How do you rate?

Posted 28 October, 2011 by Amanda / 16 Comments

I have been doing quite a bit of thinking about how I rate books, especially with all the talk floating around the blogosphere about positive reviews (see Parajunkee’s Book Blogging 101 from 10/6) and after seeing Smash do away with her rating system.   For the seven months I have been blogging, I have been using grades to rate books, all of which are related to Goodreads’ 5 star system, as such:

A++ = 5 stars — It was amazing
A = 4 stars — I really liked it
B = 3 stars — I liked it
C = 2 stars — It was okay
D = 1 star — I didn’t like it

I set my grades up a little different than many others who use grades, mostly because I am a tough rater (you can see my explanation about that here) and believe that 5 stars should be reserved for those really special books that just completely go above and beyond and blow you away.  This belief has only been strengthened as I’ve seen a small number of bloggers create a 5+ rating.  There is nothing wrong with creating a 5+ rating, it’s just that I prefer not to do so.  I also believe that 3 stars is NOT a bad rating.  The majority of books I rate fall between 3 and 4 stars, because I like them.  Or really like them.  But rarely am I affected by a book so much it feels like my emotions and I have been dropped kicked across the room, reducing me to tears or a stream of swear words — the kind of book that sticks with me for years because OMG that book was so amazing, it left a fucking scar on me.

Perhaps it won’t come as a surprise, then, to find that I am not a fan of Goodreads’ star explanation.  I could get into my language nerd mode and tell you that I disagree with the 5 star explanation because the definition for amazing has been changing and probably means less than what it used to mean.  But I won’t go there.  Instead, I will just say that I can find a book amazing, without feeling the need to give it 5 stars.  And I personally believe that for my ratings to mean something, I cannot stack the deck with a deluge of 4 and 5 star ratings.

Likewise, I don’t trust a book that only has 4 or 5 star ratings.  I do think that there are really good books out there, but my research in and knowledge of reading comprehension forces me to believe that everyone experiences books differently, and not everyone will like the same books.  So when an author pitches their book to me, and talks about all the 4 or 5 star ratings for their book, my first reaction involves raising my eyebrow suspiciously.  Even if their book is that good to receive only 4 or 5 stars, that does not mean I will feel the same way.  I experience books differently than everyone else, and I just can’t believe that everyone would like a book that much.  To me, it says the book just hasn’t found readers who didn’t like it — yet — and I have no desire to be the first.  Let me be clear that I rarely accept review requests.  I read for my own enjoyment, and taking a book for review messes with my overall enjoyment and turns it into an obligation, which in turn negatively affects my rating.  That is unfair to authors and other readers, so I have to be extremely convinced there is a really good chance I will enjoy a book before I accept it (e.g., I’ve read something by the author before).  Books I pick up on my own are an entirely different story.

I don’t like every book I read, and the ones I do like, I enjoy them to varying degrees.  I also find that my rating is a direct expression of how much I enjoyed a book (or didn’t enjoy it, as the case may be).  I don’t feel that grades accurately reflect this, and I wanted to find a different way of rating books that did reflect the relationship between rating and enjoyment.  So I did it.  I threw out my current rating system, and I am introducing the enjoyment scale.  The scale is a 10 point scale.  It is split between enjoy and did not enjoy.  I use it like this:

  • Did I enjoy the book?
  • Go to appropriate side of scale.
  • How much did I enjoy (or not enjoy) the book?
  • Pick a corresponding number.

Numbers between 10 and 6 indicate that I enjoyed a book.  Numbers between 5 and 1 indicate that I did not.  If you want, you can translate each point on my enjoyment scale into a 5 star rating by dividing the number by 2.  This way, any book I enjoy will rate between 5 and 3 stars.  Anything lower than 3 stars I probably didn’t enjoy.  This scale also means that I do away with shaded grades.  There is no need for half points here because they are built in.  My enjoyment scale will NOT change my reviews in any way.  In some ways, having an enjoyment scale will give me a greater ability to support my rating; it will be easy to talk about what I enjoyed or did not enjoy about the book, which I find to be central to a good review.

