On August 27, 2013, I created a Goodreads account. Then I did nothing with it. This morning, I received notifications asking me to sign up for the 2015, 2016 and 2017 reading challenges. (I assume I lost them.) Naturally, I addressed the 4-month old notification to sign up for the 2018 reading challenge, listing 20 books. (More than Book a Month, but not quite Book a Week.) I then attempted to do a rating blitz, essentially a huge number of ratings all in one go in order to establish that yes, I have read a lot of books.
One of the benefits of RateYourMusic is exactly what it says on the tin: rating music. Community aside, what you're there to do is enter numerical ratings into a gigantic database that covers, hypothetically, all recorded sound. Realistically, the community focuses on classic rock, hip hop, indie rock and metal. Many popular albums have thousands of ratings, all of which aggregate into an overall rating. That overall rating isn't always accurate, but usually, it gives you an idea of how critically acclaimed an album is.
Recorded sound is so recent, though, and popular music that we think of as popular is even more recent. My grandfather (1918-2011) owned 78s. The album as we know it is a creature of the '60s and beyond.
Books go back a long way.
As soon as I started rating books, I realized:
- How do I compare fiction with non-fiction? When do I say that a science fiction novel is better than a book about science? How can I ever know that? Rating fiction versus non-fiction is the equivalent of rating albums versus university lectures.
- How do I compare different eras? Which Shakespeare plays are, or are not, better than last week's New York Times #1 Bestseller?
- How do I rate books I read as a child, teenager or young adult? Are my memories of, say, hating The Indian in the Cupboard back in 1994 even relevant to how I might view it now? (No, I will not be reading that book for this blog.)
- So many books have such high ratings on Goodreads. I presume this is because anyone willing to invest the hours and hours necessary to finish a book will probably like it, whereas spending 45 minutes listening to an album while cleaning the kitchen isn't much of a sacrifice. When seemingly every fantasy novel has a 4+ rating, and the only negative ratings are on books people had to read for grade-school novel studies... what's the point?
Books just can't be rated like that.
Thankfully, my "Ease of Reading/Educational Content" system on here avoids having to figure out books' merits. Instead, it seeks to answer the age-old question: is the author doing what he or she intended to do? I'm also willing to bend the definitions of "ease" and "education", but only sometimes.