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Thursday, February 5, 2015

On Rating Books (and book reviews).

...I've started and restarted (and titled and retitled) this post a few times today (and not just because I got to visit this little guy - and his mama - for a spur of the moment evening date.)

And I don't know why it's so hard for me to write about it for real because the conversations I carry on in my head make it seem so easy. oh well. I hope you'll bear with me! I want to talk about book ratings (and book reviews). Yeah, I finally just went with the simple title!

This whole conversation stems from my recent 4-star rating (and accompanying review) of The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay. This book has been on my radar for years (Katie left a paperback copy on her bookshelf when she moved out...8 years ago?) and I attempted to read it way back then but just couldn't get into it.

My sister listened to it (David Colacci narrates - he also narrated The Sparrow) and loved it. She'd give it five stars if she did that kind of thing. But she and I tend to agree about the books we love so I decided to try it. I was completely and totally engrossed the whole time (I might've even folded laundry just to grab a few extra minutes...that's telling).

Here's what I wrote on Goodreads:

I really really wanted to give this one five stars. the story captivated me. there was a bit of magical realism, david balladicci's narration was superb, the jewish theme, the gay theme. the comics theme. I really loved this book! maybe I need to let go of my "made me cry = 5 stars" rule. I didn't cry. but I wish I had. I also want to read ALL the comics. and more about golems.

And it's that 5-star rule that I want to talk about. My sister thinks I'm crazy not to rate this book 5 stars. but I didn't connect with it the way I expect to connect with my 5-star reads.

Up to now (and yes, that means I'm probably going to make a change!), my scale has been:

1. oh my, I hated it. this is rare for me because I usually stop reading a book like this.

2. ditto. although I have plowed through a few so I could discuss them at bookclub.

3. average. interesting enough, but not compelling. maybe a nice story or an interesting character/setting.

4. keeps me engaged with a good story and interesting characters. at some point I was making time to read(listen) to this book instead of doing other things. I think about the book when I'm done reading it and want to talk about it. most of the books I read fall into this category.

5. all of the 4-star scale...and an emotional attachment that makes me cry, usually about the characters or the story. almost never about the writing - you know the turn of phrase that makes you want to highlight the words.

I look at my ratings history in Goodreads and I think maybe I've been an easy grader. I rely a lot on the recommendations of friends to be pretty sure when I start a book that I'm going to like it (church bookclub aside, yet also notable for the solid 4 and 5 star reads I've had there) - so I expect everything will be at least 3 stars or better.

But now that I'm reading more, I think it might be time to change my scale. I want to rely less on emotional connection and more on simply connecting. I'm not sure that means books I highlight more, maybe it's just books I enjoyed more.

So - question to y'all is about how you use the stars? specifically what makes a book four vs five? and how much attention do you pay to others' ratings when you decide what to read?

p.s. I also look at all of your Goodreads ratings before I pickup a book to read (yikes! as I type this I think I do need to get outside my box a bit and read something none of you are reading!)


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Blogger Bonny said...

I can't wait to read all the comments on this great topic! To answer your questions - I use stars pretty much like you do, but differ a bit on the 5 star rating. For me, a 5 star book is one that has it all - a unique story and characters that I feel connected to, but it must always be exceptionally written. A 5 star book may be one of the best I've read in its genre, or even transcend its genre; it makes me think and want to read further, and often haunts me for a long time afterwards. Books don't often make me cry, so I can't use that criterion!

I do pay attention to others' ratings when I'm deciding what to read, but I've changed my methods in the past few years. I used to look for books with many 5 star ratings, thinking that meant it would be an amazing book. Now I get my recommendations from what gr friends are reading, NYT, NPR, etc., and then I look at the 2 and 3 star ratings for the books I'm considering. Often people writing those reviews seem to do a better job of explaining just what they didn't enjoy about the book, and then I can make a better judgement whether that book might be for me than I might be able to from a fluff 5 star rating. So yes, I do look at others' ratings, but I do that mainly if I'm spending money on a book. I'll try almost anything if I'm browsing at the library, and I've discovered some of the best books I've read that way. Thanks for a post on a topic I'm always interested in!

Thursday, 05 February, 2015  
Blogger Carole said...

This is a really interesting subject! I tend to give most books 3 stars - never less because I wouldn't finish something that I wouldn't rate 3 stars or higher. A 4 star rating means I loved it - the writing, the setting, and all. Most of the books I read tend to get 4 stars and I think that's because I am very pick about what I add to my queue. A 5 star rating means that I want to go out and hand the book to every person I see and say : READ THIS!

Friday, 06 February, 2015  
Blogger Debbie said...

Most books I read get 3 or 4 stars. 1=I didn't like it, I may or may not have finished it, 2 star=It was okay, could have done without reading it 3 star=it was good & entertaining, 4 star=well written, great characters, gives me new insights & I loved reading it, 5star=exceptional, grabs me in a certain way, new insights, & I want someone else to read it. I often have difficulty choosing between 4 & 5 star ratings...sometimes it is close! I try not to let my ratings be influenced by other people...we all have our own tastes and opinions when it comes to books! It is all good!

Friday, 06 February, 2015  
Blogger Honoré said...

This is indeed an interesting subject and I'm afraid I have absolutely nothing to add to the discussion. I don't rate books 'cause I don't really use a tracking system...tho' I've been with Good Reads since it first started. I think we're I to rate a book, my schematic would be more like Carole's.

Friday, 06 February, 2015  
Blogger margene said...

My ratings are similar to yours. To love a book enough to give it a five star review I want to connect with it deeply and to have it "rip my heart out". I've tried to relax that standard some and go with a great emotional connection, not necessarily sad. I am not generous when it comes to 5 stars, but that doesn't mean I didn't enjoy the book. In any case, all of our ratings are subjective and what is a 3 star for you may be a 5 star for me.

Friday, 06 February, 2015  
Blogger Lydia said...

I'll give a book 5 stars if at the end I'm like "wow, didn't expect that", or just "wow". 4 stars for a book that keeps me interested from start to finish, 3 stars if I just don't "get" it, or feel like the author didn't do a good job of convincing me of the characters or plot. 2 stars for those books that seem stale, redundant and don't live up to expectations or reviews. 1 star for something that was just poorly written and uninteresting. I only finish 1 star books of they are for book club cause I usually change my mind after discussion. If I don't finish a book it might get 1 or no stars.

Friday, 06 February, 2015  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

For me - 1 - AWFUL. 2 - OK - ehh. 3 - Good/Average. 4 - Very good. I enjoyed the story/made me think/enjoyable to read. 5 - GREAT. I thought the story was fabulous/unexpected/page turner/beautiful writing/spoke to me/made me think. I do reserve 5 stars for what I think is the best of the best. Something I would recommend over and over again.
As far as reading others reviews, I don't pay a whole lot of attention to the Goodreads or Amazon reviews. I might check out a few, but typically I find books based on reviews/blurbs in magazines or the newspaper, recommendations by friends, or simply perusing the library shelves. - Dee

Friday, 06 February, 2015  

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