What Does Your Rating Scale Say About You?

So I finally figured out a way to properly define book ratings so that they make sense to me, and (hopefully) will make sense to my readers. I’ve always struggled with the traditional five-star rating system, because there’s so much room for misinterpretation. For instance, if someone rates something four stars, does that mean it was knock-your-socks-off good? Or just pretty good, in comparison to the knock-your-socks-off five star rating? What about the most nebulous three stars? Does that mean it was good? Not good? Should I read it, or should I not bother? And two and one stars could be anywhere from “trash” to “readable” depending on where your scoring system falls.

Anyway, you get my drift. There’s no consistent rating scale for books, and I think everyone uses them differently. But they’re also simple and easy to use, and I think it’s important to use them so that people know generally whether you’d recommend the book again. So I’ve devised my own system that I will use henceforth, and as soon as I feel like it, I’ll go back and retroactively star all of the reviews I’ve done.

So here it is:

FIVE STARS – This means that this book was a world-changing revelation of a book, written with fantastic language, complex and interesting characters, and either a story or an idea that was incredibly creative and drew me into the book. I would recommend this book to anyone and everyone; if you’re one of my close friends, I will beat you over the head until you read it. Examples: The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran, Catch-22 by Joseph Heller, The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman, The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas.

FOUR STARS – This means that the book was all of the above things with one exception: for whatever reason, there was something that held it back from being life-changing. It was a marvelous book, well-drawn, well-written, compelling, and engaging, but it didn’t change my world. I would highly recommend these books, but I wouldn’t recommend them universally, and I won’t be personally offended if you ignore my recommendations. Examples: Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor, Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austin, Dracula by Bram Stoker, the Hunger Games & Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins.

THREE STARS: This means that I found the book worth reading, whether because of the language, the characters, the story, or the overall idea, but there was something largely missing from it that I had a problem with or that would hold me back from recommending it to others. This could be anything, from a terrible ending, to a contrived world, to a great story without the language to back it up. Examples: Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins, Divergent/Insurgent by Veronica Roth, 1984 by George Orwell, Lord of the Flies by William Golding.

TWO STARS – This means that unless you really don’t care what kind of crap you’re reading or you’re madly in love with whatever genre the book is in, I probably wouldn’t recommend it. There might be something endearing about this book, a character, a few phrases, or an idea, that are worth investigating, but for the most part, don’t bother. It’s entirely possible that I didn’t get through this book. Examples: My Sister’s Keeper by Jodi Picoult, Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi, Watership Down by Richard Adams. (Sorry, Watership Down fans, I don’t mean to hate on this book. But I tried several times as a kid to read it because it was ‘recommended as a kid’s book’ and I never finished it. I don’t think I ever got past the first fifty pages.)

ONE STAR – Please burn this and politely inform the author that he or she might want to withdraw this from consideration and try again later. I know that sounds harsh but in fairness I’ve only ever read one published book that I thought was so awful it deserved this rating. It was a book I had to read in 8th grade English class called ‘The Light In The Forest’ (I think) and it made me so mad I threw it across the room at one point. Call it teenage angst or what have you, but I have never been so enraged by a piece of fiction before. I’ve edited a few manuscripts that might have earned this rating at first, but that’s not really fair, because I’m certain a lot of manuscripts that turned out perfectly well probably started as pieces of shit. So that doesn’t count. But I’m sure there are plenty of books out there that would merit this rating if I had the courage to attempt reading them.

So, how does your rating system work? Do you trust other people’s ratings? Do you rely on ratings when you go to pick books – or movies, or restaurants, or anything? Or do you try to form independent opinions? What does our obsession with ratings say about us as a culture?

Okay, that last question might have been a little too esoteric, but if any of my readers are brave enough to answer it, I’ll eagerly read the responses!