I recently joined Goodreads, partly because I hope it’ll give me the chance to slap more people in the face with my lit-peen and partly because I find it useful to have a place to look up books I’ve read in the past — going through the bibliographies of past work is a time-consuming and haphazard method. I’d include a link to my profile, but I don’t want to, so I won’t.
Anyway, Goodreads users can use a five star rating system to rank what they’ve read. Each star rating is glossed by a tooltip. The tooltips run, from one star to five, like this: ‘didn’t like it’, ‘it was okay’, ‘liked it’, ‘really liked it’ and ‘it was amazing’. I thought that this sounded rather different from the glosses on MAL’s out-of-ten rating system, which go like this:
Much has been written about ratings (I suggest you start here and follow the pingbacks) and favourites. What interests me here isn’t the way we choose ratings, if we choose them, but the after-spin, so to speak, put on these ratings systems by their glosses.
Three of Goodread’s glosses are direct reports of the reader’s emotional reaction. The other two, ‘[i]t was okay’ and ‘it was amazing’, are ostensibly (and, I suppose, grammatically) about the book’s qualities rather than the reader’s emotional reaction, but ‘amazing’ at least requires the presence of a reader to be mazed: rating books as an affective, emotional judgement. Whether Goodreaders follow their site’s lead, I don’t know; personally I stick to the letter of its glosses just to be perverse, and I haven’t given a book five stars unless it genuinely mazed me when I finished it.
Very nearly all of MAL’s glosses, by contrast, relate to the inherent qualities of the title being rated, though the glosses for one, five and ten out of ten are unusual. ‘Average’ is a relative term, or at least a more obviously relative one. ‘Unwatchable’ doesn’t have to mean ‘bad': I find Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei unwatchable, but that’s because I don’t have enough knowledge about Japan, or the right kind of funnybone for its style of humour. ‘Masterpiece’ brings in the most interesting baggage of meaning: can you have a masterpiece without a master (hello studio- and director-worship)? If you have a master, can he, she, or it only produce one magnum opus in his, her, its lifetime? And ‘piece’ is buried in there, too. That’s not a word I’d apply to anime or manga unless it were something like Angel’s Egg — something too clever for me — as though its creators are musicians.
(I’m going to be tramping around the Isle of Purbeck — which is not an island, much like how the New Forest was created in the eleventh century — for a few days, so I won’t be able to reply to any comments immediately.)