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Gurglings of a Putrid Stream

Thoughts on books and other assorted topics.

See also:  http://goppf.wikidot.com/swstart

My name:  Brian Martin

My last post got me wondering how my ratings stacked up, in terms of their harshness. I'm still in the process of migrating my reviews from Goodreads, but on that site I've rated 63 books. I think of myself as pretty picky, so I was a little surprised to discover that over 70% of my ratings were positive, with "positive" beginning at 3 "I liked it" stars.

5 stars (10 books)
4 stars (11 books)
3 stars (24 books)
2 stars (10 books)
1 star (8 books)

Of course, this count doesn't include books I didn't finish, but I don't always abandon books because they're unreadable, so I think it's a pretty fair representation overall.


But the notion of writing only positive reviews is, to me, insane.  One of the few compensations for having read a bad book is being able to warn others about it.  The idea really only makes sense if the reviewer feels his or her opinion carries no objective value.  Of course, this also makes the review itself valueless, no matter whether it's positive or negative.  Indeed, as interested readers, it's partly our ability to see a reviewer's opinions across the spectrum that allows us to judge the merit of any given review.  If, for example, I find a positive review of The Shining and, by the same author, a glowing review of Rage (both by Stephen King), then -- because I know Rage is truly an awful book -- I'm likely to discount both reviews.  Similarly, a positive review of The Shining is less valuable if it stands alone; that is, if the reviewer hated Rage but was too squeamish to tell us that.  That's like telling us rain is good while we're standing in the middle of a deluge.  NEI -- not enough information.


I can understand the novelist's position; reviews make a difference in sales.  Trouble is, spun out logically, the argument for positive reviews only still makes no practical sense.  The rule, after all, would have to apply to every novelist.  So in this scenario, it would be the lack of a review that would substitute for the negative one.  A competition of three novels would look something like the following example.


With negative reviews:


Novel A - 4 positive, 1 negative

Novel B - 3 positive, 2 negative

Novel C - 4 negative, 1 positive


Without negative reviews:


Novel A - 4

Novel B - 3

Novel C - 1


In either case, Novel C is screwed.