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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