Unfortunately, I soon became dissatisfied with my system, mostly because the numbers started to bunch up in the 3.5-4.0 range. I typically read books I'm interested in so I don't often loathe books to enough to give them fewer than 2.5 stars. I also was reluctant to give out 4.5 and 5 stars, mostly because as good as a book was, it still wasn't a perfect 5/5. Ignoring the very few outliers, I was more or less working between the 2.5 and 4.5 range.
With such a wide range of subgenres and styles in the genre, I found it increasingly impossible to compare books on a numeric basis. After all, how does a flawlessly executed but pulpy urban fantasy novel compare to a more original concept that had a few flaws? If a YA novel is perfect for teenagers but pathetic for adults, where does that rate? How do you compare Jim Butcher and Michael Chabon, John Scalzi and Neil Gaiman? Good authors all, but for very different reasons.
And don't get me started on the other blogs who had long ago abandoned any sense of logic. For some, a perfect book would garner 8.25 out of 10 but a terrible embarrassment of a novel somehow still managed to pick up 6.5. Some blogs gave away A+ ratings like candy on halloween (but inexplicably reserved A++++ ratings for the really good books); for others, the mere mention of a genre book denotes an absolute masterpiece. Over any extended period of time, numeric systems become more and more distorted to the point where they are essentially meaningless, particularly if you are not a regular reader of the reviewing site. Blegh.
Eventually, I became so frustrated trying to make sense out of these values that I removed numeric rankings from my reviews altogether.
Fast forward to a few weeks ago, when I happened upon a full explanation of the ranking system employed by the Michelin Guide (yes that Michelin), the premiere global ranking system for restaurants. (I happened to be in a two star restaurant at a time. So good....)
The Michelin system is simple and works as follows.
- A restaurant is reviewed and assigned 0, 1, 2, or 3 stars.
- One star indicates "very good cuisine in its category"
- Two-star ranking represents "excellent cuisine, worth a detour,"
- Three stars are awarded to restaurants offering "exceptional cuisine, worth a special journey"
Simple, clean, clear. If I didn't like a book or it wasn't anything special, it gets zero stars. No longer do I need to worry about slotting a mediocre high fantasy above or below a fun, if flawed steampunk adventure.
If a book merits a star, it gets one or more according to the rules outlined below.
A one star review indicates a book that is "a great example of its subgenre and one that is highly recommended for those who enjoy that specific subgenre or are looking to break into the subgenre"
A two star tome denotes a book that is "a standout novel that demonstrates a unique approach or exceptional execution, likely to be one of the year's best and definitely worth reading, regardless of subgenre or preference. Strengths outweigh the weakness by a large margin"
Three stars will be reserved for any book that is "an instant classic in my mind, a soul crushing work of such brilliance that it annihilates any hope of every writing a novel as good, and an absolute must read. Virtually flawless"
To provide a little bit more context, if I were going to fit some recent books into this new rating system, it would probably look something like this
One Star (A lot more here but a few off the top of my head)
Arctic Rising - Tobias Buckell
The Quantum Thief - Hannu Rajaniemi
Leviathan Wakes - James S. A. Corey
Slights - Kaaron Warren
Fuzzy Nation - John Scalzi
The Inheritance Trilogy - N.K. Jemisin
Pandemonium - Daryl Gregory
Moxyland - Lauren Beukes
Changes - Jim Butcher
The City and The City - China Mieville
Bitter Seeds / The Coldest War - Ian Tregillis
Ready Player One - Ernest Cline
The Heroes - Joe Abercrombie
The Time Traveler's Wife - Audrey Niffenegger
Ender's Game - Orson Scott Card
American Gods - Neil Gaiman
The Windup Girl (debatable) - Paolo Bacigalupi
I could see myself giving out 10-15 starred reviews a year (if the books are good enough), 5 or fewer two star reviews, and no more than 2 (probably 0) three star reviews. I'm also tempted to give out YetiStomps for those books which just plain suck but that might just be mean.
Let the new system commence!