Reviews and rating systems

For the second half of 2020 I stopped posting to this website and focused on writing a manuscript. When the manuscript was finished, I went back to writing posts again.

It was nice having a break, but I did miss it. This website is my personal scratchpad. It’s where I formulate and refine my ideas. I use it to remind myself what I should be doing.

One of things I wanted to do was make writing posts a more fun experience. I envisaged shorter length posts, ideally going from having a concept to hitting the publish button in 15 or 20 minutes. I’m a fast writer and that’s not unrealistic for a short post (although I tend to edit posts a couple of times after publication).

In my first post after last year’s hiatus I wrote about experimenting with a ratings system. I can safely say, I’ve done that now.

I wanted to commit myself to putting a ratings value on the books and films I was writing about.

There are different ways of doing it:

  • A star rating system from one star to five
  • A number system from one to ten
  • A qualitative system based on words or phrases

I went for the qualitative approach:

  • Brilliant
  • Interesting
  • Disappointing
  • Not for me

That was fine up to a point. The problem is that most of the stuff I write about are things I’m interested in. So, most of the reviews are going to be ‘interesting’. That can get a bit boring.

I’ve gone from wanting the satisfaction of having a ratings system, to using one and realising that it can be a chore. As a result, the ratings system has gone.

Having one was a useful learning experience. I can see why so many literary reviews avoid them. While it makes sense for films perhaps, it doesn’t make much sense for books. Books are remarkably subjective, and long may that continue.

Book reviews are also quite strange in their own way. It was only while using a rating system that I began to appreciate this fact. Book reviewers seldom say what they really think. They never say this book is total bollocks, or pretentious, or it is the best thing I’ve ever read. There just isn’t the space to review books outside of a publications core interest area, so those are screened out or never even get a look in. There’s a fair amount of reputational politics involved as well. Choosing books to review is an editorial descision.

The novels that are reviewed tend to be discussion points, things the reviewer can use to talk around the subject, a novel’s theme or context. Is it similair or different from a writer’s older work? How does it compare to other books? What does it say about society? Does it use an interesting literary technique?

It’s possible to say something interesting about a dull book. An exciting book can make for a dull review.

I think I’m getting to the point, even with my limited number of reviews on this site, where I could write a review of a novel by talking around it without having read it.

This is especially true when writers have multiple books published. Successful writers essentially publish the same book again and again. Readers come back for more of the same. If they liked it the first time around, they’ll want it again. The same thing, but slightly new.

Anyway, adios ratings system. It was good knowing you.