When my younger brother was very young, he would go through the JCPenney’s 2-inch thick Winter Catalogue and circle every toy in the toy section in response to Mom asking us to create a wish list. Every toy. Not a very discerning child. I would mark the few things I really wanted.
I think of this when I see that someone rates every book they read as 4 or 5 stars. Pure grade inflation. What if the newspaper did that for movie reviews? Likely, I’d stop reading the reviews if they thought every movie was amazing. For the Chicago Trib and its 0-4 star scale, 2 is a good movie. 3 is better than good. 4 will likely earn an Oscar though most of the nominees probably fell in the 2.5-3.5 range. 4 means something for them. And me.
I use the Goodreads 1-5 star scale. “3 stars” has the hypertext “I liked it.” That should be the solid like. 4 is “I really liked it.” Self-explanatory. 5 is “I found it amazing.” This should be rare. But some people use it like my brother used the JCPenney Catalogue.
At the convention this past weekend, I was talking to an independent author who boasted of her “first troll.” She clarified that she meant her first 1-star rating. [Not usually something to boast of.] But she felt it was a rite of passage. Goodreads’ 1-star says “I didn’t like it.” I replied tactfully, “Not all 1-star raters are trolls. Perhaps they didn’t like it.” The author countered, “If I don’t like something, I give it 3 stars.” How does that help anyone??
I think raters should give at least a partial review to explain anything other than a 3, but really always. Otherwise, the rating can’t be contextualized.
I also think people who stop reading something without finishing it should be blocked from rating it. They should not be able to give a 1-star for an unfinished book. Maybe there needs to be separate stat for not finishing a book with a multiple choice explanation section. This, too, could be telling.
As much as I want to make an informed decision about what I am buying, acquiring etc. I also want an informed view of the reviewer-rater. Differences in our perspectives could be more telling than the review itself.