Monday, November 8, 2010
Book Grading Systems
Gentle Reader: How do you grade your reading material?
There are many systems out there. The minimalist thumbs up or down, the maximalist 0-100%, and everything in between: 0-7 colors of the rainbow, 0-10 punctures of the vampire's fangs, empty dish - full banana split with cherry on top, etc. etc.
Some reviewers are ruthless in sharing their true thoughts about a novel's flaws, and occasionally, it's strengths - which would seem to render the rare praise they do bestow all the more valuable. The Simon Cowells of book reiviewing, to use a metaphor well past its sell-by date.
Some reviewers seem to follow the infamous instructions issued by some authors who shall remain nameless that reviews MUST be 'nice', because mentioning perceived flaws is 'mean' and mean, apparently, is bad (which would seem to diminish the usefulness of these reviews as they tend to be non-stop, all out gushery). The Paula Abduls of book reviewing, to use a metaphor even further past its sell-by date.
Who does that leave to be the moderate Randi Jacksons? Well, people like Apprentice Writer.
As the regular Gentle Reader will know, Apprentice Writer doesn't assign a rank to the reviews posted here. She is however an avid Goodreads hound, which operates on a system of 1 (did not like) to 5 (it was amazing) stars. Here is how it pans out:
3 stars ("liked it") is AW's default rating. She chooses to see this not as wishy-washy, but logical: she woulnd't pick up the book to read if she didn't expect to like it.
This means, a book really has to work at going up to 4 ("really liked it") or down to 2 ("it was OK") from that 'safe' spot. And it has to be spectacularly good or horrendous to move to 1 or 5. which she bestows with great care.
Let us draw a veil over the atrocities that must take place for 1 star to be bestowed. But what, exactly, does a book have to do to get those rare 5 stars?
It has to satisfy all these conditions:
- Great story, with sense of true satisfaction at the end
- Great characters and/or characterization (these are not always the same thing)
- Impressive writing that sweeps her along
- At least one line that is brilliant enough to be included in her quotation collection
- Must be sure that will want to re-read it in future.
The last condition is one that many books that made it all the way up to 4.5 stars stumble over, falling right before the finish line. For the record, here a cross-section of titles on AW's Keeper shelf:
Crocodile on the Sandbank, Elizabeth Peters (humorous historical mystery; first in a series, set in Egpyt)
The Silver Pigs, Lindsey Davis (humorous historical mystery; first in a series, set in Imperial Rome)
Life of Pi, Yann Martel (contemporary literary fiction)
Mr. Impossible, Loretta Chase (historical romance)
White Oleander, Janet Fitch (contemporary literary fiction)
Lessons in French, Laura Kinsale (historical romance)
Good Grief, Lolly Winston (contemporary literary fiction)
Fall on Your Knees, Anne Marie MacDonald (contemporary literary fiction)
The Big Over Easy, Jasper Fforde (alternate reality mystery)
Private Arrangements, Sherry Thomas (historical romance)
The Poisonwood Bible, Barbara Kinsolver (contemporary literary fiction)
The Sweentess at the Bottom of the Pie, Alan Bradley (mystery)
A Fine Balance, Rohinton Mistry (literary fiction)
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