A note on book ratings

On Goodreads, which I use a lot for finding new books to read, they use a 5 star rating system. I don’t like it. It makes it difficult to discern between the very real (to me, at least) grades between Meh – Good – Superb, which I find quite important. I read quite a lot of books every year – often over 100 – and personally I’ve found it difficult to use a 5 star rating to both judge a book but also recall precisely how much I enjoyed a book. For reasons I list below, I also like to reserve my top rating for a very limited number of books that I love; this is difficult to do with just 5 stars. (It also seems to mean that nearly all books on Goodreads sit at an average of between 3.6 and 4.2 stars. This is frustrating, and it has become increasingly difficult to use their average rating as an indicator of quality – I now rely largely on the user-made lists and the ‘if you like this book, you may like x’ feature.)

Anyway, here’s a rough guide to what I am thinking when I’m giving books I’ve read 1-10 ratings. I am not looking for objective quality, here. I use the journals as a personal reminder on what I liked and didn’t, and especially what I might want to read again in the future and what I would want to add to my personal library. I would say in general I rate the quality of the story above how quickly I finished the novel – just because a book is a page-turner doesn’t necessarily mean it is any good.

I also make no conscious distinction between genres when it comes to ratings. I like (and read) almost everything; noir potboilers to Russian classics, bestseller thrillers to pulpy westerns, literary fiction to epic fantasy, historical mysteries to soft science fiction, and just about everything in between. I used to be a terrible book snob, but as I get older I have become more open to enjoying any well told story regardless of genre or literary reputation.

Books with a 7+ rating will probably get a re-read at some future date. I will buy (if I don’t already own) books with 8+ ratings. Books with 9+ ratings will often lead me to seeking out other books by the same author very soon after. I try to avoid giving ratings of 10 except very occasionally, to try and keep it as a distinct, limited category of works I absolutely adored – my desert island reading list, if you like.

Rating What I mean
1 One of the worst books I have ever read. Contemptible, awful; straight against the wall and into the shredder.
2 I strongly disliked the book. One of the worst books I have read all year. I will be very cautious about reading any other work by this author.
3 Disappointing; poor; bad. I disliked the book and probably found it difficult to finish.
4 Underwhelming; below average. I didn’t really enjoy it and I would not recommend it.
5 Thoroughly average; it was OK. I neither really liked nor disliked it. I don’t have any strong opinions on it and I will probably have forgotten most of it within a few months.
6 It was decent or fairly enjoyable; just above average of the books I’ve read this year. I probably wouldn’t re-read it, but it was worth reading.
7 I liked the book; it was good; it was enjoyable or interesting. I may re-read it.
8 It was really good. If I don’t already own a hard copy, I will buy one. I will probably re-read it. I will actively seek out other works of this author.
9 I loved it. One of the best books I have read all year. I will definitely re-read it.
10 One of the best books I have ever read. A personal classic; an instant re-read; ticks every one of my interests. I will think about it endlessly.

I have finished almost all of the books I add to the reading journals. Very occasionally I include books that I have read the majority of (at least two-thirds) and which I have abandoned, mainly as a reminder to my future self that I did not enjoy them. Books I start and then abandon early on I leave off, mainly because I forget all about them. I have thought about adding them to the journals without a rating, but decided in the end that it was simpler to just keep the journals for completed books – especially as sometimes I come back to a half-read work months later and finish them.


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