My Relationship with Star Ratings for Book Reviews

When I started reading as a child I had never considered rating a book; I either loved it or hated it…with some wiggle room for ambivalence in the middle.

But then in 2010 I joined Goodreads and I began to think about rating my reads out of five. In the early GR years (2010-2015) I did not write any reviews nor interact with anyone else on the site so my ratings were just a quick little thing I did as I marked a book as read…

However when I started to write reviews all that changed.

I had to come up with a rating system that somehow compared all the books I read against each other. Somehow I had to figure out what my criteria for a five star read could be and I found this incredibly difficult. Because surely five stars would mean perfection wouldn’t it? It would mean that this book would be one I would happily reread over and over, that the characters were entirely authentic and the plot utterly compelling? So five stars would be nigh on impossible for any book to achieve.

Therefore, I became known as a hard to please Goodreads reviewer. If I gave a book five stars it was nearly cause for concern as it was almost akin to pigs flying!!! To put it into some context when I gave a three star rating it was an incredibly positive result for a book and should be viewed as high praise rather than an average / middle of the road style read.

But by the end of 2018 I felt deeply unhappy about my reads. Every time I was reading a book my mind would worry about how I would write the review, what rating would I give it… I began to feel that I had to be extra harsh because that is what was expected from everyone on my Goodreads feed. I was the cranky reviewer. I was difficult to please. I was the one who always knocked off stars for minor quibbles. If you read my year end review of 2018 you will notice how sad I seemed to be about reading and how I felt that I wasn’t truly loving books like I used to as a child.

So in January 2019 I made a choice.

I gave myself the room to breathe. The room to relax. The room to reconsider what is meant by book ratings.

And over the course of the year I listened to my heart more than my cynical head. If my heart truly loved a book then it got five stars.

Because what I came to realise is that there is beauty and value in imperfection. That to achieve flawlessness is an impossible task and by always searching for the intangible I was just hurting myself and making my hobby feel like a chore.

I don’t think this revamp of my rating system means I am somehow softer on books. Instead I believe it is simply a more honest depiction of my feelings. And I feel a lot less stressed. I don’t worry what other people will think of my ratings. I always knew ratings were a purely subjective thing so now I have just become more comfortable with that subjectivity.

And now I find when writing reviews for my blog I often don’t think about a rating . I just talk about the book, the highs, the lows and frequently ignore any rating and let readers of my reviews make their own minds up. During this coming year I think you will see even less ratings on my blog (I will still keep it up on GR due to the format of that site) but my blog allows me that little bit more freedom and I am incredibly excited by that. Freeing myself from the constrains of star ratings that I had placed myself in has been one of the best bookish decisions I have made.

Has anyone else got a similar story to mine? Or do you really like the rating system? Let’s chat in the comments below.

16 thoughts on “My Relationship with Star Ratings for Book Reviews

  1. This was a great post. I have the exact same problem. Five stars always feels way too generous. That would mean it’s the sort of book that changed your life and will always be a part of you, but three stars feels almost harsh for a book that was truly written well. I struggle to come up with the criteria for what earns a book five stars as well. While I like having a rating system, it is nice to have a place to write about what you did and didn’t like about a book so you can actually go into the reasons why you liked it or why you didn’t.

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    1. EXACTLY!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Five stars just seems too unattainable so much of the time and therefore I just never felt comfortable giving out that rating. So definitely writing a review that gives an impression of how I felt about reading a book rather than simply marking it out of five works so ,much better for me now. :)))))))))))))))

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  2. Blog, reviewing books, and even rating them did impact my reading experience in so many ways. And I agree with you, before all this, I used to either love or hate the books I read (more love than hate tbh).

    Also, the books I was reading were carefully selected to contain all the elements I loved. I didn’t even think that it would be possible for me to buy a book and not love it!

    The first and second years blogging were probably when I had more lower ratings just because I only then discovered booktube and Goodreads (and NetGalley) and wanted to read what everyone else was reading even though those books weren’t for me.
    Now I’m much more selective about my read, and feel comfortable with my rating system atm 😀

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    1. Thanks so much for your thoughtful response Alex! I am glad to know that I am not the only one who has experienced highs and lows with the rating system. And I totally know what you mean about wanting to read the same books as everyone else and having my say… I mean I still am like that to some extent but I definitely make smarter book choices these days :)))))))))) <3333

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  3. I completely understand where you’re coming from. Before rating books on goodreads, like you, I just decided if I liked a book or not based on my enjoyment whilst reading it. When I started watching booktube, I started rating books with more of a critical eye, and that turned into an issue when it came to books I really enjoyed but felt like I couldn’t give it 5 stars because it had some minor issues. Now I’m trying to find a middle ground, where I can rate based on my enjoyment but also acknowledge the imperfect parts of the book, without knocking an unfair amount of stars.

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  4. Rating books has always been a challenge for me, especially because I can always find at least something that I didn’t like so I hardly ever give 5 star reviews unless it’s a really special book. I think that like you I will also have to revamp my rating system and maybe think about being a bit more lighter with giving out harsh ratings!

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    1. Yes exactly! That is where I was. There always seemed to be some little niggling thing to keep it *not perfect* but yet I could completely love the book and the reading experience!!!! I just found when I stopped thinking about star ratings that I felt happier about my reads. And ultimately I read for enjoyment so that’s why I desperately needed the ratings revamp :)))))))))) <3333

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  5. I use 5 stars to signify an utterly perfect book, worthy of re-reading over and over again. My average star rating is between 3 and 4. When writing book reviews for ARCs, I tend to use .5 stars as well to help provide an accurate reflection of my thoughts.

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  6. Last year is when I decided to not rate a book on my blog. Sometimes I’m more focused on what rating ill give it than the actual review. ha!

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  7. I enjoy writing brief reviews on Goodreads, more for my own benefit than with the expectation of influencing the thoughts of others. It helps me to clarify my thinking about a book and as an aide to memory later. But at a certain point I stopped giving stars at all because I was so vexed by the subjectivity of it all, as has been so well described here. Numbers give an illusion of objectivity, but the truth is, “five stars” or “three stars” mean different things to different people, or even to the same person at different times. Additionally, everyone’s opinion is merely that — opinion. If I can explain in a few words what I thought about a book, that’s possibly helpful. A certain number of stars by itself, that’s just reductive.

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    1. It’s strange how we can let ourselves be affected by something so subjective isn’t it. My reviews and talking about books is something I do for me. I write reviews purely so I can talk about what I’ve read and you are so right that using a star rating system can just be entirely reductive. Reading a book is something so engaging and so involving that to just give it a completely arbitrary rating after a few minutes thought seems almost preposterous

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