Sometimes I feel like the mean kid at the blogging table. I definitely feel like I am way more critical about books than the majority of bloggers. I read books that everyone and their mother are raving about, and continually find myself thinking “Well, it was okay. It was good, but I don’t see why everyone is giving it 5 stars.”
I've had these thoughts for a long time now, and it reminded me that reading is a lot of different things. Reading can be social, as shown by our blogs and social reading sites like Goodreads, but when it comes down to it, reading is also inherently personal. Reading is about the connection between the book and the reader. I believe in a reader-centred model of reading, by which I mean that a text isn’t fully complete until it’s being read. Each person brings their own background and their own thoughts into a book, and therefore the text and its meaning is different for everyone. That’s why you can read a book and give it a glowing 5 star review while I sit here and go “This is a 2 star book! What are they thinking?!”
So what does a 5 star book mean to me? In my review policy I describe 5 star books as:
Absolutely amazing books which deserve incredible praises. Well written, original, and have that elusive "unputdownable" quality to them.As you can see by that statement I take 5 star reviews seriously. They are the ones that make me have ALL THE FEELINGS, as the saying goes.
When I started writing reviews on Goodreads, even before I started Book Labyrinth, I discovered that I read for character. Of course I get drawn in by plots and settings, and a truly great book (a five star for me) will combine all those elements. It will most likely have an interesting plot point, great characters, and that je ne sais quoi that makes it so hard to describe why exactly you adore a particular book. But when it comes down to it I need to feel a connection to the main character. I prefer likeable main characters that I can empathize with, and I really love good character relationships to come through the text, whether they be romantic, family, or friendship. Those character relationships can turn a four star read into a five star for me.
So what about 3 star reads? I’m sure most authors would hope people rate their book as four or five stars, but of course it’s impossible for everyone to adore every book they read. Because I’m a bit picky with my books the majority of them end up being 3 stars. But what people seem to forget is that 3 stars is still a good rating. On Goodreads it means you like the book, and in my review policy I label 3 star reads as “Fun reads which I enjoyed, but are not particularly groundbreaking or dynamic.” 3 stars isn’t always a bad thing; there are quite a few 3 star books out there that I’ve liked quite a bit, but they didn’t compare to 4 star books I had read.
So really, rating and reviewing is so subjective. It all comes down to personal taste and what you’re looking for at the moment. It comes down to comparing, and it comes down to mood. If you read an action thriller when you’d really prefer a romance that book might get a lower rating than if you were really looking for that genre at that moment. This makes ratings tricky, but I still feel like in the end they’re helpful in distinguishing the great reads from good reads.
After discussing all this I know I’ll still feel like the mean blogger sometimes, but I think think I’m okay with that. I’ve come to see my reading quirks and pickiness as a good thing. It means that when I say I love a book you know I’m being completely truthful. It’s not just every book that I give five stars to, so that makes it something special. I've seen evidence in the comments from you guys that you recognize this about me, and that can only be a good thing from my perspective. And those 3 star, sometimes “meh”, reviews? They're probably a good counter to all the glowing fangirl reviews out there.
If you’ve made it through this ramble I salute you. I’d love to hear your thoughts on five star reviews, ratings systems in general, or if you ever feel like a "mean blogger" for being more critical about books you read.
