Book Ratings

Monday, April 16, 2012


I know ratings books is a topic that has been discussed many times, but it's been on my mind lately.

After two years of blogging about books I haven't gotten tired of reviewing or discussing what I'm reading. On the contrary, I've found so many great recommendations and such great support from all of you. However, I have gotten tired of rating books. I have a hard time giving a book a 1-5 star scale rating sometimes for so many reasons.

1) Books are so different. I might love a new release and hate a classic one week and then have the opposite experience the next week. But how do you compare For Whom the Bell Tolls and Bridget Jones Diary (I liked Bridget better) or David Copperfield and The Corrections (that time it was David all the way). Just because a book didn't work for me doesn't mean it has no literary merit.

2) Books, even from the same genre, can be good for such different reasons. I can read Moby Dick and struggle through huge chunks of it and get bored or frustrated, but then love a line and come away from the whole experience feeling like I was challenged and grew as a reader. So the book gets a high rating. But I can also read a hilarious book, that's short and easy, but it makes me happy and laugh and it gets the same rating. Are these books the same, hell no! Yet some how they both end up with 4.5 stars.

3) There are so many other factors that I can't control about my reading situation at that moment. What mood am I in? Am I particularly busy that week? Did I listen to it on audio and if so was the narrator amazing/awful? Did I just finish a giant book or a great book? All of these things could potentially affect how I view the book.

I guess it boils down to this. I rate books because when I read other peoples' review, I want the bottom line. There's good and bad in every book, but did they like it in the end, that's what I want to know.

I rate books based on how they affected me, not on their merit in the universe as a whole. Take my ratings with a big grain of salt and rely heavily on your taste and what you know you'll like. Usually if a book gets a 1 or 2 from me, it's probably not going to be good no matter who you are. But if it varies between a 3 and a 5, so much of that is just personal.

Photo from here.

20 comments:

Sandy Nawrot said...

You bring up really good points. I rate that way too...how it affected me on that day. Some have abandoned the rating system, but I really WANT to see a rating when I read a review. Often I will read the review and really not know how the person felt...THAT comes out in the rating. There is a lot of lip service in reviews. And I feel compelled to put a number on a book too, even though they are all so completely different. It is the accountant in me.

Jeanne said...

And then you have readers like me--I don't even notice the rating. My eye skips over numbers and goes right for the words.

Amanda said...

I used to rate books, in the beginning, but gave it up quite awhile back. My reasons for giving it up were 1) it's difficult for me to rate nonfiction (do I rate the writing? the content? the presentation?) and 2) my fiction ratings change constantly. What I initial rate a book will change over time. I have no problem adjusting these changes on Goodreads when I come across them. But I don't want to go back and make changes on the blog posts themselves.

annieb said...

Great post, Melissa! I don't pay much attention to ratings because for me it is always about the words, whether in the book or the review. Also, I have noticed that sometimes the ratings don't seem to agree with the review.

LindyLouMac in Italy said...

Well put Melissa, it is indeed very personal and it would be very boring life if we all liked the same things in this world, including books. I just try to be honest and say what l I enjoyed or disliked about a book.

nomadreader said...

I am a rater, and I immensely prefer when bloggers also offer a rating. It's not a perfect science, of course, and my ratings typically come from a combination of quality and enjoyment. It's incredibly subjective, but when you know a reviewers tendencies, it makes it easier to figure out which books our taste would equate on. Ratings without a review are mostly useless. I love seeing the rating, but even more I love hearing why the book got that rating.

Teacher/Learner said...

I completely agree with how & why I still rate books I read. I feel my reviews are incomplete without a "bottom line" and it's only one person's opinion, so everyone can take it with a grain of salt...though I've always felt that you & I think along the same lines on a lot of books ;)

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

Sandy - I agree, I think sometimes people don't want to say anything too harsh, but they'll be honest with an actual rating.

Jeanne - That's funny. My eyes go straight to the rating, then I read the review.

Amanda - My tastes have absolutely changed over time. I rated books I read 7 years ago much higher than I would rate them now, but that reflected my taste at the time. It's helpful for me to reference my own ratings on LibraryThing. Nonfiction is definitely harder for me to rate as well, but I think pacing and presentation still matters.

annieb - I've noticed they don't always agree with the review, but the rating is sometimes more honest.

LindyLouMac - That's all I want from a review! Everyone has different tastes, which is the best part.

nomadreader - Exactly! I love the why, but I need the rating too.

Jenners said...

I feel just like you did!! I provide ratings because I think it helps my "readers" get a quick sense of what I felt about a book. But they are very arbitrary in many ways and my reads with the same rating are all over the place. Ultimately, every rating is a reflection of the moment in which you read the book and write the review. I think, in the long run, these kinds of ratings only have meaning when there are a lot of them put together -- like on Amazon. Still, I appreciate them when I see them.

celine said...

