Thursday, September 10, 2009

Ranking: In or Out

After my latest “Reviewer Time” installment, which I thought to be pretty ditzy and energetic, I saw quite a reaction from several well known bloggers, including James from “Speculative Horizons”, Larry from “OF Blog of the Fallen”, Joe Sherry from “Adventures in Reading” and the list goes on. Although it’s like a minor shit storm or better yet one of those minor uproars in the vein of “Oh, really?” I felt like it makes a great discussion’s topic: ranking and all that jazz.

This all had to do with my interviewee, Paul Stotts’ statement about numeral ranking, its importance and what the lack of which speaks about reviewers. I didn’t feel slighted by Paul’s use of cowardice in regards to reviewers, who didn’t use ranking systems, because I’m quite uncertain on a steady formula for my reviews per se and both feature numeral ranking and omit it. Around 90% of my reviews are without ranking, because in the beginning, when I did employ ranking I felt very uncomfortable with it and that got me in one sticky situation that convinced me not bother. However as of recently I have encountered books that leave me in a baffled and usually torn state, where I can’t decide at all whether I enjoy a novel or not and this hesitation is reflected. In this case I use ranking as a tool to cement, where I lean to: like it or dislike it. All this to avoid the reader drowning in a sea of vague as one commenter has mentioned over at Paul’s “Blood of the Muse”.

This is my personal relationship with ranking, which is an elusive thing. I get the idea of why ranking exists and whom it serves. When one’s time is diminished to quick skimming through the Internet, it’s natural that a criteria for screening through products need to arise, so that the customer gets exactly what he wants: the 5 shiny stars given by third parties. When I am not in the position to read longer reviews on books I’d sure like to know through the rating system if the reviewer enjoyed the book. However applying a rating system myself is tricky, since my tastes and I have not yet set a judging criteria that can be held as consistent for all reviews. I happen to use ranking as of recently to clarify vague points, but are not the highlight or more essential part. Personally I like to end my reviews with a verbal ranking I refer to as The Verdict, which acts as a summarization that omits the need for a ranking system. This doesn’t mean however that I am against ranking. When I trust the reviewer delivering the posts I can easily judge whether a book is for me or not.

A well penned review will get the point across. This is what I know from countless non-ranked examples on other blogs as well as mine. A review that nears 1’000 words is fully capable of revealing the reviewer’s opinion. This however doesn’t mean that a review can’t feature a ranking feature, if that is the person’s preference.

My position on this isn’t exactly the firmest. As usual I run from one camp to the other, because I have this pesky habit of putting myself in both side’s shoes and weighing both arguments as somewhat valid for me. It’s a reviewer’s prerogative to choose whether or not to assign a numeral score at the end of a review or not. As seen from the many bloggers in the SF&F field practices vary, but I am curious to what readers prefer and other reviewers that haven’t responded with a post think as well.

With Ranking or off with its head?


T.D. Newton said...

I think it's up to the discretion of the reviewer. There's no "right way" in my opinion, but some people communicate/understand better with a simple number than with a paragraph explanation. It's all arbitrary, right?

Cindy said...

I think it depends on the reviewer and what they are comfortable with. But in my opinion really if you spend all that time writing up a review you're going to narrow it down to a number that says everything you said in the paragraph?

I just don't understand it, I never will. I'm not saying it's wrong to use numbers I just don't get it. I don't pay attention to numbers on reviews, and I will never use number on my reviews. It's all personal choice.

But like many people said a number system can be wishy washy, say you gave a book a 7.6 what does the .6 stand for? Why wasn't it a 7 or an 8 or a 7.5? To find out I have to read the review which then tells me why so really the point of the number was sorta mute.

Alisanne said...

For the most part I dislike the use of a number rating. If a reveiewer wants to use numbers a 1 - 5 should do it, other wise I feel there needs to be a key which defindes a 3 for example.

Although I do find that if a reviewer waffles it is really helpful to have a simple love it, like it, hated it.

RobB said...

Spot on TD.

cj said...

Harry -

I don't use a point/number system on my reviews. Here's my reason as to why - numbers are completely redundant in m opinion, almost to the point of being meaningless. You set up a ratings system and say 5 means wow, spectacular, I loved it and 1 means don't bother... based on what? Well, on what you say in the review, of course. I'd much rather read a well-written review than rely on a numbers system. I always end my review with a recommendation where I try to suggest the right audience for the book or the right conditions for it. "If you like vampires and werewolves, give this one a try" or "If you're looking for a good, easy read at the beach this one's perfect"... that seems better than 4/5. A t least to me.


