Book Reviews: Grades vs Stars

Yesterday, I was discussing with another author her puzzlement that a reviewer had given her book one star on Goodreads but a C- grade on a website. “Doesn’t one star mean F?” (She was totally okay with the fact that the reviewer didn’t like the book, by the way, just surprised that the grade was so much higher than she’d expected.) Then, coincidentally, I oversaw a conversation on Twitter about the fact that a reader might dislike a book but recognize that it’s well-crafted.

I immediately thought of Moby Dick, which I had to read in high school. I found it one of the most loathesome, most boring books I’d ever had the misfortune to encounter. If I were giving that book a star rating based on how much I enjoyed it, I would unequivocally give it one star. In fact, I would probably give it zero. But I would be hard-pressed to say that Moby Dick is a poorly crafted book. It’s not badly written. I just didn’t like the story it had to tell or the way it went about telling it. But liking a work isn’t a measure of the *quality* of the work. And letter grades are a measure of quality, at least in my opinion. So, for quality of work, I’d be forced to give Moby Dick an A, even though I didn’t enjoy reading a single word of it.

What makes this disconnect interesting to me is that, while I can easily see how a book can be very good from a craft perspective but utterly unenjoyable to a reader, I wonder how poor the “craft” part of a book before the “enjoyment” part of the story is damaged for the majority of readers. Personally, I find that the craft of a book has to be at least a C grade for me to enjoy the book. If I am constantly being jerked out of the story by craft problems like poor mechanics, inconsistent characterization/world-building, or holes in the plot big enough to drive an elephant through, I really can’t enjoy it. Clearly, many readers feel differently and can overlook things I can’t. I suspect errors in grammar, punctuation and spelling in particular are less noticeable to many readers than they are to me, as are certain world-building issues (i.e., errors in forms of address in historicals drive me up a tree because I’ve spent so many hours trying to determine what’s correct that errors stick out like a sore thumb to me).

Do you have a book you hate that you recognize as great? Or one you recognize is terrible from a craft perspective but love anyway? I’d love to hear about them!

Coming Up for Air

It dawned on me a couple of days ago that I haven’t written a post since the new year began. So, first and foremost, happy belated New Year!

I am *so* not a person who makes new year’s resolutions, but since I always tend to bite off more than I can chew when I set my goals every year, I’ve decided to try to be a little more realistic about what I can and can’t accomplish in 2013. What I am sure I *can* do is finish my second book for Entangled’s Brazen line (Rules of Possession) and at least one other title before the end of the year. My first Entangled book, Skin in the Game, is through its first round of revisions, though I’m biting my nails a bit because my editor has had it for several days and I haven’t heard anything. As soon as I have anything firm regarding a release date for that title, I promise I will post it.

My other goal this year is to take off the twenty pounds I put on in the past 3-4 years. I’m not doing this for appearance sake, but because ever since I started gaining this weight, I’ve found my hips hurt when I’m trying to sleep. This means I wake up multiple times per night to turn over to the side that doesn’t hurt (or doesn’t hurt as much). It’s possible the cause of this pain is something other than my weight, of course, but the coincidence makes me suspect that there’s a relationship, so before I go whine to the doctor, I want to try the obvious solution. Unfortunately, my schedule doesn’t lend itself to more exercise to get rid of the weight, so I’m having to rely on calorie reduction, and let me tell you, it is making me cranky. (On the plus side, the hero of Rules of Possession starts out the book in a rather cranky frame of mind, so I feel like I totally get him!)

Finally, sometimes, I look at my kids and wonder why the writing gene seems to have passed them over. I come from a fairly longish line of writers–my father wrote a couple of novels based on his experiences in the US Border Patrol, my mother’s father wrote a mystery novel, and a great uncle on my father’s side was a published poet. But here I am with my three kids, whose apparent vocations are (oldest to youngers) theoretical physicist, veterinarian, and chef. The theoretical physicist is a very competent writer, but he has no interest in creative writing. The veterinarian muddles through writing and is a voracious reader, so perhaps there’s still hope there in the future. But chef, who is 10 and in the fifth grade, is the kid teachers have always complained about. “He’s so bright and articulate, but he won’t actually *write* anything.”

I think, however, that this might be changing. He’s had a bunch of writing assignments in various subjects in the past month or so, and it seems to me he’s finally found his voice. He has stopped trying to be formal and academic, and the results are fantastic (and funny). I’ll leave you with the piece he wrote last night, which cracked me up (although perhaps that’s because I hate homework almost as much as my kids do).

Why Homework Is a Problem

“AAAHHH, homework! I haven’t had any sleep for twenty straight hours and it’s 1:00 a.m.!”

Hear that? That’s the sound of an unhappy camper because he can’t get any sleep at all. That’s my point right there, right in the lead up there. You see, kids are usually on a sleep schedule. Like, at around 8:50, it’s time for bed. But nope, not until your homework is finished. Which messes up our sleep time thus decreasing performance in school. Another reason is don’t we do enough practice already in school? Because obviously, the next day we’re going to be working on something different.

Also, without homework, kids would get to spend time with their family more as well. Like let’s just say your mom says, “All right, it’s time to go,” and then you say, “Oh, I can’t, I have a project to do.” Well, that means that your family can’t go and neither can you. Another thing is, let’s say your mom walks in the room while you’re working on homework and says, “It’s time to clean your room.” Well, according to my calculations, hold on, I’m still doing the math. Ah! Got it? My calculations are that you wouldn’t be able to do the chores.

Now, as you can see homework is a problem because no sleep, no trips, no ANYTHING. So what do you say let’s get rid of home–

This story was just a fiction story and the district not going to get rid homework. And also this is a really stupid story as well.

“Hey, I heard that!”