I’ve been thinking a lot about stars, lately. At one point I was in danger of developing a morbid fascination with one star reviews (in particular, one star reviews of books that have sold more copies than mine), but that was a large field and a distinctly unhealthy obsession. I have reassured myself firmly that a bad review tells you more about the reviewer than the reviewee, and I’m over it now.
All the same, I’ve been thinking a lot about stars.
My own policy – it’s a very young policy, and who knows whether it will stand the test of time – is five stars if I love it unreservedly, four stars if I love it with reservations, and not to bother reviewing anything I don’t love*. It occurs to me, though, that I have some very odd preconceptions about star ratings.
One star, of course, means ‘I can’t believe this even got made / published / sold’. There can’t be any serious argument about that.
Five stars, on the other hand, can be off-putting, despite my own guidelines. You see, when I was looking through the film guide of the Radio Times with Dad, five stars so often seemed to translate as ‘I daren’t admit that I don’t like this film because everyone will say I didn’t understand it’. Not invariably, I admit, but often enough to stick.
Three or four stars? No, I never quite know what to make of three or four stars.
Two stars, though . . . two stars are something to aspire to.
It’s back to going through the listings with Dad. It may date me quite exactly to say it, but when I was in my late teens I would almost always watch the Friday night early evening film on BBC2 with Dad. It was six or six-thirty, I think. Just late enough for Dad to have got in and settled down. It was usually fairly old and it was always absolutely safe, which I suspect is a useful consideration when you want to watch something with your youngest daughter and you don’t really want to admit that she’s almost grown up. And here’s the thing, we were never disappointed. Sometimes it was something good enough to remember (Paper Tiger, with David Niven, springs to mind, though I’m not swearing that was a Friday night film), but it was always a good, solid, entertaining film – and it always rated two stars in the Radio Times guide.
Now isn’t that odd? Three or four stars might be ambiguous, but two stars should be a bare scraping above ‘I only watched this because it’s what I’m paid for’. Except, for me, two stars will always be unpretentious fun. So when I say that I aspire to being a two star writer, I hope you won’t mistake it for false modesty.
And don’t worry. If you do want to give me five stars, I’m sure I can learn to live with the possibility that you’re you’re calling me pretentiously incomprehensible.
***** **** *** ** *
* The absence of a review may also mean ‘I’m thinking about it’, ‘it’s too long since I read it’, ‘I really want to do this one justice’, ‘my husband really needs the computer this week’, or any one of a dozen other things. I thought I’d better add that for the reassurance of someone who probably knows who he is.