While I don't do the rating on my blog, I do the Goodreads ratings and so few books get five stars for me. When writing reviews, I think I come across as less harsh than I might have felt when reading it. I blame this on my middle school teacher training--you have to give constructive criticism without breaking a kid.ReplyDelete
Agreed, I feel like even in the worst book you can still say "I appreciate what they were trying to do" or something similar.Delete
I don't use ratings on my blog for exactly this reason. There's so much debate as to what constitutes how many stars, and ultimately it comes down to how the reviewer defines that rating so it changes from one place to the next. And I sometimes feel that ratings can be misleading, so I rather just tell people what I liked/didn't like about the book that way they can make up their own mind about whether they want to read the book or not. But ratings can sometimes be useful if people don't feel like reading a review but just get a quick glimpse of the quality of the book. But regardless of the way you do it, it all comes down to how you feel about the book so ratings, even though they try to give an objective opinion, will ultimately still be subjective.ReplyDelete
Yah, I get what you're saying... for some reason I still really like giving ratings, and yet I can completely understand why sometimes they're not all that helpful.Delete
I don't feel inherently mean when I give more negative reviews. I didn't like the book. Am I not supposed to say anything about it because so many people did and I'm just being mean if I do? I don't think so. I'm not going to like a book simply because so many people did. If people haven't figured out by now that our reviews are our personal opinions and feelings about a book we read then my hope for humanity has dwindled a bit more. I didn't like a book. I'm not going to shut my face because I didn't like it. Deal with it. I'm sure those with dissenting opinions wouldn't like it if the roles were switched. No one likes to be silenced.ReplyDelete
For sure, everyone should always have a right to give their opinion, so long as it stays to the book and doesn't go into the territory of author bashing (because I definitely don't understand that).Delete
Sometimes, I wonder if I shouldn't have a rating system just because it can be hard to apply a "numbered rating" to a book. Everyone is going to read a book differently, which makes sense as to why I might give a book 4 stars while another blogger gives it 2 stars or vice versa.ReplyDelete
Often, I find myself looking at several things about a review usually the title of the book and the rating. If it's a book I'm interested in reading and I see it's rating (whether good or not so good), I will generally want to read the review to learn what the blogger liked or didn't like about the book. So I look at the rating as a quick means of letting my blog readers know how I felt about the book. It doesn't make you a mean blogger to rate a book less than 4 or 5 stars especially when you're trying to provide constructive criticism of the book. :)
Agreed, I've thought about taking out ratings, but in the end I think it's helpful... it can be a 3 star and still be a really decent read, but then when you see that 4 or 5 star you know someone REALLY liked it, and that makes me, at least, pay more attention.Delete
I do Goodreads ratings, but not on the blog. To me, I feel like people would just look at the rating and nix the review.ReplyDelete
As for reviews, there have been a few books that people have been raving wildly about (like Graffiti Moon and The Immortal Rules) that I just did not like. I went through and read the good and the bad (which were few) reviews and just didn't understand what I was missing.
But reading is subjective ... it's okay to not like some books. I can't imagine if we ALL liked the same books. How boring would that be?
It's hard to say... I've seen that rational from several people in the comments, and I never really thought of it before. I think I do generally look for a rating of a book, and then I read the review to see why they gave that particular number.Delete
Aw yes, that shows diversity right there because I am CRAZY about Graffiti Moon -- like I completely adored it. So it really just come down to personal taste, and even if something works for the majority it doesn't mean it will work for you. I guess I'm still curious about why. Obviously we're all different, but what makes something so AWESOME for a zillion people and just okay for me? Curious...
For me the five star rating and Personal Favorite kissy bear (which is the stamp I give my favorite reads, usually four and five stars), have to do with How much I enjoyed this book? and How Likely it is that I'll read it again?ReplyDelete
I can appreciate technical stuff, but for books to get really high ratings I need to feel like I'm going to keep them in my life for a long time, if not forever!
Three stars reviews are the most common for me, books that I enjoyed and that I'll probably read again sometime in the future but that don't require a special shelf.
I LOVE the idea of a personal favourite kissy bear, haha. I've thought of doing something similar... like making it 6 stars for ABSOLUTELY AMAZING HOLY CRAP SO GOOD books, or some kind of little graphic. Because yah, there are still books that are 5 stars, and then there are the ones I would give every star in the world to. =bDelete
We prefer not to rate books as a group, but individually a couple of us do, and we absolutely agree with what you've written here. Reading IS intensely personal, and everyone's tastes are going to differ. (That's part of what makes art so cool! Connection & interpretation.)ReplyDelete
And yes, people forget that 3 stars is NOT a bad rating. Amazon defines 3-stars as "it was okay" and as you said, GoodReads as "I liked it." Since when were those BAD? *shakes head*
Anyway, as readers, we place a higher value on reviewers/blogs that are willing to give un-inflated ratings. Reviewers/blogs like you/rs. :) Thanks for being honest -- and realizing that it doesn't make you mean!
