It has been a long time since my last book review (which was The Time Traveler’s Wife, over 2 months back). This is not because I have not read any books since then. I have read quite a few, and I have enjoyed most of them. However, I have been hesitant to review them, mostly because, I have been hesitant to rate them.
All these years, I had never given much thought to book rating systems, but since I am now reviewing/rating books on a very public platform, I have been wondering about the usefulness and validity of these star based systems.
I believe that there are primarily 2 ways of looking at star based rating systems-
- The rating is paramount. The review is just an extended explanation of the rating.
- The review is more important. The rating is just a numerical value that accompanies it.
Where do I stand on this?
I personally think that stars are kind of meaningless on their own, mostly because everyone utilizes stars in a different way. Some people think 3 out 5 stars is a bad rating, some people think it is a good rating. There are people who rate a significant portion of their books 5 out of 5 stars, and some give them out very rarely.
Moreover, while everyone is reasonably clear on what anyone means by a 1 star or a 5 star rating; 2, 3 & 4 stars could mean vastly different things to different people.
So, I believe the rating on its own doesn’t tell anyone anything about the book. I put more stock in the reviewer’s opinion, and what they liked/disliked in a book. I might not always agree, but it still gives me relevant information which I can use, to decide about a particular book.
Individual or Comparative Scale?
This is another common dilemma while rating books – do similar ratings imply similar quality/calibre of the book? The short answer to that is – NO.
Here is the thing – I don’t give out many 5 stars, or even 1 star for that matter. My ratings mostly range between 3 and 4 stars, but even they don’t align. For instance – I gave 3.5 stars for Pradyumna, as well as for Outliers. Are both those books of the same calibre? Of course not.
They are from 2 very diverse genres, and I had 2 very diverse experiences while reading them. There is no way I can compare the two. But I pretty much enjoyed them equally – though in very different ways .
And while we are on the subject of comparisons, it makes sense to also mention this – the Harry Potter series is a 5 star series for me (well, duh), and The First Phone Call from Heaven is a 5 star book for me. But they are not even remotely on the same level. In this case, these books are in two different genres. But even if we consider only the genre of fantasy – I do not compare every single fantasy book with what the gold standard for a 5 star is. That would drive me nuts! If I enjoyed a book, and it worked for me, at the point of time I was reading it- it can still be a 5 star book/series.
The most important influence
The most important factor that influences my ratings is my personal enjoyment, which depends on my mood, and the overall reading experience.
I really appreciate a well-written book, with strong characters and themes, but I can even enjoy fluff (not elaborating, but you know what this means) when I am in the mood for it. Everything that I read need not be award-winning work of literature. But if I read a book at the wrong time, I will detest it, and curse the book, and the author, and the whole literary world for its existence.
My point is – my ratings are subjective. Actually everyone’s ratings are subjective. Our feelings and opinions are colored by our experiences, and that makes complete objectivity difficult (if not impossible).
The times when stars are useful
Having said all that I have said, I must admit that there are times when I find star ratings helpful – especially when I go overboard in either praising a book, or dissecting and analyzing my criticism of the book – star ratings stabilize things.
I can be overly critical and then give a book a rating of 4. And no, it’s not because I have Multiple Personality Disorder, but possibly because I did not hate the book as much. I might have just felt the need to elaborate on what I did not like, in that particular situation, but the book might have had some redeeming qualities that I did not go into detail about. And needless to say – this can work both ways.
My Question to You –
Do you find star ratings useful? How much do they matter to you? Would it bother you if they are not present in the review?
I am asking this, because I find myself overly obsessing over the ratings, when they don’t even hold that much meaning. So, I am considering not including the rating in my reviews, and just focusing on my thoughts, and opinions regarding the book. (Of-course I will continue to rate them on my Goodreads & Amazon profile.)
I will go with whatever the majority wants. In case, you guys do want me to continue with the rating in the reviews – I will continue to include enough information along with the rating, and also mention any personal biases which might influence why I liked/did not like the book, and whom the book might be more suitable for.
I would really appreciate your feedback in the comments. 🙂
Lots of Love Shantala