Letter from the editor.


We've received a few letters recently about our ratings system. These correspondents asked why we don't have any five-star books in our New Books Guide, and others wished that our ratings system didn't feel so compressed--that we didn't have so many three-and-a-half and four-star books. These questions are somewhat related in that some folks are naturally interested in discovering immediately which books they should add to their reading list.

First, we seldom include many books that have fewer than three stars. We consider a few hundred books for each issue, and we make a concerted effort to narrow down that list to just under 50 books that have been either well-reviewed or well-publicized. Books that are well-reviewed will naturally receive higher ratings. Books that are well-publicized (a well-known author's latest work, for example) may or may not receive a high rating, and they are the primary source for the lower-rated books you'll find in these pages.

I do take to heart, though, that our ratings system may be too compressed. First, I can't imagine that we would ever rate a new release a five-star classic. Critics often make these assertions in the heat of the moment. As I think back over the last 10 years about books that excited everyone and that were must-reads at the time, is The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski a true classic? Or Jonathan Franzen's The Corrections or Freedom? I think it's too soon to tell whether these two novels are timeless or whether they are so much of their times that they won't be on...

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