Agreed, I feel the same way. If I see a reviewer give 5 stars to absolutely everything I'm not likely to continue following them, because I just don't think it's realistic to give every book 4 or 5 stars. I guess some people are less critical than others, but I'm also more interested in people who look at books a little more closely.Delete
Sometimes I feel like a mean blogger, too. I just finished a book that everyone seemed to love, and the ending was all kinds of awkward. (for me, at least) I really appreciate reviews that feel honest, instead of just a gush-fest.ReplyDelete
Actually, I'm ok with an occasional gushy review. But when every review is 5 stars, I can't get a feel for if I'll like what that blogger recommends. I've always appreciated your reviews because I know when something gets 4 or 5 stars, it's a good quality book.
Yah, I think I would agree with that. Gushy fangirl reviews can be AWESOME, but I would say that in context... they're especially awesome if you know that not every review by that person is like that. I love to see those gushy reviews from people who also give 2 or 3 stars, because then you know that the particular book has struck a chord in them.Delete
I don't think giving books less than five stars makes you mean at all. I enjoy most of the books that I read, I will be the first to admit that I am easily pleased with books and movies. I think this is because I get so stressed out with school and work that reading is a way more enjoyable activity so I normally love it. So I do have a lot of 4 and 5 star reviews.ReplyDelete
That being said the majority of my books get a 3 or 3.5 star rating.
I do sometimes wish there was another rating because not all of my 5 star books are created equal. I hold the books like harry potter and the hunger games in another category, but they still get 5 star reviews. It's not a perfect system , but I like it all the same.
Thanks for the great post, and I always enjoy your reviews. You don't seem like a mean blogger at all :)
Yah, I don't think any rating system will ever be perfect. I like the idea that Alex mentioned above, and that I've seen elsewhere, where those very favourite special books get a particular stamp or notification that not only are they a 5 star, but they're something special.Delete
Great post, Ashley! :D And I completely agree about reading and reviewing being subjective. I'm also a character reader. If I don't like a main character...I generally do not like a book. Other factors affect how I feel too, but the main character is usually what ties it all together for me. And I don't think you're a mean blogger. I think that even if you give a book a low rating you state yourself clearly and don't try to bias the reader. You state what you think, and I think that's fair. :)ReplyDelete
Also, I think ratings are up to the reviewer. I choose not to include them on my blog because I think without them my points or the things that I talk about liking, and disliking stand out better. Lots of the time, I feel like readers just skip straight to the rating, so I feel like I'm less likely to bias anyone by leaving out ratings. I also think that gives them the chance to read what I said I liked and disliked and to judge for themselves if they think they'd like it. I think that even with ratings, you do a good job with that, too though. So, ratings can definitely work. :)
I love that you posted this though, Ashley. :) It's good to get these kinds of thoughts out there, and I think it's interesting to see what everyone thinks on the subject. :)
Yes, I'm loving the comments! It's so great to see what people think about ratings and what makes people love a particular book.Delete
I think being fair is the big thing. I'm never going to outwardly bash a book. I have a couple reviews that I consider VERY critical, but I'm never going to just go "THIS SUCKS, I HATE IT!" It's all about context. So, you know, "This sucks, I totally hate it because ______" ;)
They're great! :D Agreed!Delete
I think you're definitely right about that. Fairness is key. I don't know if I have any reviews I'd consider critical. I haven't read many books that I have seriously disliked in a long time. I've kind of learned to not pick up a book if I don't think it will be something I like...especially after reading some series I couldn't stand and actually reading the whole series in entirely. I've learned if I don't like it to stop, and for the most part I've liked all the review books I've had, or at least liked them and not disliked them. :P I think it's okay to be critical though, as long as you're fair, like you said. :) haha That's the way to do it. ;) haha
Your 3 star ratings are my 7.5 star ratings (don't know why I ever decided to use a ten star rating system... ;) )- the large majority of books that I read fall into the category- what I like to refer to as the "meh" category, I thought that the book was enjoyable, but I probably won't be reading it again.ReplyDelete
And like we talked about the other day, you're not alone! This year I think I have rated a whole 2 or 3 books as 5 stars, whereas last year at this time I am sure that it was close to 20 or 30- I feel like the more that I read the more I come to understand what I truly like in a book, which leads me to be more critical- does that make sense? ;)
I think your 10 stars always make me think the rating is higher than it actually is (like to me a 7 seems REALLY high, but I guess it's sort of middle of the road to you)... so that's another interesting thing, because what those ratings mean isn't always the same to different people.Delete
Looking at my Goodreads I have 12 5 star reads this year so far, but that's out of 141 books. If my calculations are correct (so not guaranteed, haha), that's 8.5% .. which is pretty good. Last year I had 36 5-star reads, but that was out of almost 300.
