Riding the Curve

A topic that everyone seems to talk about, but nobody (well, ok, so few are) is open about is reviews. So what am I going to do? Beat that horse carcass, of course! I’ve written about reviews before when I was with TGTBTU, and recently (okay, so a while ago. I’ve been delaying publishing this post a lot.) I believe it was Jessica who linked to a thoughtful post about reviews. When I’ve asked about them in the past, many readers say they like the one star reviews. Some say they only buy books based on one star reviews.

Well, I guess that horse might still have some life in it, because I’m going to talk about something else. Grading to a curve. I didn’t like the concept of them in undergrad, and they definitely made my life miserable in law school, but now… I can see a point to them. Well, in general. Do I think someone who has a 94% in a class should get a B+ just to fit the curve? No. Will I “assign grades” to books based on that system? Of course not.

In fact, I’m even playing with the idea of no grades. Total rebel right? There are objective and subjective aspects to grades… and nobody’s ever going to be entirely satisfied. My point and explanation is… while reviewers generally try to be as objective as possible… a tiny part of it is subjective. It happens the same way in academia. (Like if you have a particularly stupid class, people who might’ve been getting C’s a previous year will be getting A’s this semester.) And no matter what a teacher/professor says, his or her pet is going to come out better in the subjective “class participation” grade component. Grades gives us some sort of basis, or measurement.

The word “average” has acquired such a negative connotation. Perhaps “status quo” would be better received. That fancy Latin makes it smarter and thus better, of course. It’s a middle point. Many books are good. Dare I say most books are good? After all someone out there thought they were publishable. And thus, marketable and profitable. Books aren’t sold and printed on good will, there’s someone out there who thinks it’s a good business decision. The point of the book then, is to make money for both the publisher and author.

That point being understood, we should expect most books out there to be good. Consequently, a book that gets an average grade, could very well be good, and generally is. There are just ones out there that surpass it. They’re above average. Superior. Fantastic. Those are your B and A books. Four of five stars, books, hearts, coffee cups, apples, flames, whatever. Double it and you get the same thing – it just seems better.

There are many arguments as to whether reviews are objective or subjective… or whether reviews can possibly even be objective. I don’t want to go there. What I am curious about, however, is, do you “grade” books on a curve? Whether consciously or unconsciously? And this is a question across the board – not just for reviewers. Because everyone thinks “I like book X better than book Y… but not quite as much as book Z.” That’s a system of some sort, right?

I have to admit, I never would have thought I’d use a curve, even an informal one. (I definitely don’t have a checklist or sit there making a side by side comparison of each book or a group of books.) However, I will have to say that I’ve sometimes agonized over grades because I wavered between them, and went to check previous books I liked more or less, and looked at what grades those books got. I feel that in that at least, most people can be objective. I almost think you have to make the comparisons in order to make it work.

The question is then… do you want to see grades or not? Do you care to? While so many people shy away from assigning a grade, it seems those who look at reviews gravitate towards those first. The grade is a summary of the review in a one image or letter/character statement, that tells what the reader thought of the book. Good, Bad, or Awesome. I have to say that when buying books, if I’m looking at reviews, I want to see the grade. I actually oftentimes avoid the text of the reviews, because I don’t want any spoilers, or to be influenced by someone else’s opinions or reactions.

In the end – what do you look at in reviews? Do you look at reviews? It’s always been rather ironic – and yet something I freely admit… I don’t love reviews. Oftentimes I avoid them for the aforementioned reasons. And yet I write them. Guess I am one opinionated bitch. *angelface*

0 thoughts on “Riding the Curve

  1. Kim in Hawaii

    Aloha, Limecello! I read reviews from a handful of blogs where I have met the blogger and trust their judgement. But reviews do not influence what I purchase.

    I’m still on my “honeymoon” in Romanceland (less than 2 years). At first, I was taken back by some of the brutal reviews I read. I attribute this to my much closed world within the military community who seeks to support and uplift each other. But I’ve grown used to the outside world where bloggers expressing themselves with snark, unconstructive criticism, and profanity.

    I am frankly tired of the author vs blogger “feud”. Authors react to bad reviews and bloggers ridicule their reactions. It has grown redundant and boring. I feel that authors should ignore the bad reviews and bloggers should ignore the authors’ rants. Larissa Ione posted her take on her blog,

    http://larissaione.com/blog/2011/02/17/thickening-skin-and-review-scars/

    But I am offended when Romanceland spirals into a slug fest of personal insults. Somehow the “literary” interest is lost to some uncontrollable need demean each other. No wonder Romance has its detractors!

