I’ve really been thinking about how I rate books lately. It’s been gnawing at the back of my mind for a while because I’ve noticed how most of the books I’ve reviewed have been 4 or 5 stars. I think so far on the blog I only have one 3 star review and one 2 star review. If I’d have started the blog a couple of months sooner I’d have a few more three star reviews, but most would still be 4’s and 5’s. It’s the “why” of this that keeps bugging me and the inevitable follow-up questions, of whether I’m being too generous with my reviews and ultimately do I want to keep giving a score?
The other day I came across a Twitter thread where another blogger was discussing her defensiveness after someone commented on one of her reviews saying it was “stupid” that she had so many 4 and 5 star reviews. I chimed into the discussion and it turns out a number of us are in the same boat and their response was much like mine.
The more I think about it the more I realize the following:
I tend to select books I EXPECT to enjoy. I’ve been reading books a long time and have a pretty good idea about what I will like and not like. My intuition isn’t a science, and sometimes I’m wrong, but I can kinda get a feel for a story before I dive into it.
I also select books based on reviews of bloggers I trust. There’s a bunch of book bloggers I follow and as I read more of their reviews I’ve come to realize who has similar tastes and whose reviews I trust. I then tend to buy books based on their recommendations. It doesn’t seem surprising then that if they really like a book I will too.
I go into a book EXPECTING to enjoy it. This is similar to the first point above but slightly different. Anytime I pick up a book I don’t start reading it with a goal of not liking it. My goal is to find enjoyment in the reading. I’m no longer in school where I’m being forced to read for an assignment whether I like it or not. Now I can read whatever I like and when I do I hope I’ll love it. Having that attitude at the outset means I’m a little more positive about the read.
This is supposed to be fun. I’m not a critical reviewer working for a newspaper or other entity and I’m not a scholar where I’m paid to pick a work apart. I’m also not setting out to be mean to an author. The whole point of the blog is to share about books I love. Sometimes I may be asked to review a book I wouldn’t normally select and maybe I won’t like it. Sometimes I’ll make a bad choice on something I buy. In those cases I’ll still share my opinion and let you know I don’t like it. But overall my goal is to spread book joy.
I don’t review everything I read. I read a lot more than I have time to review. At any given moment I’m probably behind on my reviews. It’s quite possible I’ll skip over a book I’d otherwise rate low just because I’d rather share my thoughts about other books I like more. If I had more time in the day/week maybe I’d write up reviews on everything, but that isn’t my reality these days.
So that perhaps explains why most of my reviews have been 4 and 5 stars. But it doesn’t address the other related concern I have about star ratings in general. I don’t really like them. Don’t get me wrong, I understand their purpose, especially on sites like Goodreads and Amazon. But I still have issues with them. Many of you probably feel the same way. My issues fall into a few categories.
- What Kind of Scale: This is the problem of figuring out what rating scale you want to use. Most people use a scale between 1 and 5 stars though some use a 10 star scale. Right away there’s a difference with 10 giving room for a little more nuance (see below). But even with the popular 5 star scale pretty much everyone has a different idea of what each each level in the scale means with everyone having their own criteria for what should be awarded 4 or 5 stars for example. In the end there’s now way to compare ratings equally. On a large scale maybe that doesn’t matter for a book that gets hundreds of reviews on Amazon where it really begins to average out…but it still bugs me.
- Nuance: With any rating scale you sacrifice nuance. By that I mean you may review five books and give them all 4 stars, but there’s nothing to distinguish which one may be better than the others; which one may be closer to a 5 star rating and which closer to a 3 star rating. Looking at my reviews I see clear examples of this. Some of you may say, “well, you could give half star ratings like 3.5 or 4.5, or even go as far as to the nearest tenth like 4.1 star. Yeah you could do that but you then run into other problems like how to determine those sub-grades and then if you want to post them to Amazon or Goodreads you can’t because those sites don’t allow for anything other than 1 through 5.
- Amazon and Goodreads: These sites (and any others like them) are extremely useful for authors and readers. They help all of us figure out whether a book may be enjoyable or not. At the same time they force a reviewer into their rating systems which we all complain about. Whatever you use for a rating scale has to be worked into their scales. That makes sense, with thousands of people posting to their sites they have to come up with SOME standard scale, but it screws with all of our individual ones.
Since starting the blog I’ve used two basic methods for determining a star rating. I’ve just gone with my gut reaction and general feel, and I’ve used a scoring system which you can read here. The scoring system is based on breaking my review down into five categories, each with subcategories that I give 1 – 5 star ratings. The sub ratings are averaged up and I get an overall score. After using it for a while I realized it was too technical and constrictive. My more recent reviews went away from that system back to my overall general gut feeling.
So here’s what I’m thinking…
I’m thinking I may do away with my star ratings completely. I’m thinking I’ll just write a review and tell you what I loved (or didn’t love) about the book. Anyone reading it will get a pretty good idea whether I absolutely loved it, or just really liked it, or whether I thought it was just OK. But this way I don’t have to make books look equal to others when they aren’t. I’ll figure out something when I post to Amazon and Goodreads because I still want to do that too. But the blog is my primary review site and I can basically do whatever the hell I want here. I’m not 100 percent certain of this yet…I may still throw out some stars…but I’m leaning this way. I may also write shorter reviews, but that is a different post.
What do you think? Comments? Let me know.