Sunday, November 30, 2014

Confessions/Rant: Book Ratings are in the Eye of the Beholder

Confessions of an Insomniac Book Devourer #13

One of the great questions you come across when you start book blogging is this: How do you rate books? Do you rate them on your enjoyment scale, or do you rate them as pieces of fine literature? How can you give 4 Stars to a Paranormal Romance that's lighter on the plot end and then give a classic that's filled with intricacies like foreshadowing, symbolism, and a well-executed plot only 3 Stars? What are the factors that come into play when you rate something?

These are complicated questions, but also deeply personal. On Goodreads, you can see people's rating averages, and sometimes you wonder why they're so high (or low, in my case). How can some people rate every book they read five stars, and others rate the majority of theirs only three stars? Do the people who rate books lower not enjoy reading?

As one of those chronically lower-rating people, I can tell you I enjoy reading books more than watching tv or even sometimes hanging out with people. I really don't know how some people always rate highly- I've always had clear ideas in mind for what each star really means to me.

1-1.5 Stars - Don't talk to me about this book. I don't want to relive my experience of it. This book wasn't bad- it just wasn't my cup of coffee.
2-2.5 Stars - This book was simply tolerable or okay (or meh), but I didn't like many aspects of it. I probably won't read it again, but may give it another chance if enough people like it.
3-3.5 Stars - I genuinely liked this book, I'll reread it sometime, but some aspects fell flat. I'd recommend this to certain people.
4-4.5 Stars - I pretty much loved this book. Sure, there were a few flaws, but it will be considered one of my favorites and recommended to most people.
5 Stars - This book amazed me. You cannot bash this book in my presence without me crying or spouting threats of imminent harm. I recommend these books to everyone, but will not hear of people not liking them- that is simply incomprehensible to me.

Factors I Consider in Book Ratings:

-My Own Enjoyment of the Book
 -Did I laugh or cry while reading this book?
 -How long did it take me to read it?
  -Did I read it fast because I skimmed or because I was enthralled?
 -Was I entertained or horrified?
 -Did I learn something new?
 -Did this book have something almost universally true about it?
 -Will I remember this book six months from now, or will I forget about it completely?

-The Writing Quality
 -Was the writing blah?
 -Was I distracted by spelling and grammar issues or repetitive words?
 -Would I read a dictionary written by this author?
 -Did I jot down any quotes for later reference?

-The Plot Quality
 -Was the plot plausible, even if set in a fantasy world?
 -Did it make sense, or did it feel hastily put together?
 -Did I predict all the plot twists?

-The Characters
 -Did I feel like they were real people or cardboard cut-outs?
 -Did I empathize with them, even if I wouldn't have made the same choices?
 -By the end of the book, was I rooting for the protagonists or the antagonists?
 -Would I want to meet this character in real life?

-The World Building (Sci-fi, Fantasy, Historical, and Paranormal Only)
 -Did I feel like I was in a different time or place?
  -Or did the conversations feel like something I'd overhear at the grocery store?
 -Was it a unique world? (Fantasy/Sci-fi/Paranormal Only)
 -Would I want to visit this time/place/world again?

-The Ending
 -As detailed in my previous confession, All's Well that Ends Well

So how do I rate a fluffy paranormal romance higher than a classic? Easily. Classics may be classics for a reason, but if I don't enjoy reading them, they aren't going to get a high rating, even with all the symbolism, foreshadowing, and intricate writing. Sure, those aspects will play into the overall rating, but if I don't enjoy it, I'm not going to be one of those people and rate it five stars simply because it's a classic. 

I once heard a self-published author complain that the person who rated his book low also rated classics with low ratings- and therefore must have bad taste. Times like these call for a gif:

Conan/Hulk to the rescue!
No. A person who rates classics in low star numbers doesn't have bad taste, they have their own unique taste, not to be judged by other people. The same applies to those who constantly rate 4+ stars on every book they read- they clearly love every book they read, maybe because they're optimists, maybe because they genuinely and fully enjoy every book they read.

I am not one of those people. I enjoy reading two star books, up to a point where something goes wrong, and sometimes the same scenario applies for one star books. I'm not afraid to rate exactly how I feel about the book with no regrets and no thought as to the author's feelings. Authors should know coming into the book writing world that not everyone is going to like your book. The same can be said for artists and their paintings, directors, actors, and screenwriters and their movies, and chefs and their fine cuisine. There will never be an author's work which everyone in the world loves, regardless of talent and the amount of sweat, blood, and tears extracted to produce the book.

(It should also be noted that everyone in the world cannot love one author's work, mostly because not everyone in the world reads, or likes reading books. It's an improbability.)

In conclusion, just as beauty is in the eye of the beholder, so book ratings too, are in the eye of the reader. There is no such thing as bad taste, just as there is no such thing as a wrong opinion. As long as we live in a non-dystopic, non-totalitarian world, there will be books and lovers of books who don't like certain books for whatever reason. And I will not judge them for it... even if they one-star my five-star reads.

Do you think there's such a thing as bad taste in books? Do you judge certain books more harshly than others? What are the biggest factors that influence your star rating?

Fun Fact: Beauty is in the eye of the beholder is an idiom by Margaret Wolfe Hungerford, written in her book Molly Bawn, although on Goodreads it's currently listed under Plato's quotes. Similar meaning quotes have appeared earlier, but Margaret Hungerford first wrote it as we see it today.


  1. Very logical list of factors! I also rate books almost entirely on my own subjective enjoyment of them (and frequently give out 4 or 5 stars, but perhaps I'm just getting better at judging what I like to read!). Although I often bump the rating up or down a bit based on overall worldbuilding, because I feel like that's a really important part of SFF.

    1. I agree- if the worldbuilding is there and it's awesome I tend to rate up, unless something irks me (the dialogue being too modern, or something). I buy books that have 4+ stars on Goodreads and end up not liking them as much, and the lower-rated books (with an average rating of 3.44 or so) I end up loving. I do a lot of review-skimming for elements I like in a book, but it is so hard to know what I'll like- my ratings are mostly counter-intuitive to the popular opinion.
      Thanks for sharing your opinion!
      ~Litha Nelle


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