So, what will all this look like?  Tara, in her complete awesomeness, made some graphics for me.  From now on, there will be no grades in my reviews.  I’ve left all my previous reviews alone, because quite frankly, that is a lot of extra work I don’t feel like doing.  All my categories, however, have been updated to reflect the change.  Each review will feature one of the following graphics.  I hereby introduce you to the enjoyment scale, with explanations for each number on the scale:

10 = This book goes beyond mere enjoyment.  It blew my mind, shook me up, spit me out, and changed something important about me or my life.  It affected me, and I will continue to think about this book long after I finish reading it.

9 = I started this book for enjoyment, and it blew me away.  It’s not life-changing like a 10, but it will probably end up being one of my favorites.

8 = A damn good book.  It probably made me happy, made me sad, made me breathless, and kept me coming back for more.  Will definitely want more of the series or author.

7 = Caught between damn good and just good, a 7 is likely to have engaged me the majority of the time, but not tumbled and played with my emotions like an 8 or 9.

6 = Good.  There were some things about the book that didn’t resonate with me, but overall I liked the book.

5 = I really wanted to like this book, but there are some elements that I just couldn’t get behind, which caused me to not enjoy the book.

4 = Average.  I feel a vague sense of accomplishment for finishing this book, but it is very “meh.”

3 = Below average.

2 = The best thing I can say about the book is that I finished and it’s over now.

1 = Awful, terrible.  I’m questioning why I even bothered to finish it.

DNF = I don’t think it’s fair to rate a book I didn’t finish.  Sometimes — not always — I start a book then stop for ridiculous reasons.  Recently, a specific story line required us to be constantly on the edge about how the main character would survive because she depended on shots to stay alive.  I thought, “I don’t want to be on that roller coaster” and I put the book down.  The book was well written and the characters were interesting, but I just didn’t want to deal with that situation.  There was nothing wrong with the book itself.  The only problem was my particular preference at that particular time.  It is completely on me.

How do you rate books?

Filed under: Bibliobanter,


16 Responses to “How do you rate?”

  1. I think I know which book you mean. I haven’t read it yet, but it’s intriguing. I can see how that might bother me as well though.. shall see.

    I also think that I agree with you wholeheartedly about rating systems! A lot of the books I read are between 3 and 4.5 stars because yeah I enjoyed them but they weren’t, “OMGWTFLIFECHANGING!” Except I’m happy with my half stars for now, I think they do the job and I have a plugin that makes it verry easy to plop my rating in there at the moment. In fact, I’m semi glad for Goodreads’ static rating system when I finished Glass Houses because I wasn’t sure if I felt it was 3.5, 4, or 4.5, and I could comfortably stick it at 4 while I mull in over between finishing it and typing up my review. Win/win! :p

    • I don’t think there is anything wrong with half stars. My 10 point scale basically whittles down to half stars anyway, and I do the translation for Goodreads. I’ve noticed the majority of the books I read rate between 3.5 and 4. But I think part of what my 10 point scale does is give me a more defined explanation for each rating, which in turn helps me when I actually go to rate a book. It keeps me honest. :)

  2. Felicia the Geeky Blogger

    I have only given 3 5 Star Ratings this year and one for a re-read :)

    I have several that rank 4 to 4.75 and even more in the 3 to 3.75 range. I have to say I am getting close to not ranking at all because the more books I read, the more it just doesn’t seem like one 4 is comparable to another 4. That being said, I try to be specific but vague in my reviews so I am not sure I could do away with a visual rating scale—UGH!

    So for now, I will stick down to my .25 ratings just because I am to lazy to switch to letters LOL (Read 191 books this year that would be a lot of changing ) :)

    • I haven’t given a 5 star rating since January of 2010. To me, a 4.5 rating is just as good, and every book I’ve given 4.5 stars is one of my favorites.

