Why I Struggle Rating Books and Why I Think Ratings are Relative

Sometimes the hardest thing for me to do is give a book a star rating. I could talk all day about my thoughts on a book… seriously. Sit down and ask me my opinion on it and we could talk for hours, regardless of whether I liked it or not. There are just so many things to talk about. But to narrow down a whole book into a rating… to determine exactly how many stars out of five a book deserves… sometimes I feel like it just about kills me.

I think I might be improving on this… or at least I’m getting better at pulling the trigger and just picking a rating. Thanks to Goodreads, I feel like I have to rate most books once I complete them. bed side tableBut unless I just hands-down loved the book, I have a hard time deciding what to give it. I’ll be honest–I’m a high-rater. I rarely give books below 3 stars, unless I just couldn’t finish them. And even then, I feel guilty giving them less than 3. I’m not sure why that is… Maybe because I know that just because I didn’t like it doesn’t mean it’s a bad book… or maybe I’m too nice (have too much of a guilty conscious), and I know there’s a human out there that put their blood, sweat, and tears into that book. In any case, I’m generally a pretty high rater. But finding the right niche between 3-5 stars is difficult for me.

The reason for this, I think, is because not all books can (or should) be rated on the same scale. There are so many different types of books, and so many different purposes for them. Some books are meant to teach you about the human condition; they’re meant to force you to look into your own soul and reflect. Some books are meant to give you a few hours of fun and escape… I don’t think either type is wrong.

As a former English major, I’ve read and analyzed a lot of really amazing works of literature. Virginia Woolf, James Joyce, Franz Kafka, John Steinbeck… this list of the greats goes on. And whether or not I loved reading all of these works, I can recognize that they are incredible creations, and that purely from a craft perspective deserve a full 5 Stars. A Virginia Woolf novel, for example. I could spend hours mesmerized by the language on a single page. Nothing necessarily happens in the whole book, but it is beautiful and stunning and reflective and I underline and write in the margins so much that it’s hard to decipher.

And then I read something light and fun… a young or new adult novel. A romance. And I fly through the pages in a matter of hours and completely and fully enjoy every single second of it. On a craft level, it’s not that great. It’s a simple story, there are probably lots of clichés, it’s cutesy and not completely (if at all) believable. But I still loved it. And so I give it 5 Stars as well.

And then I start stressing out. Because how in the world could that silly little romance be on the same 5 Star shelf as To The Lighthouse? Or Ulysses?

Sometimes I see people post about a book and how much they enjoyed it–“it was the perfect summer read! I loved every page!” And then they proceed to give it 3 stars. This confuses me.

booksObviously, you should rate books with whatever system works for you. I am in no way suggesting that if you’ve done this, that your way is wrong! But for me, if I really like or love a book, it’s going to get 4 or 5 stars! Even if it’s not great “art.” If it’s purpose for existing is to be a pleasurable diversion, and if I fully escape into it for a few hours and leave feeling happy and content, then I think that book did exactly what it was meant to do.

So maybe it’s not the same shelf. Ratings, in my opinion, are relative. There can be a shelf for 5 Star works of literature and a shelf for 5 Star young adult romances. The romance is a 5 star because it did exactly what it promised, and I loved it. And that deserves 5 stars from me, just like that Virginia Woolf novel deserves 5 stars for doing exactly what it was meant to do. I think that’s okay. And I think it’s completely okay to like both of those kinds of books! (I could probably write a completely separate post about why I firmly believe in reading what you want to read!)

So there you go. A few of my random thoughts on why ratings are hard for me and why I think they should be relative. Do you agree? Disagree? Maybe giving a book a star rating is easy for you. If so, please DM me and tell me your secrets? I’d love to chat about this, because I’m always so curious as to how others decide how to rate a book. What qualifications do you use? What makes you give a book 4 stars instead of 5? Let me know! Let’s chat!

