Oct 5, 2011

What's in a star? (quite mad ramblings on ratings and positive reviews)

Until now, I never felt the need to explain myself for giving a book the rating that I do. I've been lucky to have read a few great books lately and gave them four or five stars. Sure, the question of rating and it's convenience came up many times, and many bloggers have already voiced their opinions on the subject. Is it fair, objective, accurate? What's the little thing for which you'll rate a book, say, 3.5 stars instead of 3 or 4? 
I was reluctant to write about it, thinking I'd sort it out over time, but a comment on my latest review implying that I'm too soft and generous gave me the final nudge. 
Can you seriously tell me I've rated a book to high-one that you haven't even read?

First of all, I don't think this rating is perfect (I've been using the Goodreads rating spanning between 'I didn't like it' and 'It was amazing'). What do you look for in reviews? Do you see I gave a book two stars and decide it's not worth reading? Or do you read through the review, see the pros and cons? I'd like to believe you actually take the time to hear what I did and didn't like about a certain book, because that's what I do. When I  read your reviews, I love to hear what works for you in a novel and what puts you off. But eventually, I decide for myself whether I want to read it or not. It works the other way round. I give it five stars and tell you why I loved it and point out its weak spots. But by no means does it mean that I'm telling you that the book is perfect. Only that there were tidbits I'm willing to forgive because 99% of it was amazing. If you read the books I rated highly, you may give it a lower rating, and you have all the right to do so. We are all different and experience books in different ways. We like different characters, different voices, different stories. If I found what I loved (good writing, gripping story, meaty characters), and if the book made me respond emotionally, I give it five stars. That simple. If I saved my five stars for perfection, it may never come. So, I should intentionally lower ratings because there has to be something better, only I haven't found it yet, but oh my, God forbid I tarnish its perfection by putting it in the same basket with others?

Which brings us to my main point.

If I gave five stars to a book, I'm not saying it's perfect. (Is there such a thing as a perfect book? If so, please let me know so I can experience this piece of heaven.)  But I promise that all my reviews are honest and reflect what at that moment I felt about the book. You won't see me sing praises to a mediocre book because I received a free copy or the author is a nice person. If the book sucks, I'll say it, and I respect you that much more if you do the same.

What are the criteria to push a book from 4.5 to 5 stars? By which parameters do you judge? Do you have a mental list of criteria that you tick to see whether the book meets a canon? And is there a canon? What kind of rating system do you use (if any)? Should there be a different set of ratings for different genres and age groups or should we simply stop complicating our lives and forget about the stardust?

Some reviewers are refraining from rating books this way as it's too narrow. I've been thinking about dropping the stars entirely, but I still feel it gives me a general overview. If a reviewer gave a book one star I want to see what they hated so much in comparison to someone who gave it 4 stars.

I've been reviewing books for two years now. Over that time, my tastes, perceptions and expectations in books have changed. Today I might give a lower rating to a book I loved two years ago. What should I do? Go back through my 100+ reviews on Goodreads and lower them? I think not. 

I'm trying to be as objective as possible while telling you about the books I enjoyed and thought you would enjoy too, but there's no extra star for individual liking. That may be the factor for which I'll give a book a somewhat higher rating. Or you may lower it. And there we go again.

In the bottom line, I started this blog to share my thoughts and opinions on books. If I'm judged for loving books and sharing my enthusiasm, then what's the point? I may as well just give it up.
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