Grades, Phooey

Okay, Amazon invites me to review a book I recently purchased. Sure, I enjoyed the book, and appreciated the author’s craft, and would be delighted to help promote it. But first, before I write a word, I’m supposed to grade it, one star to five.

Nuts to that.

I teach writing, and the part of the job that most dismays me is grading.

Writing projects aren’t multiple-choice exams, where one can feel justified in giving a D to a student who answers six out of ten questions wrong. Grading essays and stories, unless what we’re after is robotic attention to spelling, grammar and syntax, calls for a whopping portion of subjectivity.

Any writing teacher, editor, critic or reviewer who claims to be objective, I consider as deluded as a writer who feels no need to revise.

So here I am, stuck on the Amazon rating page.

Not only am I averse to grading stories whether in manuscript or book form, I also am wise to what goes on in book marketing. The book in question, if forced to rate from one to five, I would give a four, because my standard has to be a comparison with my all time favorites. If I used another standard, how would I rank those masterpieces?

The book in question was recently published. The current rating shows only six reviews, all five-star. I will pass no judgment about the sources for those reviews, but I suspect the reviewers may be grading by a different standard than mine.

And I’m not inclined to spoil the perfect record of a fine novel by labeling it a four.

Maybe I’ll return later, when the book has gotten enough reviews so that the average goes down to somewhere at or below the rating for The Brothers Karamazov, Pride and Prejudice, or The Big Sleep, all of them graded around 4.5.

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