lily in the library


24 thoughts on “Why I Struggle Rating Books and Why I Think Ratings are Relative

  1. Such an interesting point of discussion! I am guilty of giving books I enjoyed a 3 star rating. When I give a book 4 or 5 stars, it’s an indication of my enjoyment and that the book is well-written. I would feel comfortable recommending to others any of my 4 or 5 star rated books. The ones I like and rate 3 stars are usually books that I enjoyed (often because they are sugary sweet), but they weren’t well-crafted and I wouldn’t necessarily recommend with my stamp of quality approval. I also rank books that I didn’t enjoy as much but are well-written with 3 stars as a nod to giving the author due credit. You are absolutely right though, ratings are so subjective! I do give out 2 stars to books I really didn’t like, but I don’t think I have ever given out a 1 star–that seems cruel!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s completely fair! I’m definitely not saying that’s a wrong way to do it. I’m glad to know why you rate things that way! I typically wouldn’t give 5 stars to a book if I was disappointed in the craft to the point of distraction. But if I just absolutely loved it, even if it’s not great writing, I’ll probably rate it higher. But I love hearing your explanation for why you rate things the way you do!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I relate with this post so much! I always feel guilty for reviewing a book I didn’t like, because I know the author put a lot of work into it. But just because I didn’t enjoy it, doesn’t mean someone out there won’t!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes!!! I’m so glad someone out there feels that way too! I want to be truthful in my reviews but I also want to acknowledge the fact that my opinions are definitely going to be different than someone else’s, and that just because I didn’t like it doesn’t mean it’s a bad book or that someone else might not love it!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I completely agree! I agonize over ratings and find it so hard to judge different types of books by the same system – especially when it comes to YA, it shouldn’t be doing the same thing as adult literary fiction so why use the same yardstick? Short of publishing a variety of different mark schemes like a school report, I don’t know what to do about it! I just try to always justify and explain my rating in the main review – the teacher in me can’t let it go!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes exactly!!! I definitely feel like I make it harder on myself than I need to. I’m reading for fun, so I shouldn’t have to take the rating system so seriously. I’m trying to loosen up on it and just rate things relatively without comparing and agonizing over it too much (but it’s definitely a work in progress!)


  4. I DEFINITELY struggle with this but, hopefully, I think things are getting a little easier. Like you, I have stopped trying to rate books in comparison to what I might consider great literature or writing; if I’ve fully enjoyed a book, and it took me out of my little world an carried me into another, that’s probably going to be 4 stars (I think I’m a high rater, too – ha!) and I’ll likely recommend it to those I think would also appreciate it in that way. I’ve also tried to get away from caring about what others think of a particular book: none of my friends want to depart from their usual fare and read a light romance? That’s okay! It doesn’t mean I can’t give it four stars; to each his/her own, right? GAH! I could sit and talk with YOU for hours about this, Jo!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh my goodness, exactly!!! This could definitely be a sit down over coffee conversation with us I think! (So glad to have found fellow bookworms!) I’m definitely guilty of feeling hesitant to rate based on my true feelings if I think my friends aren’t into that kind of book. Usually I’m nervous to rate a fluffy book highly, because so many of my friends were English majors. But I’m definitely trying to be honest with my reviews and not second guess myself for the books I enjoy!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Ratings are definitely the most subjective you can go. In the end it’s your personal opinion and you’re trying to put a number on THAT. On your thoughts, your experience, your feelings. I honestly believe comparing books is.. well, not ideal. Comparing genres is a no-no because you can never compare those properly without getting torn up. As you said, comparing a flimsy, cute romance with a more heavy, classic book, knowing you enjoyed both equally as much.. It’s hard. You could hardly give the romance a lower rating because it isn’t as “heavy” and literary as the classic is.
    I simply go with my feelings. Did I fly through it and loved it? High rating! Did I go slowly through it but I still love it? High rating! Doesn’t matter what genre it is. I try to look at each book separately. If I don’t, I simply get torn up and am tempted to start changing my ratings and that’s just not fair towards books.

    Interesting topic! 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes exactly!!! That’s definitely what I’ve been trying to tell myself lately as I review more and more books (of varying genres). The english major in me has had a hard time coming to this conclusion I think… I’ve definitely been overthinking it. But I completely agree that going with your personal feelings and not comparing is the way for me to go. It gets too complicated and messy if I’m trying to hold books with completely different purposes/styles to the same standard.

