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Topic: Reviews

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Subject: Reviews
Date Posted: 7/2/2009 7:04 PM ET
Member Since: 5/17/2009
Posts: 64
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I think this may have been covered in another thread, and if it has, please forgive me. But I think this is important enough to hash out again.

1. "Good book" is not a review...but it shouldn't give away every plot point either (or any for that matter). It's not just here but also at Amazon where this can be a problem. For instance, if I find a book here that I may want, I often go to amazon to read the reviews. However, the other day I went there to look at reviews for S. King's "The Long Walk" and some @$#% hole, in his review, said blank is the one that lives. What the heck kind of review is that?? I could have dug his eyes out with a dull great fruit spoon. (I try to get a good feel for a book by reading a couple of 5 star rewiews and a few 2 or 3 star reviews. Needless to say, this was one of the latter.)

2. Our star rating system; am I the only one that gives carefully thought about star ratings, or are there really that many 4 star books out there? Personally, I've only read maybe 3 or 4 books in my life that should get 5 stars, with what I consider a "good book" getting 3 or 3.5 stars.

3. Who writes this stuff? The other day I was browsing and saw a sequel to the book I'm reading. Looked at the discription and just about ruined the ending of the book I'm currently reading. Look at it and tell me if you think it went too far. It was for "The Gripping Hand". I had to stop reading it before I read who died in this book. Also, the discription was clearly taken from the back of the book, which is often a good thing.

This last one is kin to a phenomina (sic?) that happens around this time of year: a tv "special" about a summer blockbuster. Happened in '99 when SW Episode 1 was coming out and Fox had a SW tv "special" where they gave away the ending of the movie( "After Darth Maul kills Qui Gon Ginn...."). What the-- Really?? Darn near ruined the whole experience for me. Also when the new Star Trek movie came out this year, there was a tv "special" that I was watching and had to turn because when the show went to commercial, there were these little trivia questions that would come up testing you knowlege of a movie no one has even seen yet...Huh?? I had to turn it to keep from just raping the fun right out of it for me. You might as well call up your well meaning but slightly brain damaged friend the day after a movie premieres and ask him how it was.  "John dies in the end." And here I was saved from the hastle of having to drive all the way to the movie theater and spending $7.00 on a movie I've only been waiting two and a half years waiting to see. Gee, thanks.

Last Edited on: 7/2/09 10:25 PM ET - Total times edited: 1
Subject: Re: Four Star Ratings
Date Posted: 7/2/2009 10:20 PM ET
Member Since: 4/18/2009
Posts: 1,376
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I think part of the reason there are so many four star ratings is because of the self-selecting nature, one, of reading in general, and two, of the effort necessary to review a book.

I know that (especially when money is tight) I am pretty picky about what books I decide I want to buy (or even order here on PBS) so unless I've been steered wrong by something, it's rare that a book I pick out for myself will get less than 4 stars. I just don't bother to buy it if it looks too iffy. I assume I am not alone in this. So if everyone read every book, the ratings would be lower, but because most people select books they have pretty strong reason to think they will like, the reviews skew higher.

Also -- and here I may be a little farther from the norm, but I don't think I'm a total outlier -- because it takes a fair amount of thought to review a book, I tend not to review books unless I feel strongly one way or another. Obviously, this means I have reviewed a moderate percentage of 1-star books, because I simply hated them so much that I had to vent, but beyond that I review far more of my "absolutely loved" or "loved significant portions of but was bothered by this and this" books than my "eh" books, which I would give 2 or 3 stars to.

Finally, it may also be the fact that (at least in America) we are trained to grade things, not on a bell curve, but in some kind of skewed system where a B or C grade (corresponding to 4 and 3 stars) is the bottom half of the class and you have to really, really suck to get a D or F (2 or 1 stars). I try to reserve my 5 star ratings to books that I really think are brilliant, but I find myself grading authors I love higher than they perhaps warrant simply because I love their other novels -- for instance, when I went in to rate all Lois McMaster Bujold's Vorkosigan books, I didn't give a single one less than four stars because the series overall would get 5 stars from me, and that didn't fit, in my mind, with a 3-star rating for any of the books. But I know that if I had encountered, say, Cetaganda first of all the Vorkosigan books, it would only have gotten 3 or 3 1/2 stars from me because while the world-building is fascinating, I am driven by characters and Miles' love story in this book is really lame.

