Sunday, November 1, 2020

Discussion: Who Are Ratings For?

 Recently I read a book (shocker, I know).

It had a great premise. 

The main character was Black and gay, and I'm all about the #WeNeedDiverseBooks movement and the #OwnVoices movement.

It was a fairy tale retelling that really reworked the original and challenged the sexist stereotypes, and ai am HERE for that.


it was boring.

THERE. I said it. I ended up skimming through the last half of the book just to see what happened and if my guesses were correct. But I could just as easily have put it down and never thought of it again. 

I have a "skimmed" shelf on GR so I can mark that I've interacted with a book without having to rate it. If I were going to rate it, I would have given it a 2. It wasn't vile or offensive (1), but it wasn't good (3).

But given how important I think it is for all people (and especially all young people) to see themselves represented in books, I would have been tempted to give it a 3.

And given how many authors I've seen decrying the reviewers who say "Well I hate YA, so I hated it--2 stars" I might have even been tempted to rate it higher. Maybe the predictability would have seemed fresh to a younger reader? Maybe the love at first sight romance would have seemed dreamy instead of annoying when I was 15? Is it a four star book for what it is, even if 'what it is' is not my cup of tea?

Which brings me to the question at hand. I've bemoaned this before, as have many of you, but the ratings side of things is frustrating. For my own record keeping, I want to write down how I felt about the book. But I don't want potential readers, who might well love it, to be turned away from it. I've been splitting the difference for awhile now, putting half stars on the Google form I use for more extensive record keeping and rounding up on Goodreads. But that doesn't seem sustainable. There's also the issue that my understanding of ratings (3 and up is positive) doesn't match what it seems publishers and authors believe (anything below 3 is an insult). And that doesn't even get into the theoretical "True" audience for reviews, other readers. 

The only time I look at ratings for books is if I'm trying to decide between specific books to spend money on. If I'm at the library, I'll grab anything that sounds good. No skin off my teeth if I don't like it! If students have requested a book, I'll buy it for them. I'm here to make readers, not judge them. But if I'm looking at a list of books that SOUND like my students might like them, then I'll pull up their ratings and see if there are any outliers. 4.5 and up? I should probably get it. 3.3 and below? Probably not. And yet, who is rating these middle grade and young adult novels? If it's other teachers, librarians, and adults who like a good story, is that really going to give me a good idea of what my students will like? This is why we get the complaints about reviews from people the book wasn't written for. 

What do you think? Do you rate books for yourself or for other readers? Rounding up or rounding down? With descriptors instead of stars? (And if that one, do you feel like you're just calling 1-5 by new names?) CAN WE GET THE AUTHORS TO JUST STAY OFF GOODREADS FOR THEIR OWN SANITY? Do you use ratings when making decisions about what to read and/or purchase?


  1. I don't use star ratings. It's too imprecise a way of recording my feelings about the book. And I often think "someone else might love (or hate) this." So I could perhaps devise a system that described my own feelings, but then I should not share that because it's misleading. So I can feel for your problem!

  2. I definitely rate books for myself. It helps me remember books in more detail when I look back at reviews. For me, 4 or 5 is good. Honestly, if it's going to earn less, I probably won't finish it because I don't want to waste my time on books I am not enjoying. I just list them as DNF.

  3. I struggle with ratings, too. On the one hand, I want to choose books for myself that have high ratings and avoid ones that have low ratings, but I know the numbers are VERY subjective. I also struggle to give ratings myself for the same reasons you give. Sometimes a book may be boring to me, but that doesn't mean it's a bad book. I tend to only want to rate a book if it's a 4 or above. :)

  4. Well, you know that I don't rate books any lower than a four on Goodreads because now that I'm on submission with my own book it feels like a bit of a conflict of interest to be critiquing others' work. For my own knowledge, though, I do put actual ratings (including half stars) in my Google spreadhseet where I track my reading for the year. I don't mind keeping my ratings in two places, but I do know it can be a lot more work that way.

    Nicole @ Feed Your Fiction Addiction

  5. When I review a book, I do both words and stars. I need both pieces of information to get a full picture. I have found that unless the reviewer overwhelmingly loved or hated the book, I cannot get a good feel for where it fell in the spectrum. I remember reading a review, and I commented, "sorry you didn't like this one more." The reviewer asked me why I thought that. Her review, without stars, only mentioned things she didn't like. Would you think she enjoyed the book? Though I leave thoughts about all books on GR, I only feature 4-stars and up on my blog. I like to focus on putting positive energy out there.

  6. I use star ratings on GR for how much I enjoy a book, and, on my blog, I rate books base on a 20 point rating. Giving 5 points each for characters, plot, and writing leaving 5 extra points for anything that the story does well. Any book that at least 15 points is good and anything above is consider great. So, I barely see 5 star rating as a surface level of enjoy and my 20 point system along with a review are a deeper level of critique.

  7. Ugh this is so HARD isn't it? I feel like for the library stuff, yeah it's probably better to use it for harder decisions only, because like you said, if a kid wants it that's a good enough reason! But for personal decisions, I NEED star reviews. Like Sam said above me, I just can't get a full picture of what someone thought of the book (unless it's intense gushing or straight up hate ha) without the star rating. I mean, I do take them with a grain of salt of course! But especially with reviewers I know and trust, I think I get a pretty good idea what they thought of the book by a rating.


Please share your thoughts. Comments are almost as sweet as chocolate!