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. But 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.
Obviously, 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!