I used to spend ages pondering what star rating to give to various things, particularly books, particularly when I felt conspicuous by being a published writer whose platform was therefore a bit weightier to some people’s minds. I also thought about being on the receiving end of other people’s ratings and what that felt like.
For ages I thought that the star rating represented my total value of the book – artistically. Not how much I personally enjoyed it and the experience it provided, but how good it was at what it was trying to be. That did suppose I can tell what it was trying to be. You can usually tell, but not always. I worried about getting it wrong. I worried that I wouldn’t be smart enough or kind enough or wise enough or whatever enough and that I might unwittingly slight some great work through my stupidity (this has happened).
Usually I just put up the stars that I feel like putting up though that varies by the mood I’m in. Horrid story but very true and revealing? Good mood: ah, yes, wisdom and human truth – 5 stars. Bad mood: fuck you and the horse you rode in on, story, you’ve added some extra blight to my day I could have done without – 2 stars. But that felt so unfair.
This sometimes left me in a situation where books were successful in their own right; well-made, nicely written, suited to their What It Says On The Tin cover, a good product, a job well done BUT I still didn’t like them. Usually when this happens it’s because the story says something indirectly through its premise and conclusion which I don’t agree with, or maybe find actively horrible. Sometimes it’s because even though I do agree I still found the experience of reading it fairly horrible for reasons of content and wish I hadn’t read it.
A horrible experience can still be valuable, perhaps very much so, but it’s not one that makes you leap for the joy of revelation. How can you set the value of something grim-but-great against something joyous-and-great?They are not similar experiences at all. Is it even ethical to count the grim and the joy? On the other hand how NOT to count them since they underpin the entire experience-thing in the first place? Given all these factors, I couldn’t figure out how to weight them to just a row of stars. It bothered me so much I gave up reviewing online, or even remarking, for ages.
So then I decided I had to revise my systems and regain some sanity. From here on in my star ratings would be some in-the-moment conglomeration of everything that had any bearing on the thing. To get over the unfairness aspect I would become even more subjectively discerning and only post four or five stars onto new book reviews – because being liked and appreciated never hurts. Three stars and under – I just don’t post those at all because I don’t think anyone benefits, unless I think that it’s warranted to actively warn someone off a book in the way I’d warn them off a dodgy toaster, known for randomly setting houses on fire. So far this has never happened. Well once, but that was so traumatic that I’ve not done it again.
As people have noted, I do tend to overthink things. But since I started my new system I have not had any more anxiety or overthinking about star ratings and reviews in general. It also works well in the other direction. I don’t bother with three-star-and-under reviews of my work – they’re for other readers to consider anyway. I did what I could when I wrote my stories and if people didn’t like them there’s nothing I can do about it so why bother?
That’s two massive anxiety-attack-producing phenomena dealt with by one, big, star-shaped rock. Winning! I give that five stars.