    Jessica linked to an article in the Guardian that suggests authors and bloggers have lunch together.

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/booksblog/2011/feb/21/writers-met-bloggers-lunch

    Sometimes that face to face reminds us of each other’s humanity. It may not change the blogger’s opinion of an author’s work, but it may bring about a professional review rather than cheap shots.

    Reply
    1. Limecello Post author

      Kim –
      Interesting take on the post – it’s almost more in line with the one I linked to that I wrote on reviews in 2008. I’ve said somewhere I have a [personal] policy of never putting anything in a review I wouldn’t be ok with someone saying to me.
      However, it’s not even so much the author vs reader thing – although yes there is that. My question was do you compare and “rate” books that you (plural) read?

      And I will have to say, about your “professional” point… it’s kind of funny. If you read the PW reviews, which I think everyone can agree are professional, they’re often much “worse” than anything you see on blogs. And across the board book reviews, especially for the NYT and so on, for any genre, can be quite harsh. I’ve never understood where the “we can only be nice and positive” comes from.
      Correction – I’ve never seen why that’s a valid point/purpose to reviews.
      Thanks for stopping by!

      Reply
      1. Kim in Hawaii

        Aloha, Limcello!

        I haven’t read reviews from PW so I don’t have a reference, or definition, of “worse.” Perhaps we should have a definition for “professional” because I don’t believe it’s “we can only be nice and positive.” I believe it is “express your opinion without degrading humanity”.

        Anything less is counterpproductive to the causes that Romanceland promotes – Compassion. Tolerance. Anti-discrimination. Anti-book bannning. It gets better.

        Funny that you should refer to the stand by criticism of “we can only be nice and positive.” I justed traded an email with someone else about this subject. I know a reader who has a policy to only write reviews of books that she could recommend. Hence, if she didn’t like the book, she doesn’t write a review. Free speech offers her this option. I defended her option,

        “She and I are older than you. So we come from a different generation with different expectations of public criticism. Add to the fact that I come from the miltiary where you do not publicly make negative comments (when necessary, its done behind closed doors). Plus military spouses of senior personnel are trained to uplift each other because of the unique circumstances in which we find ourselves.

        Reviewers may come to a book with diferent life experiences. Hence their reviews will be different.”

        Back to your original post in which you referred to Jessica at Read, React, and Review. In this week’s Monday Morning Step Back, she ended her comments on a personal note. She wrote that she did not have the time or energy to get involved in all dust ups in Romanceland. Several readers made similar comments. In fact, the consensus was that most were tired of them and would rather just exchange ideas about books. So I suggest March be a kerfuffle free zone. I recognize that this is naive but its the first step to compassion, tolerance, and the ideals that our country promotes.

        Reply
      2. Limecello Post author

        Kim – I’m definitely not trying to create a dust up or drama, and am sorry if you think that. My point in writing this post was actually asking readers – everyone – how or if they compare books.
        I appreciate you bringing up your Freedom of Speech point – I’m afraid I’m rather done with Con Law for a while yet. My apologies. :X

        Reply
  2. StacieDM

    Great post Limecello!

    I have read reviews by a specific blogger who obviously disliked a certain author. She was reviewing an anthology and didn’t bother to read this author’s novella in the anthology because she already knew she wouldn’t like it. A few weeks later she brought up this author again just to complain about her. For whatever reason she held a grudge against her. If I didn’t like an author I would stop reviewing their books and let someone else do it. She practically came out and said she would never like anything the author wrote. I stopped reading reviews by this blogger. I couldn’t trust her objectivity.

    That is the main reason I don’t read reviews. I will only read them if it is an author I haven’t read before. I usually prefer a star rating. If it is an author I already like then I don’t need to read the reviews. I am familiar with their writing style and can judge for myself.

    *And NO you are not the blogger in the above story! πŸ˜‰

    Reply
    1. Limecello Post author

      Stacie –
      Heh. I should hope not! πŸ˜‰ I don’t have beef with an author and I definitely wouldn’t try to bring it out in a review like that. Or I’d say straight up “I don’t like this author as a person so I know it would color my opinion on his/her book so I don’t think I can review it fairly and as such, will not.” I suppose, if I felt that strongly about it. But I wouldn’t say it was terrible without reading it. O_o The vitriol that’s out there… boggling.
      For star ratings, do you mean amazon? I have to admit, I’ll look at the stars there too. Sometimes some of the reviews you read there are absolute crap. But other times… the star rating is surprisingly accurate. Which pains me because amazon reviews are… well. Sometimes the source of much comedy and entertainment.