      But as far as comparing books go… that is difficult. You’re never going to escape it. But that’s why I like having clearly defined explanations. If both books are COMPLETELY different, but still affect me in a similar way, then it’s good to go. Of course, I feel like some of my earlier ratings are probably too high. The whole, “this book is good so it deserves an A” mentality was too hard to break. I think this system gives me more freedom.

  3. Ooooo love the new system Amanda! I still use the basic 5-star scale, but like you, I only have a handful or two of books that I’ve given 5’s because I reserve that number for books that shocked me, or blew me away emotionally and that doesn’t happen so often. I consider a 3 a pretty good rating on my blog, it means I liked it but just had a few problems with it. A 3 and above is a book I would recommend:) Looking forward to seeing your new scale put to use!

  4. I like your system. I’m not a huge fan of the Goodreads stars though I do use them when I do my small reviews there. In my longer livejournal reviews i don’t give a rating as such, I just tend to say why I liked/enjoyed the book or didn’t.

    I do think enjoyment is a big factor. A book need not be a great work of literature to be very enjoyable and vice versa. I could never say I enjoyed Bolano’s ‘2666’ because it was very disturbing and its format challenging but I considered it one of the best works of fiction I have read.

    • I don’t mind the stars so much as the explanations for them. And actually, a couple of the books I’ve read and rated 5 stars have had a lot of flaws, but it was my reaction to them that made them rate so high. :)

  5. What? Amazing doesn’t mean amazing anymore? Huh. Must have missed that?

    Well, through our extensive convos on the matter, I’m pretty sure you know how suspicious I am of books that only have 4 or 5 star ratings, especially after having been duped many times.

    P.S. Do you carry Tara around in your back pocket? Seriously, I need to get me a duplicate to make me cool stuff.

    • Oh, it still means amazing. But the more things you describe as “amazing” the less amazing they really are. I’m pretty sure it’s like you have a set amount of “amazing” and the more you use it, the more spread out and thin in gets. That’s a pretty technical explanation. *nods*

      It takes a good amount of poking and prodding to get Tara to do these graphics for me, but it turns out I do pestering extremely well. She’s more “within reach” rather than in my back pocket.

  6. I liked the new system, and I think everyone keeps the stars because it matchs Goodreads, nothing wrong about it, but I agreed with you, three stars sounds bad, but in a total off 5 is a good rating. But I think authors only want 10 or five stars, lol

    Psique @ Book Travels

    • Three stars isn’t bad, though. Three stars is still a good book. I can understand authors wanting five stars, but it’s unrealistic to expect that their book will be loved that much by everyone.

  7. I use the goodreads ratings as a guideline but I agree with you that 3 stars isn’t a bad rating. Often people drop by my weekly round-up post and say it’s a shame my week has been disappointing when I’ve read a couple fo 3 star books. 3 stars means I liked it! When I repost to Amazon I do adjust my ratings because they seem to be weighted towards bad experiences (1 hate, 2 dislike, 3 OK – I’ve never been driven to hatred before).

    I use 1 star for books I don’t finish that I really tried to like. I’m honest and I think if I can’t finish it then there’s something wrong with it in my personal opinion, which is what my reviews are. If I don’t finish because I got distracted, I don’t review the book til I pick it up again.

    I’d hope that people actually read the content of my reviews to see if I liked a book and the reasons for it not being stellar. Ratings are very much just a guideline.

    • I think that in the end, ratings are just a quick fix that really tell you very little. Reviews are more important because one aspect that you really hated could be an aspect that someone else really loved, etc. And while everyone approaches rating differently, good reviewers will tell you what they did or did not like.

  8. I could not agree with you more about everyone experiencing books differently, and it is exactly why I don’t pay much attention to ratings.

    Love the scale. Thanks for the idea. Now I just need someone to create mine, with cute owl images. :)