Paul H. (PaulH) - ,
Subject: Star Ratings
Date Posted: 7/4/2009 9:59 PM ET
Member Since: 6/27/2008
Posts: 146
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I agree with Phoenix's reasoning on the high ratings... when deciding what book to get next, I'm most likely going to pick the one that appeals the most to me, so would most likely earn a higher rating.  Contrast that with movies, where I'd be more willing to take a risk on an iffy film, since a movie will only take a couple hours compared to a book that might take a few days (depending on the length).  Not to mention books require thought and I'll take greater care into choosing something that will be in line with my personal preferences and stimulate the old gray matter.  (Most) movies don't require much brain activity at all, even a lot of my all time favorites that I re-watch periodically.

I do try to skew my ratings to the center (much like the aforementioned bell curve).  I typically define my stars as:

5 = Must buy a new copy of this book for my permanent collection!
4 = Keep my used copy, this book is worth reading again someday.
3 = Glad I read it, but will probably never pick it up again.  These end up on my PBS bookshelf.
2 = Why did I read this?  Get rid of it quick!
1 = Couldn't even finish it.  I don't condone ever burning any books, but if I did this would be at the top of my list!

Last Edited on: 7/4/09 10:03 PM ET - Total times edited: 1
Matt C. (mattc) - ,
Date Posted: 7/5/2009 1:13 PM ET
Member Since: 8/13/2008
Posts: 3,849
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Heh.  I like some of your points.  I personally hate the star system, and don't put a lot of weight on it.  Mine would be more like this:

5 Stars - perhaps one of my top 10 favorites all time.

4 stars - a book that really impressed me.  Maybe a few a year.

3 stars - I liked it enough to finish it, and probably read sequels if it's a series.

2 stars - Gave it a shot, but it sucked and I gave up on it.

1 Star - I probably never opened it because I knew it would suck.  If by chance I did, the author is now on my infamous "Black List."


I'd have to say 3.5 is the most common rating I give a book on this site.  Life is short, so I generally will not finish a book I don't like.

Date Posted: 7/5/2009 1:29 PM ET
Member Since: 4/18/2009
Posts: 1,376
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Hmmm. . . now I have to think of a real break-down for my star ratings. I suspect it would go something like this:


5 stars: Loved desperately, re-read often, and I think I will not be alone in feeling this way. (Meaning I think there is objective worth to the writing and storytelling; I won't give this to a book that I have incredibly strong sentimental attachment to which as an adult I find unsatisfying.)


4 1/2 stars: Loved desperately, re-read often, but somehow just a little flawed. Either I have strong sentimental attachment but am a little dubious as to the book's true quality, or when I finished I wished that just this one minor detail was different.


4 stars: Books by authors I love that are not quite as strong as some others; books that I have strong sentimental attachment to but which really don't stand up to my adult tastes (like Anne McCaffrey); books that I found really impressive but somehow didn't make me swoon over them.


3 1/2 stars: Books that are really flawed, usually technically. These tend to be books that have only two of my three main criteria: strong characters, interesting story, good writing.


3 stars: Crappy books by authors I love dominate this rating level. If an author starts writing too much that goes here, he/she starts to lose credibility with me and I will stop buying the books in hardcover and question buying them at all.


2 1/2 stars: This is my purely neutral place. I give this rating to books that I read as part of a series because I was a completist but which I didn't actually enjoy. After a couple of 2 1/2 star books I tend to give up on the author entirely and definitely on the series; this rating is why I gave up on Xanth after 7-8 novels, R.A. Salvatore's Drizzt novels after 6-7, etc.


2 stars and 1 1/2 stars: I actually rarely give these rating out; if the book deserved less than 2 1/2 stars it tends to get 1/2 or 1 star because I absolutely hated it. But I realize now that I'm being a little unfair; sometimes my emotional response is strong enough that I hate the book even though it is objectively fairly well-written. Maybe that's the book I should reserve this rating for.


1 star and 1/2 star: Books that I posted here the instant I finished them. Sometimes these are books that I had some hopes for which were dashed; sometimes these are books I forced myself to read because they were gifts; these are never books I pick up myself in book stores because, as I said above, I tend to be quite picky in bookstores to save money. However, now that I write this, there was actually one book that I gave 1/2 a star to that I bought for myself: Secret Atlas by Michael Stackpole. I bought it because the first chapter was brilliant (I read it in the store) and I liked the conceit; when I got home and started reading I found that the second chapter was total garbage; the rest of the novel was written middling well, with strong characters, then at the end Stackpole totally ruined things for me with his treatment of the strong female lead character.