      Reply
  3. Phyl

    I love to read reviews. My reading choices are based entirely on 2 factors: 1) the author may be an auto-read for me, OR, 2) a review that indicated this might be something I’d like. For the latter, it’s not that reviewer X gave the book a particular grade, instead it’s the reviewer’s description of what did or didn’t work in the book for her. I’ve learned what I like and what I don’t like and I find reviews very helpful when deciding what to read next.

    I have a small blog w/ few readers. Half my posts are about my quilts and I don’t post frequently. I just don’t bother assigning grades because it doesn’t seem fair in the context of what I do on my blog. I will say what I liked or didn’t like and whether I’d recommend the book. But grades are hard and subjective. I appreciate grades from others, but what really matters to me isn’t a grade, but the description of the book and its impact on the reviewer.

    Interesting post today. Thanks.

    Reply
    1. Limecello Post author

      Phyl – I like that! (The why you read a review or not and what matters for you.) I think we all do like seeing the stark “rating/grade” of a book, but find it difficult to do.
      And of course the text of it really matters as well. I think many people actually find a reviewer who has similar reading tastes, and go from there.
      Thank you for sharing your thoughts πŸ™‚

      Reply
  4. Angie T

    Hey Lime!
    I very rarely read reviews. Books, movies, and music I have loved have often been brutally criticized by reviewers.
    Like the cliche’ says, “I dont know art, but I know what I like.”
    That is how I feel about my entertainment.
    Taste is different from person to person and while some reviewers can be subjective and objective I find many are reviewing based on what they like; not on whether the book is well written or the characters memorable…or what ever!
    In fact, I pretty much agree with Phyl! πŸ™‚

    Reply
    1. Limecello Post author

      Angie – so no reviews for you – gotcha πŸ™‚
      However; do you make comparisons of books you personally read? I’m curious if people keep a list or have some sort of system to remember books. I’ve just started that this year – my goal is to log every book I read into goodreads.

      Reply
  5. Jessica

    I don’t grade because it feels too much like work, and also because of the subjective components you list. I will give 1-5 stars on goodreads, but even that is sort of meaningless, because how do you compare books in totally different genres? Of the book you loved but know is not technically good, to the book you hated, but appreciate the skill of the writer?

    On goodreads, it;s not that I grade o a curve but that I am thinking about “this book in comparison to other books like it” (for example, m.m erotic romance), and that means I am judging it using a few different – and many same — criteria, to, say “histoical romance” or “sff”.

    As a blog reader, I do pay attention to grades. I appreciate them especially when I am very rushed. But again, I recognize that some bloggers give everything a top grade, so for them a 4 stars out of 5 is really quite a negative review, lol.

    Reply
    1. Limecello Post author

      Jessica – it’s funny – I “assign grades” to reviews (guess I’m used to it, also I do like having the simple “summary”) – but I actually don’t grade my hoodbrat’s stuff. I just correct it.
      As for different genres – good point. I don’t seem to log anything but the romance novels I read so that makes it a bit easier for me – though the sub genres I guess can be tricky. And for the technical merit vs not – that’s why grading always has the subjective aspect.
      I think for checking reviews/blogs the most important thing is understanding to some degree it’ll reflect the reader’s tastes. And yes, as you said, knowing what “kind” of review site it is.

      Reply
  6. scooper

    I don’t like to grade books at all. I don’t know how to fairly come up with a grading system and honestly, I don’t want to. The fun in reviewing or reading reviews of books is in reading or telling about what worked with the story or didn’t. A grade doesn’t do that for me. If there has to be a grading system, I like the ones that say 1) DNF 2) Did not enjoy 3) Average 4) Really enjoyed and 5) Absolutely loved. Most books I read are average or I really enjoyed them, but they are ultimately forgettable. Few books ever make the 5 in my brain and I don’t think it’s fair to the author to assign a meaningless letter or number to a book.

    But one of my new irks are bloggers who give positive reviews for everything. Every book on the market is not an A+. I don’t trust reviewers like that. On the other hand I do recognize that some people only review books they like. So I’m a little undecided. I didn’t know I was until I started typing, but for me grading reviews is a no-no and I don’t pay attention to them.

