March 27, 2018

How I Became a Rating Robber | Chasing the Nonexistent Golden Standard

I like to think of myself as a fair and honest person. I never cheat on tests. I never tell myself that I will only watch one episode of Netflix because I know it would end up being a lie. I always replace the roll of toilet paper instead of leaving an empty tube for the next unfortunate soul who enters the bathroom.

However, it has come to my attention that I may be the worst criminal of them all--a rating robber.

First, please let me explain myself before making any judgement. I like to pride myself on being well-read throughout a variety of genres and I try to review most genres on my blog. However, that does not mean that I am free of bias when reviewing different books.

The overwhelming task of reviewing and recommending books has finally gotten to my head and I have taken the easy way out--comparing every book to a book on the golden pedestal.

Instead of necessarily judging books on their own merit, I used to compare them with my favorite books (like TFIOS, Harry Potter, Percy Jackson, and other popular, mainstream books).

For example, I read The Cuckoo's Calling by Robert Galbraith (aka J.K. Rowling) and I absolutely hated it. I hated the absence of magic. I hated the setting in the real world. I hated the older characters who had grown-up issues. Basically, I hated it for not being Harry Potter.

Now that I have had time to reflect and put myself in book blogger time-out, I realize that I cannot judge J.K. Rowling's new books for not being Harry Potter because they are not meant to be Harry Potter. (In fact, that is why she made another pen name in the first place, but my prejudices were too smart to fall into that trap.) I cannot hate one book for not being another book.

I thought that there was one golden standard, one way of writing that all other books had to live up to. And I was wrong. 

Even though this may seem like the most obvious thing, the idea of holding books to unreachable standards is common in the publishing industry. Over the years, many books have been advertised as "the next Harry Potter" or "the next Hunger Games." While tempting, these advertisement create the false illusion that a book can be the same as another. It is an insult to say that the best thing about a book is that it is like another book. 

This approach denies the fact that books are individual. Books are not copies of each other, but separate works of art in their own right. While there is merit to comparing and contrasting books, a story should also be judged individually.

Due to my worshiping of books on a golden pedestal, I tend to steal from the poor, underrated books in order to lavish even more praise on the hyped books already rich in fans. 

I had a core group of books that I compared every book to and if they did not match up, I would knock off a star or two for not meeting my preconceived notions of what makes a "great book."

However, there is not one perfect standard for a book. For instance, even though the The Fault in Our Stars in one of my favorite books, I cannot hate another book for being different from John Green's writing. Even though I love his introspective writing style and emotionally charged characters, there are ways to write a good story without those things.

As always, the job of the reader is extremely difficult. We have thousands of worlds and characters occupying our head without a clear way to categorize them. It can be tempting to hold every book up to the golden standard of Harry Potter, the classics, or other popular books, but that technique limits our perception of new ideas and stories. Literature is meant to break boundaries, shatter walls, and change minds. Trying to shove books into one neat, tidy box will leave you with an over-packed package, bursting at the seams, with thousands of stories left out in the dust.

What's the Point?

1. Books are all different and that is okay.
2. Individuality should not be overlooked in books.
3. Underrated books don't have to be compared to popular books in order to be good.

Are you a rating-robber too? Do you have bias that you try to avoid when reviewing? Are there are books that you place on a golden pedestal? Do you agree that there isn't a golden standard for books? Let's start an argument! (Not really, but I do love civic discourse).

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