Hi everyone, it’s Sabrina! Recently, I’ve found myself reflecting on why exactly it is that I give star ratings to (most of) the books I read. To be honest, because of some events recently, I started feeling bad about sharing when I have a negative opinion – or even just a not totally positive opinion – and it got me thinking and really dissecting my reasons for doing this. I’ve come to the conclusion that, frankly, these outweigh the teensy tiny possibility that any of my ratings would be the sole factor in deterring even one person from buying a book. With that said, here’s my discussion of the reasons I rate books!
Part One: Why do I rate books?
I have a fairly bad memory, so a rating helps me remember how I felt about a book.
To state the obvious, I read a lot of books. It’s impossible to remember the details about every single one of them, though I wish that I could. I also find that the more books I read, the more chance there is of them blending into one another – it doesn’t matter how original a book is, there is always going to be something in it that was similar to something in another book. It’s partially because of this that I usually can’t remember off the top of my head how I felt about certain books, particularly if I didn’t either extremely hate or love them.
Rating is a shorthand way to express how I felt about a particular book, so it lets me and my Goodreads friends know how I felt about a book in general.
When I look back at the star rating I’ve given a book, I am quickly reminded of how I felt overall about a book – this is especially true when I take half-stars into account (and even quarter stars, because thanks to The StoryGraph, I can do that now)- because I use the Goodreads (GR) scale that you are probably familiar with: one star is “did not like it”, two stars is “it was okay”, three is “liked it”, four “really liked it” and five stars is “it was amazing”. This is quite a helpful feature of ratings, because especially when using half stars, it’s pretty specific and straight to the point.
I also like that it shows my friends how I felt about a book in general, and that I can compare my ratings to theirs. I know this might be a bit strange, but I think it’s fun to see how similar or dissimilar my reading taste is to other people – I use the “compare books” feature on GR a lot. Fun fact: my reading taste and Vera’s is 77% similar for the books we have both rated.
I love to see my stats over the year.
Leading on from that last point – rating books gives me a plethora of stats to view and analyse throughout and across the years. I love seeing the percentage of books I am enjoying and not enjoying, seeing what genres and age groups those books come from etc. If I didn’t rate the books I read, it would be a lot harder for me to figure these things out. This is particularly true when it comes to the way GR displays stats – it’s not only visually pleasing to see the covers for all the books at once, it is easy to understand the numbers.
Part Two: Why not write a review instead?
It’s a lot quicker and more convenient to rate a book rather than review it.
I don’t think this point needs much elaborating – it’s indisputably simpler to just click a button than to write out an entire review that articulates all your feelings. We all have limited time on our hands and to write out a full or even brief review for every single book we read is not usually feasible.
Sometimes, I just don’t have a coherent reason for why a book worked or didn’t work for me.
This can happen a lot! I find, especially when it comes to matters of pacing or writing style or even just the atmosphere of a book, it can be hard to pinpoint exactly what the problem (or not-problem) was and to then explain that in a way that makes sense to other people. Occasionally, I will actually write a brief review or some dot points, but keep it private because of this. It’s a lot easier for me to type out my thoughts when I know they’re going to remain secret – I don’t have to worry about grammar or that I’m getting my point across properly. I can also comfortably state when I’m confused about an element of the book without worrying about exposing myself as unintelligent, lol.
Frequently, I feel like my reviews don’t communicate precisely what parts of a book weighed more heavily on my experience of it and could therefore be misleading without an accompanying rating.
For example, consider this hypothetical scenario: I hated the pacing of a book, but the atmosphere really drew me in so I ended up enjoying it a lot anyway. My review goes into detail as to which parts of the story dragged and which ones went by too fast. This takes up several paragraphs, but my feelings about the atmosphere are discussed in only a couple of sentences, because that’s one of the things I find hard to explain. The atmosphere of the book had more of an effect on my enjoyment, but because a lot more review space is given to the pacing, that’s not necessarily clear to whoever is reading my review.
I do try my best to convey these feelings by saying things like “the highlight for me was” or “my favourite part was”, but sometimes I don’t think it’s enough. I can read my review back and feel that it’s not a true reflection of my thoughts because pieces are missing or the emphasis falls in the wrong place. So I like having my star rating there at the end to indicate how I ended up feeling overall.
