Reviewing Pains


One of the hardest parts of reviewing books (both privately, and in a public forum) is in justifying one rating against another. In my own rating system, a colour-coded spreadsheet which my wife rightly points out is somewhat over the top, I allow for half-ratings (I readily admit this is something of a cop-out, as it allows me to pile on the 4.5 ratings while preserving five star ratings for the best of the best. Should I start allowing for quarter stars, or is that going too far?), which helps but doesn’t solve this problem.

For example, I recently gave both Robert Greene’s Mastery and Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking a 4.5. Do I personally believe both books to be equal in status? No. For me, Mastery is the superior book (no offence Joan), but when I rate books I’m rating them against similar books in their field, as well as against other titles by the same author. This means that Mastery was held to a higher standard than The Year of Magical Thinking, in deference to Greene’s previous books, which I believe to be superior works of his.


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I’m sure this is a wholly unfair strategy, but it works for me. ∎


Benjamin Spall is the co-author of My Morning Routine (Portfolio/Penguin). He has written for outlets including the New York Times, New York Observer, Quartz, Entrepreneur, Business Insider, CNBC, and more.


How to Reference this Article

Spall, B. (2017, November 16). Reviewing Pains. Retrieved from https://benjaminspall.com/reviewing-pains/