazon, I’ve even noticed that their star systems attach a completely different meaning to three-star reviews. On Amazon, three stars means “it’s okay.” On Goodreads, it means, “I like it”- which is a four-star review on Amazon.

While most book reviewers use the stars system (or a percentage system) in conjunction with a well-thought-out review, it’s all too tempting to skim the ratings and not read the content. I know I’ve done it. I can’t see that ratings are of much use to anyone except those who obsess about stats and rankings and whether a book is or isn’t on Amazon’s top 100 bestsellers list.

Bestsellers? More than anything, I’m aiming to deal with non-sellers and worst-sellers – non-sellers and worst-sellers not because of the quality of the prose, but because marketing your own work is difficult, and because there is a tsunami of self-published books out there. No human being could possibly read them all. (God knows I’m trying.)

If I go back to my Goodreads account and look at the books I have marked as five-star works, books I would rush into a burning building to preserve, I see these five:

Watership Down, by Richard Adams

Lolita, by Vladimir Nabokov

Lord of the Flies, by William Golding

Wuthering Heights, by Emily Bronte

My Own True Ghost Story, by Rudyard Kipling.

What do these five books all have in common? Not a damn thing, except that I love them. To give them all five-stars (especially without an accompanying review that is fair and balanced) implies there is some more objective basis for comparison, one that I can explain to anyone outside my head.

Since I can’t, I’ll continue to review with words and not stars.


2 thoughts on “Books Are Not Made of Stars

  1. I like your reasoning and agree with it. The interpretation of stars is a prime example of the old saying: one man’s meat… (with due acknowledgement that the saying might be considered sexist in this day and age!) 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Pingback: “Why I Sometimes Write Negative Reviews & Why You Should Consider Doing The Same…” | The Reader In the Tower

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