      Thanks for weighing in!!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Exactly! Like, I once tried to actually mark books on specific things like writing and world-building and stuff but that was sooo unfair for some books and totally easy for others and.. it just didn’t make any sense while it should’ve made more sense?
        Feelings is definitely the way to go!

        You’re welcome!

        Liked by 1 person

  6. I have the same issues, that’s why I stopped rating books on Goodreads. If I give 5 stars to a book I absolutely loved how could I give ONLY 5 stars to Harry Potter and The Lord of the Rings that basically shaped my whole life? This would bring me to give only 3 stars to certain books that would deserve at least 4…!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’ve thought about not rating at all… but I think it has been good practice for me to work on loosening up about it a little and coming up with a system that works for me. I totally understand your dilemma though–that’s exactly what I’ve struggle with!!

      Liked by 1 person

  7. You know what, I believe that a book worth getting published is worth reading. However, there is a huge audience and each person has a different taste. Although I try not to discriminate between a high rated and a low rated book, I always end up being partial. But you never know wht suits your taste until you read it. Same goes with movies. I have often found guilty pleasure watching movies which are rated lowly. Rating in a sense is completly subjective and based on one’s personal opinion.


  8. I think this is a great discussion post. Reviews are so subjective and we are all so different. There are times where I completely agree with reviews, and times I think, “are you kidding me?” And I sit and wonder how many times others look at my reviews and do the same. I really try to focus on my enjoyment of the book in my reviews. If I write a seriously negative review, I make sure to state that it is my opinion and I try to be respectful of the author while doing so. I think its interesting to look at review systems on the pages of fellow bloggers to get a feel of how they base their star reviews. I have tried to thoroughly explain mine on my page, and my personal opinion is that anything with 3 stars or more is worth reading, but a 5 star read is one that I would have the hardest time saying something negative about, versus the 3 star where I enjoyed it enough to finish it, but could point out several unenjoyable things. I love how your discussion has us all re-evaluating how we rate books and look at reviews. I still like to read 1 and 2 star reviews to see if the reader has pointed out things I know I would dislike, or pointed out things that feel relative to their opinions. Great job on this post! ❤

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much!! It was really exciting to hear all the comments and see how many other readers think about this topic a lot! I really thought I was in the minority by thinking that ratings are difficult, so it has been fun to see that I’m not alone. I’ve also really loved hearing about so many different ways of determining a rating/what the different ratings mean to different people. If anything, it’s made it even more clear that we are all individuals here with different ways of rating and analyzing books, as well as completely different opinions on books! And I think that’s part of what makes being in a community of readers so much fun. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I am really glad this was so positive for you! It is part of why I love this community. I am glad that most of us can get along and recognize our differences, because, in the end, they are just opinions, and that’s what books are awesome for, bringing different people together or bringing out discussion. ❤


  9. Ughhh, yeah, I think I’m probably on the other side. While I LOVE that you are a generous/kind rater (please be around when I have books published!), I feel as if I tend to be too harsh. I usually give like 1 out of 20 books a 5 star rating. (Also, I find 5 stars so hard to work with! 4/5 stars = 80%, but if it was out of 20 stars, I could do 17/20, 75%…ya know?)

    Anywayyyyy. I think your point about all books having different merits is Great.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Sometimes I wish I were a little bit more harsh? Not to be mean or anything… just so that the reviews for the ones I really like mean even more. But alas, I am the way I am.. haha. I think we need both types of reviewers! And thank you!! Thanks for reading!


  10. I totally agree that ratings are relative. It’s part of why the only place I rate is on GR. When I blog about a book, it’s about my experience of a book and I feel that can’t be conveyed with a set of stars. But I also don’t blog just to review books, I blog to keep myself reading. For some reason putting my thoughts on the internet keeps me motivated.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I love that! I’ve considered not putting a star rating on my reviews here or on Instagram. My reviews definitely tend to be more about my experience, but I usually feel like I have to assign a star rating with it as well. I also totally agree about blogging to stay motivated! Although I’m pretty much always behind on blog reviews. 🙈


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