Discussion | The Perils of Star Ratings


Inspired by Sam from Thoughtsontome’s recent video on the subject, I thought today I’d talk about rating books and how the numbers/stars might not always tell the whole truth.

As you can see from Sam’s video, I think there’s a misconception around the bookish world that rating something 3 out of 5 stars means it was a “bad book” which, clearly isn’t the case. Even if we judge it by the Goodreads’ official rating system, 1 star means ‘did not like it’, 2 stars means ‘it was ok’, 3 stars means ‘liked it’, 4 stars means ‘really liked it’, and 5 stars is ‘it was amazing’. So by even this scale, 3 stars is actually quite positive, it means it was a “good book”, it was fine, it was a nice read. It’s not really until we get down to 2 or 1 star that the ratings start to really reflect a negative reading experience or a “bad book”.

I can be a little generous with ratings sometimes, I’ll admit it. But, as of late I’m trying to rate a book out of 10 and then halve it to get what my rating should be. That’s working out ok, all in all. It sounds like it shouldn’t make a huge realm of difference, but I think it makes it a little easier to decide whether a book really should be a 3 or a 3.5 star rating after all. But when I look back over some books I didn’t really like and then I see I gave them 2 or 3 stars it makes me suddenly reassess – clearly, sometimes, I should be harsher since a 3-star rating could imply I did actually like it.

When it comes down to it, I think it’s difficult to give out 1-star ratings. 1 stars, for me, are reserved for books that were so completely horrific that I didn’t find any merit in them and didn’t enjoy the experience of reading at all. It could just be a case of, I know myself and my reading taste so well that I wouldn’t even start reading a book I found so abhorrent. Maybe that‘s why I never seem to give out 1-star ratings, and why 2-star ones are few and far between? Or maybe it’s because I’m aware in the back of my mind that people see even a 3-star rating and instantly presume that I didn’t like the book all that much, so what would a 2-star say? Any book that is a book, beginning middle and end, with characters, semblance of a plot, and an ok writing style surely deserves at least a middling rating, right?

At the end of the day, just as opinions on books are subjective, so too are star ratings; they’re an attempt to quantify something which, most of the time, is just a gut feeling. Did you like it? Did you not like it? There’s just something about X book that makes it not quite 5 stars but book Y is so obviously an immediate 5 stars. It’s as simple (and as difficult) as that.

How do you rate books? Do you use the 5-star rating system as on Goodreads? Or do you have a different rating system? Do let me know in the comments!

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5 responses to “Discussion | The Perils of Star Ratings”

  1. I occasionally (though not often) rate books on a 1-5 scale, and for me, 3 stars means it was fine, but I’m not enthusiastic about it. Whereas a 4-star rating means something I’d consider buying and rereading, something I’d recommend to others; and 5 stars means it’s a new favorite that I’ll return to again and again. So I agree that 3 stars isn’t a bad rating, per se, but if I see that someone has rated a book only 3 stars, I generally won’t add it to my TBR list. I want to chase those 4- and 5-star books instead!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m usually pretty generous with my star ratings as well. Mostly because I have tried to write a book many, many times and IT’S REALLY HARD! Part of me figures that these people have put in so much work and effort, I can’t give them bad marks, especially when I’ve tried to do what they do and failed miserably. Unless the book was just absolutely terrible. That’s a whole different scenario. But if the book was just average – a decent read, but not over-the-top amazing – I’ll still usually give it a 4. Sometimes a 3. I don’t remember the last time I gave something a 2.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Thank you Emma! I loved her video as well. I’ve definitely been in the same ball park for a while that 3 star books aren’t bad. There’s elements or writing or characters that we really did like and I think 3 stars are still easy to recommend since someone else could like it more than we did :) great post!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I agree that they don’t tell the whole story and somehow, I feel like the stars translates into the commonly used A, B, C, D and F we used in school as children. No one wants to give a C so we plump it up to a B or an A. I don’t use the star system on my blog but I also don’t review books I didn’t like!


  5. I have issues sometimes deciding on a rating… My rating system is like the Goodreads system, so a 3 is “it was ok”… I agree, they don’t always tell the whole story!

    Liked by 1 person

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