Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The cowardly me

I never thought that reviewing books can be a question of cowardice. But apparently it is, since I came home on Sunday and I find out that I am a coward.

HM: Reading your reviews I come across a very peculiar ranking system of 100 points that always aroused questions. What’s the deal behind it and what components build these 100 points?
PS: I think writing a review, and not giving it some sort of numerical score is a cop out; it’s cowardice—pure and simple—since many online reviewers don’t want to upset publishers or authors. So they write reviews that are open to interpretation, using nebulous terms like good, overemphasizing the positive aspects of the book, trying very hard not to have an opinion. It’s okay, you’re entitled to have an opinion, you’re entitled to take a stand and let people know what you think.
See, words lie; numbers don’t. And I don’t want to lie to my audience. So I score every book on a scale of 100. Like any review, the number is completely subjective; there are no underlying components. I score books by ranking them against other novels I’ve read in the genre. It’s rather simple. But effective.

Paul Stotts tells in his interview with Harry at the Temple Library Reviews that not using a score system for the review is an act of cowardice. I beg to heavily differ. Before starting my blog I used to read many review blogs in search for new books, I still am, but there are more of them now. The majority of them didn’t use a rating system. I noticed then that while looking for new books to read I was reading the reviews that didn’t have a score at the end of them while I was passing over the actual review and look only at the score given by the reviewer to the book at those that had a rating system. Why? Because I related that grade to what I thought of a rating system. But that didn’t necessarily mean that one reviewer’s 8, 85 or 3 stars are the same with mine. It also means that I was passing over the reasons of that grade, why the one that wrote the review liked or disliked the book. But I don’t have a problem with anyone using a rating system and I overcome that time and look over the review now, not only at its grade. Still I can’t think of those reviews or reviewers as being brave because of a rating system.

When I started to write my reviews I thought of a rating system, but I decided to not use one. I think that I am capable to use a rating system, but what it will mean I can’t say. For example, I find Carlos Ruiz Zafón’s “The Shadow of the Wind” to be the best book I read in many years. I also believe that Bill Hussey’s “Through a Glass, Darkly” is the best debut horror novel I read in the past three years. So I would give both a 10, but what does this tell to someone who isn’t familiar with the novels? Comparing the books to each other it will be difficult and bringing them into a battle of grades Zafón’s novel will be the obvious winner. But each 10 will have a different point of view, because the novels made me enjoy them for different reasons.

The relationship with the publishers is raised here, but I don’t see the reason for it. Paul says that the reason for not using a rating system is because I do not want to lose the free books sent to me. But if I do use a rating system what happens if I give a book a 3 or a 4? It is not the same thing? I wrote negative reviews and they were received in different ways. I didn’t receive another book from one publishing house, but another one keeps sending them despite my not so glowing review. I don’t mind either way. Although I cut a few expanses with the help of some of the review copies I received I still buy more books than those review copies I get or that I am capable of reading in one year. On my blog I reviewed books I bought too, so if I don’t get another review copy I don’t mind, I just rethink my shopping list.

PS: And respect is something Pat should get more of. Too many bloggers have copped an elitist attitude toward Pat lately, ripping his reviews, the direction of his blog, and even his word choices. If the Hotlist wasn’t so successful, do you think these bloggers would single him out? Their motives are utterly transparent. It’s simple jealous. And it’s sad, really. It reminds me of when bands get too big, how their hardcore fans will turn on them, labeling them a sell-out. C’mon people, get over yourself; it’s blogging about books.

I find this to be a contradiction. There is nothing wrong with his opinion, but later in the response seen first there isn't just blogging about books anymore but a matter of courage. Paul doesn’t like the critiques raised towards Pat’s blog, but makes a critique on its own towards other blogs and an utterly transparent one nonetheless. To call all those not using a rating system cowards, it’s shallow. It’s the only word that comes to mind seeing the blogs in question. I find blogs such as A Dribble of Ink, Fantasy Book Critic, Fantasy Debut, OF Blog of the Fallen or Speculative Horizons, just to name a few, to be not only great reviewing blogs, but a source of inspiration for a review and a work well done. And to say that all these bloggers don’t use a rating system only for the benefit of free books is something far from praiseworthy and to name them cowards is light years away from the truth.


Ben said...

No Mihai, not you too :) This isn't a real controversy, tt's an overreaction.

Adele said...

hey Mihai,
quite a few of us were a little put out over this one.

Anonymous said...

Yes indeed. Review is not the same as 'score'. A football match can end a goalless draw and still be one of the most exciting ever. The meat of the review is what's important.

Mihai A. said...

Ben, maybe it is an overreaction but I couldn't stop myself from it.

Adele, it left me instantly puzzled.

Sjat, that's a good example, after all I've seen some entertaining 0-0. And it is true that the important part is the review itself.

Rabid Fox said...

I read about this a week or two ago, and I can't say I am swayed into adding star ratings, or anything else of the sort, to the reviews I write. It's fine and dandy for stuff like GoodReads or other sites, but personally I don't think it adds a lot to the text.

Mihai A. said...

Rabid Fox, I stopped using stars on GoodReads too for some time :)