More on Downplaying the Classics

Daniel over at Castalia House has another essay called Downplaying the Classics: Further Evidence. He continues to make an interesting case for the decline in science fiction quality recently.

Some have argued that one of the reasons that the 1960s may rank so well among readers is because the best from that era has been given enough time for nostalgic fans to have forgotten the forgettable but popular books of the moment, and the cream of the crop is the only set that attracts attention. This “Classic Effect” unfairly pits a settled canon of supernovels against today’s as yet unfiltered greats. It boils down to: “The good old days were not as good as we think they were, and today’s era will be the good old days…given enough time.”

I have uncovered a tantalizing bit of evidence that appears to argue the opposite.

GoodReads, a social media site for book lovers, draws upon thousands and even hundreds of thousands of apparent user and other reviews in order to rank its books. It also contains lists of books about which the participants are particularly fanatical. The users there have a user ranked “Best of Each Decade” list that we are examining for head-to-head comparison.

My side theory to this has been that if the “Classic Effect” is true, then the most recent decade (2000-2009) should suffer from “unsettled canon” drag upon reader ratings, while the settled stuff from the 1960s should have the benefit of less political argument and more zealous “pure” fans. The Classic Effect anticipates that the now-Classics from 1960-1969 will necessarily rank higher than the unsettled recent ones.

According to GoodReads, they don’t.

Looking at GoodReads top 15 Classics from the 1960s, the novels rank an average of 4.0 stars by users there. This is identical to the GoodReads ranks of the 2000s: 4.0 stars.

The “Classic Effect” does not show up there, and, because it does not, I suspect it is not a reasonable explanation for any discrepancies that may occur at Amazon. After all, if nostalgia should have an impact, it is more likely to occur at place for book fans who don’t have to have purchased the book to opine on it, rather than a place for book buyers, like Amazon. (Note: I realize that you can rate a book at Amazon without buying it, as well, but it is weighted toward verified purchasers.)

But that calm equivalence is actually where the chaos begins.

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