Harry Markov: daydream said...

And the people have spoken. Thank you for answering the question. It is a matter of personal choice as you have pointed out and I also share the sentiment that it's not so much of value, when the review is well written. :)

Thanks for the replies everybody.

Hagelrat said...

i don't read number rankings, i flick through reviews and stop to read the ones i think will be interesting to me. I am interesting in why someone didn't like a book because if they happen to hate werewolves then I might still like the book.

PeterWilliam said...

I guess I'm back and forth on the whole issue. I wrote a bit about it. I'm not sure ratings are more/less valid, or that they're even relevant, yet I do so all the same.

Btw, official apology going forth, I didn't know much about your site before I started interviewing some folks. Then, after interviewing Ken (who told me about being interviewed here) told me about it, I felt rather stupid, but already had both feet in the water, so to speak. Besides, your reviews are better anyway. :-)

PeterWilliam said...

Er, your interviews are better anyway. Again, apology for hitting so close to your own original idea.

Harry Markov: daydream said...

Hagel: This is an interesting point and this is why reviews exist. As there are countless books and tropes there are those people that will love one trope and dislike another and rank a book lower based on his preferences,

PeterWilliam: Dude, no worries. At least it's a good enough idea to be undertaken by two blogs at the same time. :)

Oblivion Civilian said...

So I was reading this post, and you quoted my "sea of vague" from Paul's site, so I felt the need to speak up.
As it has been stated, rankings, like everything in life, is relative to each and every one of us. As it has not been stated, numbered rankings do not exist on their own, and are usually a compliment to a (shocker!) written review. The numbered ranking, which oddly is seen by most as cowardice itself, is merely a secondary attempt to clarify the writer's rantings. It allows the reader into the mind of the writer. Where a mere written review could say book 'a' and book 'b' were both great, a score of 91 for 'a' and 87 for 'b' distinguishes the two. From there, the reader can evaluate the extent to which his agreeal with the writer exists.
Unless I am some different sort of beast, we all rank numerically, it's second nature (<--ranked!). We have a archetype (100%, say our ideal of the best movie ever) and then we view all other movies in relation to that archetype. We might not always give them a number, but it is synonomous with the function of a numbered ranking. To dismiss it is dismissing human nature (perhaps my third biggest exaggeration today, behind the size of my wallet and the amount of times I've saved a kitten's life).
But seriously, many of you reviewers do lists of the best books of the year, and how do you come to that conclusion? Is it ordained from the gods, or do you rate them? Hmm...

Harry Markov: daydream said...

@ Oblivion Civilian: Ah, yes, the sea of vague. It was a really good comment that speaks about about the plus sides and necessity of ranking. You did a very well argued statement here as well, which I appreciate immensely. :)

This is why I myself can't state as a judge whether ranking should be applied or not. I am torn between the rational aid that it provides and the subjectivity deriving from each individual as well as the uncomfortable position reviewers can be placed in.

I am in these cases always in the position of Switzerland, but enjoy the benefits of a discussion. You are correct that humanity has been fond of numerical ranking as a measurement of our opinion, which can hardly be compared to another's without an according system.

To address your opinion about us listing year's best books. This happens not so much as a rank list, say #1 is this and that and is better than #2 for these and these reasons. I for one see it as a disorganized group of highlights that have left a mark inone's memory.

Oblivion Civilian said...

How you remain so neutral yet produce such good chocolate is beyond my comprehension.
What I find most interesting about this entire thing is the fervent response. Bloggers seem so passive, but as I am sure Kanye will find out, they are easily riled and more communicable than swine flu.
I would challenge those who rebuke the ranking system to try it once, and see if it doesn't give them even the slightest sense of being more powerful than Casey Kasem. But who am I, really?

Harry Markov: daydream said...

@ Oblivion Civilian: I have no clue how the chocolate gets so good. I think it might be an inate ability, but I like to discuss with the freedom to switch sides for the benefit of understanding the topic or problem.

And of course I agree that people have to try something first before slandering, but I have to say that there are things in life people will know by instinct they won't like. As is the case with "Twilight" with me as an example. I haven't read it, but judging by its blurb and what I like I can tell I won't like it.

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