Thursday, February 17, 2011

Context Is Everything

I have been thinking about grading scales lately.

About how some folks consider a 3-star rating "good" (which, technically, it is on Goodreads) and some folks (authors) who receive a 3 star rating want to fling their bodies off a bridge.

I tend to be an easy grader. If I like a book, I give it 4 or 5 stars. No fudging around. It's good, and I'm recommending it. According to my scale....

A= 5 stars
B= 4 stars
C= 3 stars
D= 2 stars
F= 1 star

3 stars is mediocre, not a great book. That's a C rating for me.

This is NOT the scale used at Goodreads, where....

1 star= didn't like it
2 stars= it was OK
3 stars= liked it
4 stars= really like it
5 stars= it was amazing

How the hell did Goodreads come up with this scale? I have no idea. No where else is an average rating considered "good"...which is the equivalent of "liked it" in my opinion.

Anyhow, back to the topic at hand. Which is context. I do not grade a book by a debut author in the same way that I grade a book by Nora Roberts. I also do not grade a quickie erotica book in the same way I grade a full-length historical. Why?

Consider this analogy. You're a food critic. One day you go to a diner, the next to a chi-chi French gourmet restaurant. You have to grade the food. Well, food is food, right? Your grading scale should be based on taste. The same criteria apply to both places.

Bull pucky.

This makes no logical sense. A diner serves greasy, fattening comfort food. Large quantities of it. A French gourmet restaurant serves tiny portions of artistically arranged food, using more unusual and sophisticated ingredients. Food is not food. Your expectations at the French restaurant are completely different than at the diner. If the French restaurant served you a big ass bowl of macaroni and cheese, they would probably get a 1-star rating (whereas that same food could earn the diner a 5 star rating if the mac was tasty!). Likewise, if a diner served 3 sprigs of arugula on a plate you would be outraged and demand your money back.

Context is everything.

A quickie erotica should be sexy and satisfying. I'm not looking for in-depth character development in a 20 page story. But I expect the sex scenes to be entertaining and not repetitive. A full-length historical by Eloisa James has a different set of expectations. I am looking for fully formed, flawed characters, a satisfying storyline, luscious sex scenes, and an intense and emotional romance. A debut author with a small publisher? Can she write, is the story cohesive, satisfying, entertaining? I don't expect a contemporary to have the same world-building details as a sci fi romance, or a fantasy/UF to have the same level of spice as an erotica. Each sub-genre has its own set of expectations.

Context is everything.

So, my 5-star rating for a debut author doesn't necessarily mean the same thing as a 5-star rating for Julia Quinn. Nor should it. I don't expect a newbie writer to have the same level of mastery of fiction-writing as Julia Quinn.

Some folks will disagree with me (oh, the horror!)....but this is my not-so-humble opinion about reviewing.

Luckily for me, I like macaroni and cheese, and arugula salad. Each has its merits and drawbacks, but I can appreciate both when they are done well.

Appreciating the vast diversity of the romance genre,