Great post. I have actually been thinking about ratings the last few days because I haven't had a lot of reads lately that have blown me away.ReplyDelete
Here's what I think. I don't feel mean at all when I give a book a 3 star rating but I do have a habit of worrying that posting too many in a row makes my blog boring (in the same way that too many 5 stars gets predictable and...meh). I know I shouldn't but I can't help but wonder sometimes. I don't know if that's just something I worry about or other bloggers too? As for "negative" ratings I think you will find though that I don't have very many 2 or 1 star ratings. I just feel like they aren't worth my time mentioning them (it's rare anyways...but).
I don't know where people get a 3-star rating as thinking someone didn't like the book at all. I once had an author tell me (not for his book but another) that my review was "confusing" because I said I liked the book but "only" gave it 3 stars. I can only shrug my shoulders at the logic and move on...
I always enjoy reading your reviews whether they are 1-star, 3-star, or 5 star. And I DO know that when you have a 5-star rating you really mean it.
Yes, that's super weird... 3 stars is still very decent in my opinion, and as we've seen over and over again: reading is SO subjective, so as long as something is 3 stars in someone else's book it's probably still worth checking out, because it may be a 4 or 5 star book to you.Delete
Re: too many similar ratings in a row... hmmmm... I don't necessarily worry about that at all, but I get what you mean. When I schedule a few reviews in a row and they're all the same rating I do think to myself "man, I need a really good read in there somewhere"... I think it's nice when you can get some variety in ratings, but I wouldn't worry about it in the long run. I don't think it's something that will turn readers off.
Very interesting post!ReplyDelete
I was recently worrying over a 3-star review I was writing and have scheduled for a book I accepted for review because those are frequently perceived as negative ratings. I have always felt that they were neutral or as Goodreads puts it, "I liked it." I think you summed it up well, it was good, but not ground-breaking.
Sometimes I do find 3-star reviews difficult to write in a totally balanced manner so that it is obvious that I liked it, but there were issues. Often I find it starts looking like it should be a 4-star review because I've been focusing on the positive, or a 2-star review because I have been more negative. It's one of the things I am working on. :-)
I am probably guilty of giving too many 4- and 5-star reviews, but as you said, each reader is bringing something different to the table when they pick up a book. I do have to question people who always rate books that highly, though. I can't imagine enjoying every book I read to that degree, as much as I would love to!
So you just keep being the "mean" blogger, but really that should probably be honest blogger :-)
Haha yes... I think I've firmly come to the conclusion that I'm definitely not mean. Honest is definitely a better word, or even critical in the studious meaning of the word... I think I definitely look a bit deeper, if only just because I've read so much over the last few years that it's going to take more to impress me.Delete
Oh I hate giving bad reviews to books I received directly from the author. That's one reason why I've cut back on self-published reads, because while there are gems out there, the majority a bit lacking. I do find myself guilty of inflating a book to 3 stars when it really deserved less in my opinion. I haven't done that in a LONG time because I still feel bad about doing it... these days I'm all about polite but firm honesty.
