Books,  Just Life

On Rating Books (and book reviews).

…I’ve started and restarted (and titled and retitled) this post a few times today (and not just because I got to visit this little guy – and his mama – for a spur of the moment evening date.) And I don’t know why it’s so hard for me to write about it for real because the conversations I carry on in my head make it seem so easy. oh well. I hope you’ll bear with me! I want to talk about book ratings (and book reviews). Yeah, I finally just went with the simple title!This whole conversation stems from my recent 4-star rating (and accompanying review) of The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay. This book has been on my radar for years (Katie left a paperback copy on her bookshelf when she moved out…8 years ago?) and I attempted to read it way back then but just couldn’t get into it. My sister listened to it (David Colacci narrates – he also narrated The Sparrow) and loved it. She’d give it five stars if she did that kind of thing. But she and I tend to agree about the books we love so I decided to try it. I was completely and totally engrossed the whole time (I might’ve even folded laundry just to grab a few extra minutes…that’s telling). Here’s what I wrote on Goodreads:

I really really wanted to give this one five stars. the story captivated me. there was a bit of magical realism, david balladicci’s narration was superb, the jewish theme, the gay theme. the comics theme. I really loved this book! maybe I need to let go of my “made me cry = 5 stars” rule. I didn’t cry. but I wish I had. I also want to read ALL the comics. and more about golems.

And it’s that 5-star rule that I want to talk about. My sister thinks I’m crazy not to rate this book 5 stars. but I didn’t connect with it the way I expect to connect with my 5-star reads.Up to now (and yes, that means I’m probably going to make a change!), my scale has been:1. oh my, I hated it. this is rare for me because I usually stop reading a book like this.2. ditto. although I have plowed through a few so I could discuss them at bookclub.3. average. interesting enough, but not compelling. maybe a nice story or an interesting character/setting.4. keeps me engaged with a good story and interesting characters. at some point I was making time to read(listen) to this book instead of doing other things. I think about the book when I’m done reading it and want to talk about it. most of the books I read fall into this category.5. all of the 4-star scale…and an emotional attachment that makes me cry, usually about the characters or the story. almost never about the writing – you know the turn of phrase that makes you want to highlight the words.I look at my ratings history in Goodreads and I think maybe I’ve been an easy grader. I rely a lot on the recommendations of friends to be pretty sure when I start a book that I’m going to like it (church bookclub aside, yet also notable for the solid 4 and 5 star reads I’ve had there) – so I expect everything will be at least 3 stars or better.But now that I’m reading more, I think it might be time to change my scale. I want to rely less on emotional connection and more on simply connecting. I’m not sure that means books I highlight more, maybe it’s just books I enjoyed more. So – question to y’all is about how you use the stars? specifically what makes a book four vs five? and how much attention do you pay to others’ ratings when you decide what to read?p.s. I also look at all of your Goodreads ratings before I pickup a book to read (yikes! as I type this I think I do need to get outside my box a bit and read something none of you are reading!) 


  • Bonny

    I can't wait to read all the comments on this great topic! To answer your questions – I use stars pretty much like you do, but differ a bit on the 5 star rating. For me, a 5 star book is one that has it all – a unique story and characters that I feel connected to, but it must always be exceptionally written. A 5 star book may be one of the best I've read in its genre, or even transcend its genre; it makes me think and want to read further, and often haunts me for a long time afterwards. Books don't often make me cry, so I can't use that criterion!

    I do pay attention to others' ratings when I'm deciding what to read, but I've changed my methods in the past few years. I used to look for books with many 5 star ratings, thinking that meant it would be an amazing book. Now I get my recommendations from what gr friends are reading, NYT, NPR, etc., and then I look at the 2 and 3 star ratings for the books I'm considering. Often people writing those reviews seem to do a better job of explaining just what they didn't enjoy about the book, and then I can make a better judgement whether that book might be for me than I might be able to from a fluff 5 star rating. So yes, I do look at others' ratings, but I do that mainly if I'm spending money on a book. I'll try almost anything if I'm browsing at the library, and I've discovered some of the best books I've read that way. Thanks for a post on a topic I'm always interested in!

  • Carole Julius

    This is a really interesting subject! I tend to give most books 3 stars – never less because I wouldn't finish something that I wouldn't rate 3 stars or higher. A 4 star rating means I loved it – the writing, the setting, and all. Most of the books I read tend to get 4 stars and I think that's because I am very pick about what I add to my queue. A 5 star rating means that I want to go out and hand the book to every person I see and say : READ THIS!

  • Debbie

    Most books I read get 3 or 4 stars. 1=I didn't like it, I may or may not have finished it, 2 star=It was okay, could have done without reading it 3 star=it was good & entertaining, 4 star=well written, great characters, gives me new insights & I loved reading it, 5star=exceptional, grabs me in a certain way, new insights, & I want someone else to read it. I often have difficulty choosing between 4 & 5 star ratings…sometimes it is close! I try not to let my ratings be influenced by other people…we all have our own tastes and opinions when it comes to books! It is all good!

  • Honoré

    This is indeed an interesting subject and I'm afraid I have absolutely nothing to add to the discussion. I don't rate books 'cause I don't really use a tracking system…tho' I've been with Good Reads since it first started. I think we're I to rate a book, my schematic would be more like Carole's.

  • margene

    My ratings are similar to yours. To love a book enough to give it a five star review I want to connect with it deeply and to have it "rip my heart out". I've tried to relax that standard some and go with a great emotional connection, not necessarily sad. I am not generous when it comes to 5 stars, but that doesn't mean I didn't enjoy the book. In any case, all of our ratings are subjective and what is a 3 star for you may be a 5 star for me.

    • Lydia

      I'll give a book 5 stars if at the end I'm like "wow, didn't expect that", or just "wow". 4 stars for a book that keeps me interested from start to finish, 3 stars if I just don't "get" it, or feel like the author didn't do a good job of convincing me of the characters or plot. 2 stars for those books that seem stale, redundant and don't live up to expectations or reviews. 1 star for something that was just poorly written and uninteresting. I only finish 1 star books of they are for book club cause I usually change my mind after discussion. If I don't finish a book it might get 1 or no stars.

  • Anonymous

    For me – 1 – AWFUL. 2 – OK – ehh. 3 – Good/Average. 4 – Very good. I enjoyed the story/made me think/enjoyable to read. 5 – GREAT. I thought the story was fabulous/unexpected/page turner/beautiful writing/spoke to me/made me think. I do reserve 5 stars for what I think is the best of the best. Something I would recommend over and over again.
    As far as reading others reviews, I don't pay a whole lot of attention to the Goodreads or Amazon reviews. I might check out a few, but typically I find books based on reviews/blurbs in magazines or the newspaper, recommendations by friends, or simply perusing the library shelves. – Dee