Since the start of this year I’ve been struggling a lot with rating. It started as me having an existensial crisis over 5 stars ratings because I rated considerably fewer books 5 stars this year compared to the ones before so I started wondering as to why that was. Was I reading less quality books? Are my reading tastes changing? Am I more critical? As well as changing my mind about the ratings I give books well after the fact. So it’s safe to say I’ve been having about a million thoughts about rating systems, star ratings and the value we put into them racing through my head for a major party of 2019.
For a couple months I’ve been trying to figure out how to put them into words that are readable and somewhat understandable. Do I do separate posts? Do I put everything together in one place? Do I not talk about it at all and just let the thoughts eat at my brain until I implode? I obviously went with the second option. So here I am today, with my world famous word-vomit-that-i-hope-will-make-sense-at-the-end.
I’ve been rating book for 7? 8 years? and I’ve never really been one to overthink my ratings, if one feels right then it’s right, I rate and move on with my life. If I adore a book I rate it 5 stars, yell about it until I find my next 5 star read, rince and repeat. But then 2019 rolled around and I found myself overthinking, dessicating and analyzing every single rating I give every single book. It’s not fun. But this was exacerbated with 5 stars ratings. I often found myself delaying marking a book as read on goodreads for days because I wasn’t sure it was “worthy” of that rating, and I kept asking myself:
- Is this book really that good or am I influenced by something?
- Is it a new favourite?
- But it’s not ~perfect~ how about my criticisms?
I don’t know when or what went wrong but as you can see…my thought process got absolutely wild. Because 1/ literally no book is perfect. Perfection is subjective and what might be perfect to me might be absolute trash to someone else. And 2/ not every book I rate 5 stars is an all-time favourite so I have no idea where that whole thought process came from. A part of me thinks it’s because I gave them relatively easily, then I saw people only rate a handful of 5 stars a year (nothing wrong with that) and I got self-conscious that I’m not critical enough, not thorough enough or have low standards book wise. Which is all bullshit if you were wondering. We all have different ways of approaching books and it’s all good and valid.
I thought about it for a while and realized that the one decisive factor for me, that makes me decide between rating a book 4.5 and 5 stars is purely emotional. Nothing critical or “perfect” about it, if a book has a strong hold on my heart, makes me 100% invested in the characters, the plot and the environment (the two latter to a lesser degree), I am very likely to rate it 5 stars even if I do find some technical faults to it. Nothing too overt though. If it’s something I can overlook and the book has a significant emotional impact on me, it has every chance of snatching that 5 stars from me. It’s a simple as that for me, and somewhere along the way I lost sight of it.
I know that’s not the most “professional” way of rating books, but before being a reviewer, I am a reader and one of the things that matter to me as one is the feelings books stir in me while reading them. Not every book is required to make me feel things but that’s what differenciates a book I rate 4.5 and a book I rate 5 in most cases. The other side of the coin are books that I adore but have a flaw that bugged me so those get 4.5 instead of 5.
Simple, right? Well, tell that to my brain. Because even though I objectively *know* this, I’m still struggling with rating books, no matter the rating.
Ratings are subjective. And that’s what we, as a community, fail to recognize most of the time. This is especially glaring when you look at 3 stars as a rating. For instance, to me, it’s not a bad rating. When I give it to a book, it means that I enjoyed it but it has a few issues. The key word here is enjoy. But some other people see 3 stars and that can be enough for them to not pick up a book, because they see it as a negative rating, which is fair and good, not my business. But this just goes to show the discrepancy in the way we view ratings. There is no one way of looking at them and interpreting them. The logical stance here is that the half point to 5 stars, is 2.5 so the fact that 3 is above that makes it on the more positive side. But again, that’s being objective but like we already established, ratings are anything but. They can’t be. Because our opinions on books are inherently subjective (a topic that requires a whole other post).
For a long time, I kept telling myself that my ratings are only for me to ease the “struggle” I was already having, but let us be honest. I have a blog with a non-negligible audience, my ratings don’t exist in a vacuum, people see them and rely on them to some extent to tell them things about the books I’m rating. But here’s why that doesn’t work: the things I want my rating to convey aren’t necessarily the same things you’ll read in it because you’re going to interpret it with your own bias in play. So at the end of the day, what do ratings really tell us about books? Not much I promise you. Besides the clear cut liked/didn’t like that come with 4/5 stars and 1/2 stars respectively, with 3 stars being a muddy middle no one can agree on.
I don’t know. Ideally I want to stop rating books, at least on public platforms. But even that ends up being the route I take, it’ll be another few months before I implement it because I want an alternative and I still haven’t found one that works for me.
I’ve seen some people use emojis or something similar to express how they feel about the book but that would be restrictive for me, as I’m an emotional mess and most times books make me feel more than one type of way and I feel like even then emojis can be interpreted in many way. The angry one for example, am I angry at the book? Did the book just make me feel anger? Is the main character an angry person? etc. See how I’m an overthinker? So yes, this wouldn’t work for me.
Then there’s the recommend/don’t recommend system. Which is…pretty black and white, if you ask me. Because there are a lot of books I would recommend to some people and not others, some others I would recommend under certain conditions and some that even if I dislike I would still recommend because it’s a case of “it’s me not you”. The one take on it that I’ve seen on it that has nuance to it that I *could* see working for me, is my friends @ The Quiet Pond‘s take on it where they have the aforementioned recommend/don’t recommend + highly recommend and then a section with “Is this book for you?” where they list a succent premise, the genre and trigger warnings. This leave a place for nuance in the case of “I don’t recommend but you might like it if you like X, Y and/or Z”.
This is where you come in, I would love to see what kind of other systems exist that don’t involve rating books on a scale or 1 to 10 or 1 to 5 or any variation of that, whether it’s one you use or see one you see a blogger you admire use, I’d love to hear about it. The classic rating system works for me less and less as time goes and this switch feels inevitable, it’s just a matter of when it’ll happen, rather than if.
That’s it until next time.
Do you rate books on a scale? Do you enjoy it?
And if not, is there any other system you like using?
Hope you enjoyed, write to you soon.