Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Falling Stars

Apparently, Shakespeare was wrong when he has Lady Macbeth say, "What's done cannot be undone," at least when it comes to reader reviews on Amazon. Imagine my surprise one morning when I noticed the 24 reviews for my memoir changed to 23 overnight. I emailed Amazon to find out if the review had been misplaced like a sock or a handkerchief, or had simply fallen off the site because of one of those glitches that sometimes occur in cyberspace. I was informed that the reviewer had indeed withdrawn his/her review. Now, this opens quite a few possible scenarios. Imagine a friend or a stranger is miffed at me for something I said or wrote and decides to withdraw their 5-star review and post a 1-star review in its place. Suppose this same friend or stranger reconciles (mentally) with me and in so doing, pulls the 1-star review and reposts the 5-star one. I can't help wondering if there is a limit on the number of times an Amazon book review can be undone and redone.

I'm not a fan of the gold star system so popular on the Internet to rate everything from books to bed linens. Recently, I stayed at an allegedly 5-star hotel and paid an exorbitant rate for an almost dingy room, thin, threadbare towels, and a not exactly clean bathtub. I also waited almost half an hour in the hotel restaurant for my dessert. Admittedly, almost half an hour is a very long time but I wasn't going anywhere till I got that chocolate mousse. I'd rate the room and the service in the restaurant 3 stars (that seems generous but the chocolate mousse was swell). After my visit, even the questionnaire the hotel sent me was annoyingly fatuous. The customer service representative responded that she was disappointed in the hotel staff. She was disappointed? Suddenly, it's about her? I give their questionnaire and the customer service rep's email 1 star (1/2 star each).

Authors often spend years researching and writing their books. It seems odd that the same gold star system applied in grammar school is used to assess their endeavors. I attended a non-traditional college where students receive reviews of their work but not specific grades. If an adviser hints for several pages that you were a lazy slug for most of the semester or praises the excellence of your work, you don't need a Sherlockian moment to imagine the invisible C or A. I believe a similar system of pro and con reviews, sans stars, would work the same way. Unfortunately, there will always be meanspirited readers who have never written anything more creative than a grocery list, posting snarky 1-star reviews. And there will probably always be those cheating the system (a best-selling indie author recently admitted he paid for three hundred 5-star reviews). Fortunately, there are also fair-minded, scrupulous reviewers writing honest and informative reviews.

I remember the tension I felt in the second grade when Sister Mary Lucille walked down the aisle toward my desk as she handed out graded test papers. Would I receive one star or two? Or heavens, would I get three stars the way that brown-nose Ann Marie Reilly almost always did? I'm awfully tall for that little wood desk now. It doesn't fit me any more. I don't think the gold star system -- rising or falling -- does either.