Wednesday, February 29, 2012


So I've been thinking recently about star ratings for the books I read. It was prompted by a discussion at my most recent book group when some mentioned they only use stars on goodreads and others said they never do and only do written thoughts. And then I had my students doing book talks this week and giving a rating within the talk. Overall, I like star ratings, it gives me a quick idea of what I or someone else thought of a book (especially for students who aren't yet able to fully articulate their thoughts and need help to get there - it's a starting point). However, it's not without it's flaws. I went to give a book a five star rating, and then took a second thought about it because I thought about how it compared to other books I had recently rated five stars.
And therein lies the dilemma...

When I looked back at all of the books that I've rated five starts, I realized that they don't necessarily compare to each other. There are different degrees of five star ratings I give based on various criteria I, as a reader, have created for myself:
-literary value
-right time
-social value
There may be more involved, but those were the first things I started thinking of. What I realized is that a book doesn't necessarily have to have all of that for me to give it five stars, but any combination of multiple criteria could create a five star book for me.

Let's look at an example:When I think back on THE FAULT IN OUR STARS as a definite five star book because of it's literary value, social value, connectedness, story, writing, and characters - it definitely fits. Then, when I compare it to something like EMBRACE which was more of a five star because of it's story, readability, obsessiveness, right time, and enjoyability - it still fits. Would that have still been a five star book if I had read it at a different time? I'm not sure. But I've realized that so much of reading for me is related to mood and what I might need in my life at that specific point in time. That's why there are times when I reach for a romance book where I don't have to think much, and other times when I reach for a book on more serious social issues that need to be thought about in depth. Depending on my mood at the time and what else is going on in my life/head and what else I might have read recently and so many other factors, different books have different levels of coming to be five star books for me.

Does that mean I should go back and adjust ratings? No, I don't think so because, again, it's a discrete moment in time reaction to what I've read (and that would be a huge headache looking at the hundreds of books I've read!) Does it mean I should be more stingy with my five star ratings? Again, no, I don't think so. I think the rating is about my reaction to that book right after I've read it and it's related to my personal experience with that book. And isn't that all ultimately what we're looking for - having a personal experience with a book and having it become part of our shared conciousness? I think so. So, please don't judge me for my five star ratings-and don't compare them to each other! I love books and I love reading and I love that I can be enthusiastic about books and reading and have a medium through which to share it with others. Because, as a good friend of mine (and my sister classroom experiment teacher) said recently (@brianwyzlic who newly blogs at Wyz Reads - you should be following him if you're not yet!), "reading may be a solo activity, but literacy is absolutely a social activity." My ratings reflect the former and can lead to the latter.

So, my plan is to keep reading and keep using star ratings, and when those books come around that blow me away for whatever combination of reasons, that's when you'll see my five stars come up on goodreads - and that will be your indicator that that particular book affected me in some way and is worth a read. But, it does not necessarily mean that it's for the same reasons or to the same level as another five star book on my list. Thanks for letting me work though my thoughts here in writing (so helpful)!
I'd love to hear your thoughts about this! Comment away :)


  1. In yet another sister-classroom-sharing-one-brain moment (can I have it while you're gone, or do you want it so you can rake in the dough?), I was thinking about this same thing the other day. I have so many 5-star ratings, that I think that can't be right. They should be more spread out, and the books certainly don't compare to each other.

    Now, I'm thinking about grades. An "A" for one student on an essay may not be of the same quality as an "A" for another student. Not because they're held to different standards (usually), but because the essays will be different, and will earn that "A" for different reasons. I can't tell Johnny that the excellent essay he wrote -- best he ever did, I might add -- is not as good as Suzie's, so he can't earn an "A." Doesn't make sense. Doesn't make sense for rating books, either. It's a rating, not a ranking.

  2. I loved this ""reading may be a solo activity, but literacy is absolutely a social activity." My ratings reflect the former and can lead to the latter." - I don't think many people expect all 5 star (or any level of) books to be the same. I know I don't! Reading is incredibly subjective - and that's ok! Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  3. Heise, I had to think about what my stars would mean when I started tracking what I've read on Goodreads. I don't always leave comments, but my subjective star rating, which I put in my profile is this:

    Generally, I reserve 5 stars for books I would read again and recommend without reservation. For me, 5-star books are the ones I have trouble putting down and leave me thinking about them after I'm done.

    I enjoyed and would recommend books I rate as 4 stars, especially if someone likes the genre or the author. The writing kept me engaged and I liked the story. But something about the book just didn't keep me glued to it as much as a 5-star book would.

    A 3 star book is one I enjoyed, but felt it was more of a fluffy read. If I knew someone who was a fan of the genre, the 3-star book would be an average book; one that holds interest as a fun diversion. These books are mind candy, but I'm more forgiving of genres I enjoy.

    Books I give two-star ratings disappointed me. I expected more and gave the book a chance, but the writing, the characters, or the story never delivered.

    So far, I haven't given any books 1 star. If I ever give a single star, I've abandoned that book. Unlike some, I won't read a book I hate to the end. It's a waste of time.