Thursday, December 12, 2013

Unquantifiable

I don't give numbered ratings to books, and one reason is that I'm not sure how I would rate them anyway. There are a few books that I know I would give 5 stars to, if I did rate them, but mostly I just can't decide. My internal discussion would go like this: "Wow, that was good ... better than average. But not as good as my ultra-favorite books. But it's better than four stars ... four and a half? Maybe?" Or, "Well, that was okay. Nothing special, but okay. But if I were to give it two stars, that would sound as if I liked it less than I actually did." Or, "That was really well-written and I admire what the author did, but I just didn't love it. It didn't hit me at the gut level." Or, "This book really spoke to me, though I'm not sure how universal its appeal would be." How could I put a number on those reactions?

And then there is the matter of how our feelings about books change over time. I struggled through Babbitt as a high-schooler, but I've reread it voluntarily as an adult, and like it much better now. Some books I started out liking, but have grown to love upon subsequent rereads.

And then there are the books that lose something upon rereading. The main character who seemed so romantic is just annoying now. The fantasy world that once fascinated has become a bit of a yawn. Previously unnoticed racist subtext oozes to the surface.

We change, and the world around us changes, so there's no wonder our feelings about books change. If I did rate books, they would probably not carry a single number, but a graph of numbers, charting my rising and falling assessment over time.

It brings home to me like nothing else how subjective ratings can be, how personal our responses to books are sometimes.

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