Part Three: On Ratings Guilt
I finally want to wrap up this discussion by saying: both ratings AND reviews are subjective, and there is no getting around that. Everyone has different personal experiences that they carry with them everywhere which can impact how they experience other things – whether that is when reading a book, watching a movie or simply just going about their day. On top of that, of course, everyone has different preferences – for example, it’s impossible to definitively say that “fast paced” is better than “slow paced”, but some people are still going to prefer one over the other. Sometimes I read a book that I really wanted to love, but it falls short for me, and then I start to feel guilty about giving it a lower rating. But my rating is not entirely a comment on the quality of the book – just how I personally felt about it. What I’m trying to say is that I don’t think the average person should feel guilty for rating a book true to their feelings.
(Of course this comes with the caveat that if your true feelings are due to racism, sexism or homophobia etc., then yeah, you should probably feel guilty about that and work to change your mindset)
And as one final extra aside, of course I understand that ratings don’t work for everybody (or every book!), and I don’t think you should feel guilty about not rating books either!
What do you think?
Do you star rate the books you read? If so, why do you do it? How often do you write reviews? Have you ever experienced guilt over not enjoying a book? Let me know!
9 thoughts on “Why I Give Books Star Ratings”
This was such a good read – and I agree with a lot of points! It’s why I don’t star rate on my blog, but I do star rate on Goodreads and other retail sites!
I definitely use star ratings to go with my reviews. I complete agree with you that it’s a good and quick way to let people know how you feel about a particular way and sometimes there is no great way to explain precisely way something didn’t work for you. I will say though that I try not to give a book less than 3 stars, if I think it’s that bad I just don’t review it, but those occurrence are super rare for me
Is it terrible that I need a rating and a review to really evaluate a book? I have been seeing more and more reviewers abandon stars, and when I read the review alone, I never feel like I have the whole picture.
Thank you for such a thoughtful reflection! I completely agree with you: I need ratings to accompany a review to give that “overall” feeling. I often find that if I were to truly explain my thoughts and feelings on books, I’d end up writing an essay for each, not a blog post! But then I have the same problem as you, where I don’t feel I’ve covered certain aspects sufficiently so a star rating is a great way to round things up and give some weight to my overall enjoyment and other stuff I can’t express with words.
And THANK YOU for talking about ratings guilt! I feel like I get that a lot, but I rarely hear anyone else talk about it.
“To be honest, because of some events recently, I started feeling bad about sharing when I have a negative opinion – or even just a not totally positive opinion – and it got me thinking and really dissecting my reasons for doing this. I’ve come to the conclusion that, frankly, these outweigh the teensy tiny possibility that any of my ratings would be the sole factor in deterring even one person from buying a book.”
It’s a shame that “events” like those should make people feel intimidated, or have them second-guessing themselves. That author was out of line, simple as that. Also, stars aren’t everything, just like reviews alone aren’t everything (at least for me). Frankly, I’m a little into the OCD camp when it comes to a few things (not that I’ve ever been diagnosed, but I recognise myself in some of its symptoms), and my need for order and symmetry is probably to blame for me not being able to write reviews without a rating attached. Then again, I may rate a book 4 star because I liked it with my mind, but not with my heart; or I may rate a book I enjoyed 3 stars only because I did realise that it was a hot mess for more than one reason.
“What I’m trying to say is that I don’t think the average person should feel guilty for rating a book true to their feelings.
(Of course this comes with the caveat that if your true feelings are due to racism, sexism or homophobia etc., then yeah, you should probably feel guilty about that and work to change your mindset)”
Totally relate to feeling guilty for rating a book low. Most of the cases, it’s just a personal preference, and I wouldn’t want to make someone not read that book just because of my review. I also thought about abandoning star ratings, but I love thinking about how many stars to give to a book, and it’s also great for stats, like you said.
I love this post! I also use star ratings as a personal reminder especially in seasons where I read faster than I can write reviews.
My star ratings don’t actually convey my thoughts properly, but they do convey my emotions pretty well. It’s interesting though, because I’ve found that some 4 star reads are more long term favorites than some technically perfect 5 star reads, and I know that can be a little confusing! But like you mentioned, writing reviews for every book I read just wouldn’t be feasible for me, so having a shorthand way of giving myself a general idea of how I felt is really nice.
I actually like that star ratings aren’t precise. When I write a review it takes me a while to formulate all my thoughts on a book. With a star rating, I go with my gut, for the most part, which is obviously a lot faster. And I think that’s the point of star ratings. It’s just there to give you a general sense of things. By now I know to take every star rating with a grain of salt and to look into reviews if I’m truly curious about what people are thinking. But the star ratings let me know whether to even bother looking at the reviews in the first place!
And while I used to feel guilty for low ratings, I no longer do. My opinion is my opinion. And while I’d never tag an author in a bad review/rating, I do want to share my opinion on books for those readers out there that trust my opinion. Honesty is important to me, so my ratings need to reflect that!