I may have mentioned here or there that my relationships with review websites are complicated and that I have Many Big Feelings on the subject of Goodreads that have ultimately caused me to change my behaviors on the site substantially. While I would like to, I don’t believe that I can extricate myself from Goodreads entirely—it is a part of my industry, complicating the issue. However, I have eliminated all social aspects of the platform—no reviews and I only give three-star and above ratings. To be entirely honest, I am inclined to give five-star ratings to everything I read.
All of this is meant to say that it is still vital to rate books on Goodreads because regardless of my personal feelings, it is still a massive influence on the book market today. I may not have to remove myself to protest its form and function, but I can withhold participation in social aspects while still supporting authors about whom I care through the aggregate star rating hoopla. Now, this whole rant has been centered around an unyielding instinct that star-ratings have stunted engaged reviewing (which I will get into), so how then should I participate? Well, here we are.
There will be not a single star rating on this blog moving forward. All reviews shall be posted on Sundays in a single post. It is more important to me that reviews, in general, should be absorbed without the banner of a star rating to set the tone because it truly does impact how readers perceive the content of a review. I will hope for a time when people will engage with my thoughts because they want to talk to me about books, even if that is a vision of the Internet that died with the early aughts.
As I said on Twitter recently, putting star ratings on reviews is arbitrary. Take a phenomenal, glowing review, give it 4 stars, and you have placed an unknowable quantifier on what could have simply been a positive review. For instance, do you use star ratings on your own personal emotional reaction scale comparative to other titles you have read? Probably! How is this a useful metric to anyone who comes to this review outside of perhaps a few people who know you and your reading habits well? Alternatively, a critical review with a star rating either is unnecessarily catapulted into the realm of obsoleting the content with a star rating, or the user runs the risk of using the star rating as a replacement for engaging critically at all.
I do not have any published books, so these are all frustrations that I have had with sites like Goodreads for many years, long before I even worked in publishing. Though I would be remiss if I failed to mention that working with authors, for whom I care a great deal, has increased this displeasure. The site itself began from such a loving place but has launched into an Amazon workhorse of buying power. Aggregate star ratings—these arbitrary things!—can impact the material success of an author! With very little oversight or monitoring of abusive reviews/accounts! At the hands of the largest corporate entity to ever exist! That changed the landscape of publishing altogether!
I genuinely love reading reviews from other people in the book community. I love thoughtfully engaged book lovers. I love all of the magical people on the Internet who adore reading and reaching out into the void, searching for connection. I simply think the tools that we have are a disservice to us, readers and authors.
I also acknowledge that I could be entirely wrong and that I should just take my cranky butt over to my corner and read my books alone in my cantankerousness. But it is only because I care that I complain. This is why I am so excited to see platforms like The StoryGraph; it feels as though I can participate in a website that has not prioritized reader-generated content, even if star ratings are still present. It matters that an aggregate star rating is not the first thing you see when encountering a book—or even the second, third, fourth, or fifth thing. I hope that the site in general encourages more thoughtful engagement with books by centering its mission to help readers find books to read through their unique search functions.
I worry that the general thrust of social engagement on the Internet traps us in some of these not-so-positive patterns. Community, dissemination of knowledge, communication skills, and emotional reward structures have become skewed in a distinct way. However, conversations and critical engagement in this space are growing, and, simply put, I believe in book people. I am so embarrassingly earnest in all of this, but I suppose it means something to care. Hopefully, this and all of my future posts find you well, dear reader. And I hope that we can all find a way to continue to engage with each other and with literature in this ever-fluctuating landscape we call publishing.