Saturday, October 18, 2014

Thoughts on Numerical Ratings

Those of you who are my friends on Goodreads know about the issues I have with the number rating system. Goodreads asks you to rate a book on a five star scale: five is “it was amazing;” four is “I really liked it;” three is “I liked it;” two is “it was ok;” and one is “I didn’t like it.”

Recently I have received some criticism for not rating books highly enough. I give mostly fours, and only rarely do I give a book a five. I do this because I want to be able to really distinguish a book that rocked my world from all the other books I have enjoyed.  The criticism seems to come from the perception that getting 4 stars is like getting a B in school.

So part of my struggle involves determining how many stars to give a book, but I also struggle with the very idea of numerically measuring a book based on how much I “like” it. The truth is that I look for different kind of reading experiences at different moments for different reasons. I can “not like” a book because it’s the wrong book for my mood, or because there’s something unsatisfying about it, or because it’s not my cup of tea. How can you tell the difference between all of those reasons for “not liking” something?

Here’s an example: sometimes I am in the mood for a quick treat of a book – something easy and simple --  like a thriller or a book about four old friends connecting at a beach house. The point of reading that book at a particular moment is to relax. I read it because it’s perfect for that occasion.

Sometimes, however, I am in the mood for a complex piece of literature – something that makes me think deeply or feel deeply or see the world in a new way. This book might be difficult or challenging or uncomfortable.

If I read either book at the wrong moment, I might not “like” it.  So how do I rate a “wrong book at the wrong time?” Similarly, if I read each book at the right moment, are they both five stars? Does a deep, complex, moving piece of literature get rated the same as an easy, breezy, formulaic read that hits the spot?

I won’t be giving number ratings here, because they just don’t work for me. But what do YOU think? Does rating a book numerically help you? What kind of information do those ratings give you?


Me said...


Me said...


Stephan said...

I agree, Jennifer. I would have a different rating for almost every genre and age range. When I read a book to my 7-year-old daughter, it may be a 3- or even 2-star book to me but if Audrey clearly loves it, it moves up in my appreciation. And I love thrillers and sci-fi and fully enjoy them but to say that The Bourne Identity" and "One Day in the Life Ivan Denisovich" are both 5s points out the inadequacies of the system. Same goes for movies. I love a good superhero movie, but I recognize that they're pretty stupid.