• Robin Martin
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Now that Amazon has acquired Goodreads, it has really thrown a monkey wrench into the cogs of my rating system.

I’ve always liked how when you hover over the stars on Goodreads, what pops up is a clearly defined rating system. So rather than just assigning an arbitrary number of stars, you can indicate:

3 stars: I liked it.

4 stars: I really liked it.

5 stars: It was amazing.

So for me, most books I read are a solid 3 stars. If I read a self-help book, unless it changes my life immediately, there is no way I’d ever say “It was amazing!”  If I read an entertaining story that doesn’t alter the way I view the world, there is no way I’d ever say, “It was amazing!”

So what has 5 stars on my Goodreads list? The World According to Garp. To Kill a Mockingbird. Othello. These books that inspired me to be a writer, to be a teacher and share my love of literature with others.  What else? More recently, works by Aimee Bender, Haruki Murakami, Peter Grandbois, and Etgar Keret have found their way into who I am as a person and as a writer and reader and consequently earned the “It was amazing!” rating.

I’ve always thought of Goodreads as my personal way of keeping track of the books I read and also an honest way for my clients to see my tastes. Not whether or not I thought the book would or should sell to a mainstream audience, but whether I honestly liked it. There is nothing wrong with a 3 star rating indicating “I liked it.” No writer should ever feel affronted by my liking his/her book.

So now, here comes Amazon. I’ve known for a long time that because of the algorithms that Amazon uses to promote or hide titles from their site, any rating less than a five star given there has major consequences for the visibility of an author’s work. “I like this,” on Amazon, therefore, translated to 5 stars for me. There was nothing on Amazon that created a uniform understanding of what any certain number of stars meant. The blatant commercialism of Amazon somehow made it okay for me to do this for a work that on Goodreads would receive my 3 star “I like this” rating. I’m sure some people might find my thinking here to be ethically faulty, but it’s the way my gears were working at the time I established this “system” for myself, several years ago.

I found out that this system might cause me problems when, after reviewing a professional colleague’s book on Amazon not too long ago (I liked it! It got a 5 star rating there), I assigned it 3 stars on Goodreads. Well, you know this writer contacted me and asked me to change it to 5 stars?! You know, I ignored her request. I also stopped indicating when I read my professional colleagues books on my Goodreads list (but I won’t go back and change old ones)!  The commercialism of the Amazon rating system corrupted my personal system. And now, unless a book by a professional colleague rocks my world, I’m afraid I can’t even share the fact that I enjoyed it. And I likely won’t be posting any of my clients’ self-pubbed books there either. Even if I liked them.

I’m afraid this is even more serious now that Goodreads has been subsumed by Amazon.

I’ve been wanting to get that off my chest.

Really, the only pure unadulterated reviews now are in the independent review magazines, like Rain Taxi and Gently Read Literature. Go there and read them.

If you know of other relevant review sites, please share them with me.

Author: Robin Martin
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