    Reply
    1. Limecello Post author

      scooper – I agree on finding a system that works for you. I (think) I have a system that I like, but it’s hard to explain. I haven’t like put up a “grading scale” or anything… maybe I should. I dunno. And I agree on many books while enjoyable when reading are forgettable.
      lol – glad I could help you come to a realization about yourself? :X I think a lot of it is “knowing” the review site, as you said.

      Reply
  7. avoriana

    I appreciate other bloggers’ grades and definitely use them as a guide to help me sort through the mountain of romance novels out there. I also track my reading in a personal spreadsheet with grades of 1-5 based on my enjoyment. However, I have decided not to grade books on my blog. I think part of my discomfort with grading is related to what you said about comparing books. Some classics I don’t really like although I know they have value. If I don’t like it, I wouldn’t give it more than a 3 at most. Then how could I rate a Blaze that I love a 5? We can grade the technical aspects of books more or less objectively but a grade based on enjoyment is very personal. Reading is personal. Again, I appreciate that other bloggers tackle the challenge of grading but for me, I don’t want to and I’m not gonna.

    Reply
    1. Limecello Post author

      avoriana – Thanks for sharing your process! I totally understand you marking your enjoyment of a book on your spreadsheet but not on your blog.
      Really interesting point on the classics – I’m going to take your totally highbrow and erudite example, and just… kill it. :X Heh. It’s like beer. I don’t drink it – but I can appreciate some are well made/brewed etc. Doesn’t mean I’ll like it. At some point, it’s personal preference. Enjoyment is a huge factor in reading because it’s a past time and something we do for fun. As you said, it’s personal.
      And a lot of the fun to the internet it to each his/her own, so those that choose to grade, will, and those that don’t wish to, won’t. Done πŸ˜€ [And then you know, those that disagree can have their drama :P]

      Reply
  8. Tumperkin

    I don’t grade – in fact I don’t (in my eyes) do reviews. I just talk about books, very subjectively. I try to communicate something personal and honest about the reading experience. I think, as time goes on, I’m coming the view that grades are irrelevant. I respond to the personal in reviews – something in the words the reviewer uses that betray whether they connected with the book or not.

    Reply
    1. Limecello Post author

      Hi there Tumperkin – I understand what you’re saying. The funny thing is, while I review books… I generally don’t read reviews. I might even go so far as to say I avoid/dislike them. (Guess I’ve come across too many spoilers and it just forever affected my thoughts on them.)
      I think I burnt out for a while too because I just didn’t feel I had anything meaningful to say about a book, or I was just repeating myself while using words in different order. I do, however, love talking about books and discussing them with people.

      Reply
  9. Brandy W

    Heh, I think I got distracted on the way to leave a post. Let’s see reviews and rating right? Or was it ratings on reviews? Crap.

    Depending on where I’m at I will look at the stars or number or whatever is listed if there is such a thing. Anything 3 or above I may or may not read the review. To mean 3 and above means its status quo or better and there is a chance if I like the blurb I may like the story.

    2 and below I’ll check out what they said and weigh it against my own likes and dislikes.

    I’ve run across reviews where the book was given a low score and when reading the review found out that they loved the book but it had too many typos and it distracted them.

    No one will feel the same way I do about a book so every review and rating is someone’s opinion and I need to be adult and make up my own mind in the end.

    Reply
    1. Limecello Post author

      Braaaaaaandy! It was… do you yourself “grade books to a curve” – whether you review or not.
      But sure – if you look at ratings/grades on reviews too.
      I like your system. I think most people who check reviews have something that works for them. And… oh gosh O_O typos? Finished book? *cringe* I… :X Hm.
      Heh. Starting to seem like everyone hates reviews!

      Reply
  10. Angie T

    Lime, I have been reading romance so long that I have to check my auto-buys to make sure the ‘new release’ is not a re-issue! ( My pet peeve, btw!)
    I wish I had logged all the books I have read over the years!
    I used to read the Harlequin Presents, but the first really hot romance I evr read was Sweet Savage Love! Now, a hero like Steve would have had his ass kicked by the heroine! πŸ˜‰

    Reply
    1. Limecello Post author

      Angie – Ohhh yes – the re-issue disguised as a “new release” is a dirty trick. I hate that.
      I’m jealous of the people who have every book they’ve read logged. I’m barely keeping up with it for the books I’ve read this year… and previously I even tried to limit it to books I owned but… that list became quickly outdated as well.

      But focusing on reading is good, right? πŸ˜‰ Heh – I think a number of the heroes in earlier romances would have their asses kicked and be quite surprised by the “modern day” heroine – and thank goodness for it!

      Reply

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