Why I don’t rank fellow-writers out of five
Since I’ve had one book published, and have another in train, the idea of sitting in judgement and ‘scoring’ a fellow-writer’s work makes me queasy.
It’s got nothing to do with being annoyed by the limitation of five-star ratings: they are, perforce, reductive, but we’re all accustomed to living in a cultural space that spits out these summary assessments of theatre, films, music, books, aren’t we? Apparently we might not be able to attend for more than a nanosecond. Grab that rating and run.
I read widely, I have my own taste, I’ve got a decent critical platform on which to base my opinions. I’ve served as a judge for the AWGIES, the writers’ guild awards, a couple of times. I’ve been in a reading group for twenty years, at which we have full and very frank discussion about everything we read. So it has nothing to do with having a critical by-pass.
It has everything to do with knowing how hard it is to write a book. Each person who manages to get a book published deserves a hug and a cup of tea and possibly a garland of some sort. It is heroic and painful and difficult and often under-appreciated or taken for granted, a bit in the manner of childbirth. And it’s definitely under-remunerated. In other words, it is hard enough, so to write about the limitations or the less-than-five-star-ness of a fellow-writer’s work in a public forum is something I just do not want to do. Whereas I do occasionally blog book love. So I’m guilty of inconsistent practice; I’m happy to sing praises, but don’t want to dis. With no logical reason really other than some sort of raw, amplified empathy.
Overall, I think a forum like Goodreads is a wonderful idea – a big public conversation about books and reading. What’s not to like? But it still gives me such a WTF smack in the forehead – sit down, strong beverage, shoulder massage, palm frond creating calming breeze – when I go onto Goodreads and see people throwing Lolita, A Visit from the Goon Squad or Pride and Prejudice three stars. Or fewer. Be still, my horrified heart. I do realise there are people in the world who don’t like the same books I do, but to see them out there in their zillions does my head in some days.
The idea of people rating my work is one of the things that didn’t even occur to me before my book was published. Coming across a dud rating is depressing, but I’ve found that if you avert your eyes really quickly, it’s sometimes possible to pretend you didn’t see it. The same strategy can work during scary movies. On the other hand, I love it when people give ‘Six Impossible Things’ a five-star rating. I will nevereverever get sick of finding out that it really hit the spot with an individual reader.
But I won’t be rating other writers out of five. Not while we’re out there in the arena together and they’ve just released the lions.