Monday, June 11, 2012

Miscellaneous Monday: The Book Rating Debate

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For me, the absolute most difficult part of writing a review is assigning a star rating. Occasionally I have in mind which rating the book deserves right after I'm done reading. Usually, though, it takes writing and rereading my own review, and weighing the positives and the negatives and trying to arbitrarily assign values to them so that I can cough up that star rating. It isn't a perfect system, because emotion and gut reaction often gets in the way. Plenty of really, deeply flawed books still managed to keep me entertained and emotionally invested. An equal number of very well written books threatened to put me in a boredom coma.

This subject came up when I asked my fiance, Josh, to do a guest review on my blog of a book that I thought he would enjoy. I've read several of his books now, so it was only fair. He's had the book for a month, just finished it last night, and the review will be up on Wednesday. I told him to review in whatever format he liked, but please use my rating system, and that's what prompted this comment: "Oh, you mean the system where every book gets five stars?"

This got my blood boiling a little, because in reality I am very, very stingy with my five star ratings. The observant reader will note that there are only about twelve 5 star books mentioned on this blog, including books that I had read and rated prior to starting the blog. So twelve books over the course of two or three years of reading. Twelve books out of roughly two hundred and fifty have earned 5 stars. I don't think I'm being overly generous here. In fact, on second contemplation I worry that I'm close to crossing the line into Overly Critical Bitch territory. 

I'm a bit more free in handing out 4.5 star reviews, because those are the books that have tiny flaws, but still grabbed me by the heart and made me really feel. 5 stars demands perfection and emotional attachment--a magic alchemy that you just don't see very often. So in my mind, 5 star reviews should be rare--like blue moons or four leaf clovers. But not as rare as, say, Halley's Comet, where you'd be lucky to see it twice in a lifetime--and this is the point on which Josh and I differ.

I know every reviewer's philosophy on ratings is a little different. I've seen people who seem to read a 5 star book every week (lucky ducks) and people who read more 1 and 2 star books (curmudgeons). What's your take on this? Do you find yourself giving a lot of high ratings, or hardly any? How do you determine ratings?


  1. I seem to appoint the majority of books either 3 or 4 stars. Like you I rarely give a book 5 stars and although it does not require perfection, it does need to move me more than is commonly the case. It has to be a book that won't let me go even after I finished it. Four stars is 'I love it',3 stars is enjoyable, but flawed, 2 stars is me wondering why I bought the book and 1 star is 'I quit'. :)

    1. Yeah, if a book is 1 star quality I almost never finish it, and thus I almost never review it. :)

  2. I agree wholeheartedly! My basis on giving a 5 star rating is if it was so good I could read it time and again. If I love it, but probably wouldn't read it again, then its only 4 stars from me. 3 is good. Just good, jot great. 2 is... It could have been good, but there was too much of something i didnt like (grammatical errors, plot issues, etc) and 1 if i couldn't finish it. I like your reviews though!!!!

    1. This seems like a good system! Every one of my 5 star books (and quite a few of the 4.5) are ones that I will pull out and read over again all of the time.

  3. So I was looking a my ratings:
    1.5 stars (1)
    2 stars (6)
    2.5 stars (1)
    3 stars (11)
    3.5 stars (14)
    4 stars (22)
    4.5 stars (14)
    5 stars (23)

    I guess I do give more 5 stars than I thought. But I know why. I only read books that have had great ratings already or from series that I love, so the chances that I will love the book is already high. Also, I don't save my 5 star ratings for perfection. I don't think that exists. I will find minor flaws in a book and still give it 5 stars if, for me, the awesomness of the book overrides the flaws.

    But, I make sure to explain all this in my reviews. I always mention the good and the bad, and explain why I gave a book so many stars. Some books I base on emotion and others I rate on technical stuff. It just depends on my mood and what caught my eye this time around.

    I think the star ratings are just a quick way of saying how much your liked a book. My five stars are the books I would read again, that I loved so much that I couldn't put it down.

    But everyone has the right to rate differently. Readers just need to find out how each of us rates differently and probably focus more on the reviews for a better understanding of what we thought of a book.

    1. I'm picky about handing out 5 stars only because I have had reading experiences where I struggled to come up with criticism, or what I did come up with was of so little consequence that it hardly deserves mentioning. Those are the books that I loved so much that I'd save them first if my house were burning down. So I save the highest rating for them, because they're extraordinary :D

  4. When I started reviewing books, I was more free to give 5 stars reviews. Now I'm a little more difficult, but my stars are about how much I enjoyed the book, not necessarily if the book is good or bad.

    Also, I've seen most or my reviews are positive because if I'm not liking a book, I don't finish it, hehe. So reviews are from books I finish :)

    1. Even though I don't hand out many 5 stars, there are still far more positive than negative reviews here for the same reason you mentioned. I don't make it far enough into the bad books to justify reviewing them. Because I hand select every book I review, I'm usually inclined to like them, so there are a lot of books in the 3 or 4 range.


Thoughtful comments are appreciated! I always respond to them, and I usually return the favor! Happy reading!

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