No Stars

I have annual lists of the books I’ve read going back decades. Somewhere in some paper file, I have a couple paper lists. They would have dated from between 1996 and 1999, since I can clearly picture the list weakly held by a magnet to the fridge that dominated the tiny bachelor apartment I lived in for those years. It was easy and low tech. I would put a book down, I would pick a pen up, and there, noted.

Later, things got a bit fancier. I had completely forgotten this, but at some point, probably when I was taking both database and cataloguing courses in library school, I created an Access database. I would catalogue my books according to my best independent interpretations of the AACR2 (the cataloguer’s bible at the time), add a “date finished,” and there, noted.

In 2005, I either read two books only in September, or I gave up my list. I can’t remember which. 2005 was a turbulent year, so it’s hard to say if I hardly read at all or read a lot to escape and forgot to note it down. You’ve got a 50/50 chance of being right.

Then there are the missing years. Maybe I didn’t read between 2005 and 2011. I’m pretty sure I read some, but maybe not much. Those were also often turbulent years.

In 2011, I joined Goodreads, and have since faithfully used that app to track the books I’ve read. I always gave some stars. Never thought too hard about them, just clicked what my gut told me. But I never wrote reviews. Back then, I had already started writing reviews for money, and was thinking of freelancing, so I sure as hell wasn’t going to give my words away to some upstart tech company. Maybe not the wisest road to take for someone who could use the exposure, but past Megan made some mistakes, and let’s not be too rough.

In 2013, I somehow completely missed the news that Amazon bought Goodreads. It was 2019 before I figured that one out, when I got suspicious that every link on every title took me to their site. I most definitely am not going to give that fucker my words. But I kept on with the stars. I mean, I used them myself to gauge a book’s worth.

In 2020, I have lost pieces of my mind to COVID. It’s hard to concentrate. The words sometimes blur. I need ease and comfort. Here, on the edge of burnout, I am finding it hard to connect with much. Should I punish the author of this complex book? ONE STAR plot too thick. This writer and her gorgeous thesaurus? TWO STARS makes no sense. It just seems too unfair when by the end of the day it takes me three tries to spell the word specialty.

I know the starred reviews are helpful to those writers and presses looking to widen their net. Those people trying to make their own name and make a living, but it just seems so unfair.

Can we move backwards? Probably not. At least, I don’t think I’ll go back to my Access database. But from here on in, I am instituting a no-stars policy, and will just have to find another way to help the authors of the books I love.

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