Monday, October 28, 2013

Defining "average"

If there's one thing I don't shy away from, it's my belief in the negative review. I strongly believe that negative reviews are pivotal for criticism, and that without them we would never be able to do the proper filtering of "good" versus "bad". This is nothing new. But something that ties into this is the less-obvious realms of everything in between amazing and terrible. We get a lot in the murky regions of the ordinary, the passe, the mediocre, the average and the moderately good. Or, at least, we should.

For me, years and years of a critique-minded approach to art has "tainted" me. I can no longer read books, watch movies, listen to music, watch shows, eat food, or take in any sort of art without approaching it from a very specific, critical perspective. This has taken some of the joy out of my art appreciation, no doubt, but it also means that when I find something that moves me... it really moves me. My average is a solid five out of ten, and though I once bemoaned the fact that not all of the books I was reading were amazing, I've grown to appreciate the fact that though I could select only books that will most likely be amazing, I'd be missing out on a lot of the in between gray. And I think we learn most about literature in that unclear region where we try to distinguish between books of worth, books we like, and books that other people will like.

The truth is, I'm not sure I really believe that everything can be good. What does it mean if your average is an eight? If something you call "good" isn't worth recommending? When I see a 4.5/5 rating from a reviewer who never gives anything below a 3.5, it's not the same as seeing a 4.5 from someone who frequently gives ratings under 2. Sure, this ties into a lot of the inconsistencies with star ratings (even across similar platforms!), but there's also a clear matter of trust here. It's hard to trust someone who consistently glosses over their own quiet dislike of something without at the very least addressing it.

This isn't a real post. It shouldn't be viewed as one. This is a mishmash of thoughts on a subject that has been bothering me for over five years. I'm curious to know what others think about this and where their "average" falls, if it even exists.

4 comments:

  1. I hate this subject, because it causes so much angst for me. Mostly I have problems with the top of the scale. For example, if I have a wonderful reading experience, even if the book isn't a "classic" how do I rate it? Or what if it is a "classic" but I was bored? Does that make it NOT a great book? As for average, I have two scores - average not so great is 3/5 and average I liked is 3.5/5. Not a very scientific system!

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  2. I don't think I'm typical at all, but I enjoy books that I am conscious are not "good" in the way other things I read are. I love outdated topical satire. I sometimes seek out what George Orwell calls "Good bad books." Dipping into the other end of the pool makes the good stuff better when I come back to it.

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  3. Whether you call it real or not, it's a very good one. Average reviews are so difficult to write, it's all too easy to gush or say what you disliked, but other than shrugging your shoulders, what's the fair way to review an average book? I'm like you in viewing everything critically. My theatre studies has lead to me being someone who's best to watch a film by themselves, but as you've said, when something is powerful, it is, incredibly - and I find that I can articulate why a lot better than I might have otherwise. I agree about trust, too. A high rating amongst a constant stream of high ratings is forgettable.

    My average is 3.5. 3.5 is the rating a book gets if it's not bad but not particularly good. I guess it should be 3, but 3 *looks* worse in writing than it does in stars. Basically I'm the same as rhapsodyinbooks in this.

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  4. I fret terribly about what ratings to give books. I think I should reconsider the entire system I've got going on -- I do use my ratings tags, but mainly just when I am trying to buy presents for people and I can't remember what books I've enjoyed a lot recently. I feel like that isn't a sufficient reason for carrying on with 1-5 star ratings. :p

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