How I Grade
I apply the following criteria to both long and short form works. It’s a work-in-progress.
I loved it. A must-read. Perfect, or almost perfect. These are the works I recommend to everyone. A hard rating to earn.
I liked it. Unless you hate the genre or author, read it. These are the works I recommend to most folks. They may not resonate like the 5-star selections, but they don’t disappoint.
I wouldn’t recommend it, but I wouldn’t recommend against it either. Most works fall into this category.
I didn’t like it. For a long-form work, this hints at a disappointing ending. For a shorter work, it underwhelmed. Approach with caution.
I hated it. Another a hard rating to earn. Almost impossible for long works as they’re sooner abandoned.
On Abandoning Books
Fifty-three pages into the 320 page novel, I closed it and moved on.
It wasn’t easy.
I used to finish every book I started. Finishing brought a sense of accomplishment. A comfort in completing a task, checking a box, achieving a goal. Letting go of that illusionary security is hard.
But I’m learning.
Forcing myself to finish every book didn’t make me a better person. It didn’t make me smarter or more well-rounded. It just made reading a chore rather than a pleasure.
Statistics say I’ve got more life behind me than ahead. Which means I’ll never finish all the books I want to read.
It’s about opportunity cost. I loved the pulp storytelling of Graham Masterton’s The Devils of D-Day. Mark Richard’s writing in The Ice at the Bottom of the World floored me. Clive Barker’s imagination made The Books of Blood unforgettable. Knowing there are more books out there like those, while I’m forcing myself to trudge through a mediocre read, pushed me to abandon lesser efforts.
My shelves hold hundreds of unread books. I’d wager that a quarter of them aren’t worth reading. Maybe more.
Some folks give a book a chapter or two. Others give a book a set number of pages. Neither system makes sense to me. I’ve had books start strong then flounder. And how does one apply an arbitrary page count to books of varying lengths? Fifty pages is a quarter of a two hundred page novel, but only five percent of a thousand-page biography.
I give a book three hours. The length of a long movie. If a book drags for longer, I’ll abandon it. This doesn’t mean I have to finish it in three hours, just that it can’t go longer than three consecutive hours without holding my interest. Granted, this means I could abandon a thousand-page doorstop with under a hundred pages to go, but I’m okay with that. Failing to recognize a sunk cost is a gambler’s fallacy.
Perhaps, as I discover better books, my standards will increase. Today’s excellence might be tomorrow’s schlock. Of course, that would see me abandoning even more books.
I can only hope.