Thursday, 20 August 2015

Star Ratings: Measured by enjoyment or worthiness?

There has always been questions about star ratings for books, especially those on Goodreads, and I've started to really think about how I rate my books lately.

What makes a 5 star read?

What makes a book jump or drop a star?

Do I use other ratings as a comparison point?

And the big one for me: do I rate on my enjoyment or the book’s worthiness?

Choosing a star rating for Goodreads is something that I think about while still reading. I debate how much I’m enjoying it, how it’s making me feel, the writing, the plotting, the characters, and even how ‘good’ it is from a literary standpoint sometimes. But I never take all of these into account.

There are books that I tore through, gobbling down every word and still gave three stars – considered not a positive rating – because actually, it wasn’t that well-written or had some plot/character/suspension of disbelief issues. But I loved the experience of reading that book so why isn’t a four or five star read?

Then comes my monthly classic read. It can be tricky, hard-going, and complex or even a slog to reach the end, but I always feel accomplished by that point. I admire the writing and the story and finished product but I didn’t love it – how does that equate to the same rating as the book I mentioned previously?

I’m going to give you a peek into my Goodreads ratings of 2015 so far. As of writing this (10th August), I’ve read 128 books this year and most of my reads have been four star reviews, but look at the range of titles:

It all looks a bit ridiculous, doesn’t it?

I've rated Wuthering Heights – a 19th Century classic of English Literature, an intricate novel of hate and love and power told in the most beautiful prose – the same as Rule – a previously self-published new adult romance littered with typos, grammatical mistakes, questionable relationships and meh writing, but I loved reading it. How can these two novels rank the same? I don’t feel the same way about them, I didn’t even enjoy them in the same way, but I did enjoy both of them.

And I rated both of those novels above Jane Eyre – another beloved classic – and the new Patrick Ness novel, The Rest of Us Just Live Here, with an average rating of 4.02 and by an incredibly popular and well-respected YA author. Again, seems kind of crazy.

The only thing I’m immoveable on when it comes to rating books on Goodreads is the elusive five stars. I’ve been a voracious reader for a very long time. I read a lot and I think that the more you read the more particular you become, well I do anyway, and that shows in my five star books. I couldn’t tell you what bumps a book up from four to five, but it’s something I know when I turn the last page. It’s partly that breathless feeling, as if I've been swept away; it’s partly the agony of having to let this world and these characters go; and it’s partly knowing that I’ll be recommending this to as many people as will listen for the foreseeable future.

I've come to the conclusion that star ratings are all kinds of rubbish really. Everyone knows how subjective reading is. No book speaks to every reader in the same way. Different aspects of a novel are important to different people. They’re kind of irrelevant, except maybe for my own need to categorise everything, and though I don’t pay a particular amount of attention to other people’s ratings, I know I’ll continue to put far too much thought into them. But I’m resigned to that!

Do you rate your books on Goodreads? Do you like them? Do you rate them regardless? How do you rate your books? What makes a five-star read for you?



  1. What a great post! I have been thinking the same about my own Goodreads' ratings lately. I rarely have ones or two, because frankly, I usually don't read the book if it is that bad and therefore don't review it, which is probably not good! I think I need to focus on writing more thoughtful reviews, which will add context. Thanks for making me think!

  2. I think my ratings are based on a number of things but probably the biggest factor is how much I enjoyed reading it for whatever reason. There have been really well written books that I've read and liked but that didn't have that special something that made them impossible to put down that would lead to a 5 star rating.

    I also think I rate differently based on the genre, you can't really compare a paranormal romance to a classic and what I want out of a fantasy is going to be very different from what I expect from a chick-lit type contemporary. I think ratings are very subjective though so I don't tend to put too much emphasis on them, that's probably why I've never added star values to the reviews on my blog.

    I'm happy to dish out 5 stars if a book grabs me in and completely captures my attention and I tend to be quite good at picking books that I know I'll enjoy so like you most of my ratings tend to be around 4 stars. If I give a book 3 stars I think that's still a good rating, it means I liked it but that I probably wouldn't read it a second time. 2 stars is for books I didn't really enjoy but that I was able to finish and my 1 star ratings are reserved for books I didn't finish. That could be a rating given to a really well written book that I just didn't get on with for some reason or it could be a book that had terrible editing. The fact that I didn't finish reading it means that I didn't like it though and I try to always make at least a quick note about why I didn't like it so that other people will know if it's an editing issue or a personal thing that might not bother them as much as it annoyed me.

  3. I think I try and do it on a mixture of both, both writing style and quality, and how it made me feel/how fast I read it. It seems easy when you're doing it, but when you compare them, then it just gets confusing and weird! Like I can have a book I really liked but had an issue or two with, and a book it took me ages to read but still enjoyed, and they're both 4 stars... Now I'm questioning myself! Dammit Sophie, don't make me over-think things!


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