I’m suffering some inner turmoil about how I’ve been rating books. Flicking through my Goodreads Reading Challenge the other day I noticed that I’ve given a lot of 5 star ratings this year. In fact, I have rarely given anything under 4. I am either exceedingly fortunate to only be reading the best books in the world or my system for rating a book is flawed. Or is it?
How a person rates a book is so dependent on what they are looking to get from it that their rating doesn’t really reflect how you will react to it. Does that make it pointless? When browsing reviews online it’s handy to have a star rating at the beginning so you can see straight away where the reviewer stands but is it giving the wrong impression on sites like Goodreads where an average is given? It’s the review itself that helps a reader decide if they want to give the book a go or not. It’s easy to give a book you didn’t enjoy a low rating, but what is that based on? Is that rating ignoring the excellent writing and character development and based upon just not enjoying the plot/genre? Similarly with books you do enjoy, if you come away happy and satisfied it’s easy to give a high rating. I know I definitely do. When I finish a book I really loved I give it 5 stars. In some cases, this is despite poor writing and character development. Is that a fair rating? I might not even remember the plot in a few weeks’ time yet I still gave it a high rating. Is this misleading? Looking at my long list of 4 and 5 star reads I’m starting to feel guilty. Am I too lenient? Should my ratings be based on pure enjoyment and emotional attachment to the stories and characters or should they be based on literary merit? What classifies a book in regards to literary merit? Does everything need to be perfect to warrant 5 stars? And surely everyone has a different opinion on what they consider to be 5 star read. Does it actually help anyone to categorise the books we read or is it just helpful for us to look back on and remind ourselves how much we liked a certain book or not?
More and more bloggers and youtubers are saying they have decided to be harsher with their ratings. The more I read/hear this the more I feel guilty. I feel like maybe my judgement isn’t reliable. I have started to question myself when I mark a book as finished and the stars appear. Yes, I enjoyed this and I can’t wait for the sequel but was it impeccable? Surely a large part of it has to be personal enjoyment. But if I knock a star off because I feel like the writing could have been improved, I feel like I’m doing a disservice to myself and the book because I was clearly satisfied with the story progression/characters etc… I fear I may be a bit too soft. I only give 3 stars or less to books I didn’t enjoy, and even those usually aren’t to do with the author’s ability to write, it is normally because I was trying something new and I didn’t like it.
Obviously the review a person gives is always going to be helpful. The reviewer will make it clear exactly what they did and didn’t like about the book which in turn helps you decide if you’re okay with those pros and cons and are willing to try it anyway. But the ratings themselves? I’m not convinced. What do you guys think? Do you trust a person’s judgement less if they give out high ratings all the time? I’m inclined to think yes, even though I do it all the time. I really must try harder to write my reviews up.