I only pay attention to the ratings when there's a review to go with it. I think it's just as you say, a rating helps bottom line the reviewer's feelings, but the review solidifies their thoughts on why they had those feelings. I was actually just thinking about this today and struggling with my usual guilt over the fact that I gave Tender Morsels only three stars despite thinking it is a masterpiece and Skippy Dies four despite finding it an annoying read. I had my reasons at the time, but my conscience still niggles me. I'm off to up the star rating on Tender Morsels.

BTW One of the things I find ratings useful for is in the 'compare books' feature in goodreads. If I read a very scathing or very glowing review of a book I had been considering reading, I love going to check that reviewer's ratings against my own to see if we have a general kind of taste.

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

Jenners - That's a good point. Seeing a list of other ratings is really helpful. It gives you a feel for what the majority of the people who read it thought.

Celine - I always have a couple books that I revisit each year because the ratings seem off in retrospect. I do think that knowing another person's taste in comparison to your own is helpful. There are some people that I know have very different taste from mine and if they give a book a high rating I know I probably won't like it.

Carrie K. said...

I know what you mean - sometimes I can get so frustrated trying to figure out how to rate a book - and for the very reasons you list. I've thought about getting rid of the ratings, too, but because I like seeing them on other blogs, I've kept them. It's like you said - bottom line, it's just MY rating. I sort of settled this with myself when I recently reviewed Sophie Kinsella's I've Got Your Number. I LOVED it, but when I looked at that 5-star rating, I kept thinking that people were going to think I was a fluffball. And then I decided I didn't care - I loved the book, it was a five-star read for me, and that's all that mattered.

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

Carrie K. - That's a perfect example. I remember reading the first shopaholic book and loving it, but how do I give that a 5 and then give a classic a 3? But in the end I'm really rating my experience, so it's ok.

Melanie said...

I came around to rating after i'd been blogging a while. what finally pushed me it was that i found on my end of the year posts i had a really hard time figuring out what i loved the most. And i came up with my own rating system from 1 to 7 instead of to 5 or 10. 5 is too few options and 10 is too many!

Biblibio said...

My main problem with ratings is the inconsistencies across the board. Every site, blogger and reviewer has their own yardstick for determining a grade (and sometimes even different numbers of potential ratings). In one place, a 3 might mean an awful book. In another place (or by another person), a 3 is a good book, a default enjoyable book.

Then there are more uncomfortable issues, like rating inflation or all-positive reviewers. These often cast doubt over a certain reviewer's rating system and can make them unreliable.

As for wanting the bottom line, certainly. But perhaps there's a way to do that without a numerical rating. Like you say, the distinction between one 4.5 and another lies in the content of the review itself. Perhaps instead of often-ambiguous numerical ratings, a simple "Bottom line:" can be used. Honestly, it depends on the context, on the reviewer and on the site. I've struggled with the limitations of ratings for years... I am envious of reviewers who have come to terms with them.

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

Melanie - Seven is a good amount. When I just kept a personal review journal I had a 1 to 10 system. Sometimes I still struggle with the fact that 3.5 seems really low, but it's actually a 7/10.

Biblibio - That's very true, but I think the solution from that just comes from your familiarity with the reviewer. If you know they tend to rate high or something. If a reviewer only rates high or has overly positive reviews for every book then I don't trust any of their reviews. Maybe just having a "Bottom Line" at the end of the review would be a good thing to start doing!

Trish said...

I've thought of coming up with a rating policy to explain my ratings but I just haven't been able to put them into words. Basically a 5/5 for me is something that has grabbed me so tight and made me feel so much and is still going to be squeezing me years later. 4.5/5 was awesome but didn't quite make me feel like a 5/5 book did. How do you explain that succinctly? ;)

So, I continue to rate but mostly for me. The numbers don't really mean anything. I did start doing a "Bottom Line" at the end of my posts a while ago and like doing so. Also really like when others have something similar as it's usually what I'm looking for in a review.

Sticky little ratings!!

Jeane said...

I've had a hard time with ratings because often readers seem to misunderstand what my rating numbers stand for. I'll have people say "oh, you only gave that book a 3, so it must not be good" when in my system, a 3 means a perfectly good read that I'd happily recommend. Sometimes though I go back and read a review I wrote in the past and feel like my perception of what the rating should be has changed...

Suey said...

Ratings have been giving me a little grief lately too. I've changed them from the letter grade, to a star rating to match Goodreads, which hopefully will make it easier. And i will not stress about the differences in books (but I know what you mean) so if I LOVE a book, it's a five, if I really really like it, it's a 4, if it was great and I liked it, it's a three, and so on. So, like you said, it's all about what I feel, and that's basically it!

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

Trish - They are tricky aren't they! It's really rare for me to give a book a 5. I only do that If I absolutely loved it and wil definintely reread it at some point. A 4.5 is a book I really loved, but it's not going to be an all-time favorite that I return to. It is pretty subjective, but that's what works for me.

Jeane - I struggle with wanting to change my ratings a few years later, but I try to resist.

Suey - That's almost exactly what my ratings amount to. I do a 5 out of 5 star system, but it boils down to what I like and how much I like it.