My (not great) feelings about book ratings

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Hello friends!

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.

Titles

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.

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15 thoughts on “My (not great) feelings about book ratings

  1. I don’t rate books on my blog, because you’re right, ratings are so subjective. And there are some books that I didn’t care for even though they were well written. I usually have to rate ARCs that I get, but I don’t have to put a star rating on books I just read. If I think they’re 4 or 5 stars, I’ll usually put a rating on Goodreads, but you’re right about the three-star thing. A book can be good but still not merit 4+ stars.

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  2. i rate books with stars, but i constantly change them because i feel like my view of the books change after i read them. i try to follow goodreads star rating,but the goodreads ratings are so subjective! usually i’ll take other people’s star ratings with a grain of salt, because you can’t encapsulate your feelings about a book with a number. i really liked this post

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  3. I give books X/12 because that seems nuanced enough to me; I give plot, characters, writing, and setting x/3 and tally them. I usually share the tally, a brief summary, and my overall thoughts and feelings. 5 stars is too vague, so if i’m looking for books on goodreads I scroll down to see what people said instead of looking at the rating.
    3 stars are a bit of a double standard, because they’re easy to give low-key good books, but I’m wary if it’s less than 3.4.

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  4. I loathe the star rating system because of the subjectivity/there are no strict rules or criteria for each star – everyone has their own idea of what each star means. I love your statement: “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.” Exactly!

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  5. I personally just rate the usual 5 stars because I don’t go based of ratings, but off reviews most of the time. Even then, some people that I love and admire may absolutely hate a book, but I’ll read it and end up liking it. So I try not to take too much stock in reviews in deterring me from reading something unless it’s very problematic and just…. bad I guess. That’s not a good word for it but hopefully you know what I mean. I think The Quiet Pond was the best example that you gave in how they do this, because it makes a lot of sense and doesn’t automatically recommend/not recommend across the board. Great post.

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  6. I used to not have any issue at all rating books until this year, too! The only places I give star ratings is on Goodreads and Amazon. When I post a review on my blog I don’t include any kind of rating whatsoever and instead prefer to let my review speak for itself.

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  7. I totally get you – sometimes I feel like my rating system has no direction and it’s all over the place, and a lot of times I wish ratings just didn’t . . . exist and that they aren’t such a norm in the book community. I think I will continue to rate books, not really for a specific reason, but just for the sake of doing so, if that makes sense? Great post ❤

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  8. so in all my time in the book community, about 3+ years, i never felt good about goodreads. in sense of reviews, i love all the other services it provides. and the main reason for that is my feelings nearly always change after reading a book. typically in the moment i rate too high. i guess cos i’m so in my feelings immediately after i complete the book. i rate a book 5/5 and say it’s a new fave and after a few weeks the book never crosses my mind again – which is how i personally know it’s not a fave. so i stopped writing reviews on gr a little while after i started. cos my feelings change so much and it felt so public on gr, esp knowing like you mentioned – some people rely on reviews. on my bookstagram i used to give a small review and a rating. now for the most part i keep a track of my reading in my own notes. sometimes it’s just my thoughts and other times i give it a rating too. i keep track of when i change my rating as well. with the goal of getting to the point where i rate accurately enough that i don’t change my ratings so often. i’m also considering switching to a scale of 1 to 10 rather than a 5 star rating. more accuracy for me. i feel like with that scale i can defo differeniate between a book i enjoyed in the moment, aka 8/10 or 9/10, and an actual fave, aka 10/10. also i use .25s and .75s in the 5 star scale so often that i just know i won’t be able to stick with that scale for much longer.

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  9. I really agree that no book is perfect and not every 5* read is an all-time favourite- I think the difference is purely emotional as well. And ratings are so subjective- it bugs me sometimes that people don’t get that. I also don’t see 3* as a negative rating (heck for me, even 2* isn’t that bad, cos I give that to books I think other people will probably like, even if it wasn’t for me). I think it’s fair to not use ratings- you should do whatever works best for you 🙂

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  10. Pingback: Sunshine Blogger Award #5 – the orang-utan librarian
  11. this is such an interesting post, Fadwa!! I always debate with myself on giving books ratings and I’ve always wanted to be one of those CRITICAL readers and I almost always end up lowering my ratings after I rate something around four or five stars… which is a Mess. I agree that I think it would be hard to think of a suitable alternative, and I also really like the way that The Quiet Pond does their recommending section!!

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  12. This is a really interesting post. I do rate books though I don’t give the whole book one rating. I have multiple ratings based on different categories which I think helps me a lot with feeling all scattered and stressed about my rating. I think the written review is definitely most important rather than a rating. Do we even need a rating system? Why not just write a post about how we feel about the book and let people decide from there? The real pro of a rating system is to get a quick glance if you don’t want to read the review of the blogger. I find that even if I see a bad rating or a good rating I always end up reading the review to see why they felt that particular way.

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  13. glad to read your thoughts about all of this!!
    i’ve never really had a problem with rating books since i’ve always seen it as something made to be subjective. it reflects what the book gave me, how it impacted me and how i will remember it. but i still try to put trigger warnings and “would recommend if you like X and/or Y” in my (very few) reviews, because at the end i know my readers won’t necessarly enjoy the book just because i loved it.
    amazing post!!

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  14. Amazing post!! Rating books is so complex, I feel like I have 8 different rating levels for each star rating. I give some books I liked 3 stars, and I give some books I disliked 3 stars. There are some books that I’ve rated 5 stars that I had lots of problems with, but like you, I gave them 5 stars based purely off of an emotional standpoint.

    I do see some bloggers who use a non-star rated system, which at times I like, but at others, I’m a bit confused because so many of them are super ambiguous.

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  15. Very interesting topic!

    Personally, I rate on a 5 star systems with half star ratings. I almost never rate a book right away, but rather sit on it until I write my review & work out my feelings. When I decide on a rating, it is very much based on my enjoyment of the book. I have given out 5 star ratings to books that have some issues and also to books that do not make it into my favorite book lists. I do notice that If I’m going to rate a book 5 stars, I do it right away in the heat of the moment. If feel that strongly about it, it deserves the 5 stars.

    If a book was just okay, I will usually give it 3 stars. It doesn’t mean I didn’t like it, just that there was room for improvement.

    There are times where I chose not to rate a book. Typically these are books that I feel most others would really enjoy, but were not for me for various reasons.

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