I totally get where you're coming from on this, Ashley! I give 5 stars so very, very rarely – I can almost always see some way in which the book could be improved. By the same token, though, I very rarely give 1-star reviews - actually, I've *never* given one. I've given 2 stars a couple times but that's the closest I've gotten. The 1 and 5 star ratings on either end of the scale are more like benchmarks for me to put things in perspective. They're extremes, and most books won't be fantastic or terrible enough to meet either extreme. That's to be expected. Other bloggers treat 5 stars very differently, handing them out much more readily. I think some authors might be less disappointed if they realized that how the blogger interprets and uses their rating system makes a big difference, and that a 3 or 3.5 or 4 star rating is not necessarily a "bad" one.ReplyDelete
Out of over 1000 books read on my Goodreads I only have 11 that are one stars, so I don't that 1% is too bad. =b And generally those aren't ones I would post on my blog anyway.Delete
I guess I'd just love to know what everyone's reasons are... what that 5 star means to them that they can give it out more often. Are they less critical and/or more easily impressed? Or they just figure anything that they enjoy quite a bit is a 5 star? It just makes me curious, when people like you and I are more cautious about lauding down praise.
I'm with you here. I look at 5 star reads as books I can recommend to anyone. I like 3 star reads too. It usually means that I enjoyed it but it there were some things about it that could be better or I'd be careful who I recommend it to. I think it is much better to be careful with your 5 stars because then people can really depend on your recommendations.ReplyDelete
I like the idea of 5 star reads being ones you can rec to anyone. I don't know if I feel that way, just because book tastes are SO subjective, but it's nice to think about. And I think if you love a book that much it's definitely easier to recommend and to pull out all kinds of different appeal factors.Delete
You know, I've actually been feeling kind of the opposite lately. I give 4-star ratings the most often I think, but I definitely give a lot more 5 stars than you do. I guess it also depends on what you define the different ratings as. I have it listed on my blog but for ME, 3 stars means "It was a good book, but nothing extraordinary. The characters were most likely okay, but I might have had some issues really connecting with them. There might have also been things off with the plot and/or just generally how I felt about it. That being said, I did enjoy the story." Actually pretty similar to yours, looking at it now :P But I guess that's just taste. I really do tend to love a lot of books and maybe that's just because I'm less critical of a reader? I actually do find myself giving out more 3 stars lately (there was even a 2.75 recently! Besides that, I've only given two 2 stars, I think) so maybe my expectations are raising. Or it could just be the books. I don't know.ReplyDelete
I caught myself worrying a few times over the summer actually that I was lining up too many high ratings in a row. And that's ridiculous, obviously, because I'm not going to change a rating for a reason other than my feelings toward the book. But I have kind of the opposite feelings of you where I hear the whole, 'not everyone likes EVERYTHING and so why should there be so many 5 stars??' and think... ahhh. I'm honest with my reviews and ratings but I kind of feel like I'm being TOO nice? Like maybe I should be more critical just so it doesn't sound like I love everything I read?
I don't know, this whole thing is insane :P Everyone has different tastes and different ratings and different styles and that's what I love about reading. Period.
BTW Ashley, I SERIOUSLY value your opinion when it comes to books! I need to get better at liking and commenting, but I always read what you have to say if you've reviewed on GR. I just love the way you're so clear in your reviews about what works and what doesn't and it's extremely helpful in deciding if I want to read it or not. So, thank you for that! <3
Oh that's interesting! I like hearing from someone who gives a lot of positive ratings, and it's kind of weird and cool to think about worrying about the opposite. I guess it's the same thing, though -- we just have to review and rate what we feel. The fact that you enjoy the books you read so much is awesome, and you definitely shouldn't change those ratings, just like I shouldn't rate up because I feel bad about not liking something.Delete
Thank you so much, Sonia!! That is really sweet, and I'm feeling really crappy today, so it really made me smile to see this comment. =) I'm so glad that my reviews are helpful, because really that's one of the main purposes of them, besides writing them for myself.