Date Posted: 9/16/2009 2:15 PM ET
Member Since: 6/21/2008
Posts: 6,567
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 I can appreciate what is being said here.  I have two book review systems:

the first is for the Romance genre and lots of those books can be 4's because anyone reading that genre on a regular basis will like the book.  It is a worthwhile Romance book read.  Could even be read twice.  Will probably be read again if nothing else to read in a couple years.  But as we all know, there is NO END to books written in this genre and it is pretty formulaic so if you like one or two, you are bound to like a thousand of them.

My star ratings for other genre of books is much more like the ones you all have written. 

The book has to be a socks knocked off good book to get a 5.  Can't put it down thought provoking or moving in some way.

A 4 was a great read and had some thought provoking action or interactions, and most important, it had a good ending. 

3 to 3.5 are the most common and were worth the time to read but get posted immediately.  There is something flawed about the book and, therefore, did not move me in some important way.  Badly edited books are always 3's.  Books with crappy endings, but otherwise well developed, get this rating.

2's are finished but won't read another by the same author again.  Just not a writer that speaks to me and story not thought provoking. 

1's are books I put down after 30 to 50 pages and didn't finish.

It seems to me that lots of books get the 3-4 star rating because there is some concern about never getting any requests for them.  We would all have a bookshelf full of books that never get requested.  That is certainly my guess as to why 95% of PBS books are 4 star.

Date Posted: 9/17/2009 3:09 AM ET
Member Since: 7/5/2007
Posts: 1,157
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Well, I just posted several books that I rated 1 star, and they were instantly placed on wish-list-hold, and they all got actually requested and mailed within a couple days, so I'm not going to worry too much that my ratings will prevent my books from getting requested.

Personally I know that my star ratings are skewed higher than they should be if I was reading random books, but that's because I'm not reading random books, I'm pretty good at selecting books I'll like. If I mostly read books I know I'm going to like, then that implies that I mostly will like them, so I mostly will give them above average ratings. 

I know I have a pretty solid idea of how I rate books, based on my reaction to them:

  • 5 stars: I felt that this book perfectly exemplified its genre and content, and was written as well as it could possibly have been, and I enjoyed it immensely. 
  • 4.5 stars: Can't decide if it should be 4 or 5. (Assume the same for all n.5 ratings from me.)
  • 4 stars: I really, really liked this book, although I know it's not perfect in every way. Perhaps it made some scientific errors, or a character did something too stupid to fit with their personality as expressed in the rest of the book, etc.
  • 3 stars: It was nice. I'm not in love with it. I might read it again someday if I was bored and had nothing else to do and had recently re-read a bunch of more favorite books.
  • 2 stars: I disliked it. I finished it, but in the end I felt it was a waste of my time.
  • 1 star: I quite disliked it and never want to see it again. 

I really would like for there to be an additional potential rating, which I'll call "warning, do not read." There are a few books I've encountered in my life which were for one reason or another so upsetting or so intensely stupid or so packed with lies that I am unwilling to even pass them on to someone else who wants them, because I feel that by doing so I would in fact be contributing to harming that person. I have thrown out a few books because of this. If I encountered one today, I suppose I would put it in the fireplace. But they're pretty rare.

Another factor about ratings and reviews I've noticed relates particularly to Amazon, where you can mark a review as having been helpful or unhelpful. I notice that when I give a negative review to some sort of consumer product like a coffee pot or a toaster, I get a lot of "helpful" ratings on my review. When I give a negative review to a media product like a movie or a book, I get a huge percentage of "unhelpful" ratings on my review. I think people come along and mark ratings "unhelpful" when the truth is that they really mean "disagrees with me so must be punished".

A trick I've learned about using ratings is to look for the negative reviews and see if they make sense. When the negative reviews say sensible things and seem to understand what the product is supposed to do and state in comprehensible language why the product fails to achieve its purpose, it's probably something I don't want. When the product is actually good, the negative reviews can usually be summarized as "I had this totally unrealistic expectation of what the product was supposed to be like based on my complete failure to read anything about it before purchasing, and it failed to defy gravity or make the moon change color, and therefore it's bad and nobody should buy one." So, when the negative reviews seem suspiciously stupid, I generally find the product is probably fairly good.