The Mystery of the 5 Star Review: Masterpiece?


mas.ter.piece (noun)

1: a work done with extraordinary skill; especially: a supreme intellectual or artistic achievement


 I was reviewing books before I started writing them, I continue to review books. I try to give them an honest rating, regardless of who the author is. As a member of Good Reads, I get updates. I see what people are currently reading, what they have marked as to-be-read, and what they have rated/reviewed. It pops up in my email, I check it (shamelessly scanning to see if my works are among the bunch), I glance at the ratings, and…I am finding that there are an awful lot of masterpieces in the Good Reads universe.

Let’s say that my favorite novel of all-time is Stephen King’s ‘Salem’s Lot (which it is). Now, let’s say I give this book I consider to be a masterpiece the vaunted 5 Stars.  I have set the bar.

Walter Sobchak: I’m talking about drawing a line in the sand, Dude. Across this line, you DO NOT…

Well, I’m not about to start naming off books, or the reviewers who have rated those books, but I tend to think that maybe not every book I read and enjoy is a sheer work of magnificence. Apparently, even among my Good Read friends, I might be in the minority. I’m seeing stars, lots of them. Am I occasionally guilty of the same crime? Probably, but, hopefully, not to the extent that it tarnishes the great 5 star plateau I have created in my review world. I read a lot of books, and I love a lot of books. Are these loved books as good as ‘Salem’s Lot? No, of course not, but they are up there. We could go on about the great books that are close to that top level, but that’s a slippery slope. I just wanted to point out the maddening amount of good books that are being given top shelf space when, if you put them into perspective, are not worthy. That’s not to say they are not fine pieces of literature, or that you can’t really, really like them, but let’s not cheapen that 5th star.

I have received a few of these knockout visions for my self-published work (a few of them are from my friends–I wish they hadn’t), but I am not blind to the fact that a few of those ratings are from the very type of reviewers I’m talking about–

Trigger happy-top shelvers!

While I appreciate that they enjoyed my work, I am also slightly afraid that people that have read ‘Salem’s Lot will see this and scoff (as they should). If get 3 stars, I feel much better.

We all have authors we love, we all want to show our loyalty and support for those authors, but can we just hold up for a second. Do you really think that each of these works is that brilliant? I don’t know, maybe some readers do. Maybe I’m just sick of feeling like everybody is reading these Mike Tyson knock-out novels. Maybe I’m sick of seeing stars.

So, maybe from here on out, we can come to some kind of agreement on the number of stars we give these works out of said loyalty and support. I am proposing that we tag these really, really good books with 4 stars, and reserve that last beacon of brightness for actual masterpieces. I know, I know, I sound like some crazy asshole, but can we at least put it on the table?



(You’re probably not, but in case you are wondering, my three favorite novels of all-time are ‘Salem’s Lot, The Shining, and A Boy’s Life)

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