Why I changed my mind about star ratings

Readers have all kinds of complicated feelings about how they rate their books, and I am no exception. If you listen to my podcast What Should I Read Next or have discussed rating and reviewing with us in the MMD Book Club, you know my feelings about the common star rating system are complex.

The nice thing about star ratings is that they’re an easy-to-use shorthand to capture how much you enjoyed the book. The not-so-nice thing about star ratings is that it’s easy to conflate this rating—which is highly dependent on your taste in literature—with how well the book is written. Not the same thing, not by a long shot.

It perplexes me that under this system, Jane Austen’s Emma and the most recent Veronica Mars novel have exactly the same rating. How can this be a good idea?

I’ve been notoriously stingy with my stars over the years, saving my public five-star reviews for books I LOVED. I’ve also reserved five-star ratings for books that have stood the test of time, meaning I’ve given very few contemporary books five stars. Many readers agree, reserving five-star ratings only for life-changing reads, for lifetime favorites, and for “bones.”

I’m rethinking my approach.

Star ratings matter. Readers use them every day to decide which books to read and which books to buy. I’ve heard devoted readers say they’ll never read a book with less than a four-star rating. And yet people give one-star reviews every day because the book cover was bent when it arrived in the mail, or they weren’t in the mood for a thriller, or because there was too much profanity for their taste. (Did you catch that? For their taste.)

I wish the star rating system didn’t matter so much, but it does. And because it matters so much—and knowing that plenty of readers won’t read a book I genuinely enjoyed if I give it three stars on Goodreads, I’m letting go of my star stinginess and resolving to err on the side of generosity. Instead of shaking my fist at the respective ratings of Emma and Veronica Mars, perhaps I can appreciate a system that captures bookish enthusiasm so well, and so expansively.

I would love to hear your thoughts on star ratings. Are you stingy or generous with your five-star ratings? Do you use the star rating system at all, or some other method? Tell us all about it in comments.

P.S. If you’re interested, you can follow me on Goodreads here. You can also hear me discuss the star rating system on this episode of What Should I Read Next.

P.P.S. This is a huge audiobook week for readers: if you need a good listen, try these adventure-filled audiobooks for your next family road trip and these 10 audiobooks so good you’ll want to fold another load of laundry, finish washing the dishes, or just sit in the driveway for 5 more minutes.


Leave A Comment
  1. Addie says:

    Well, I think there are so many feelings connected to stars. For me, 5 star is “I can’t stop sharing about this one and I would totally read it again” 4 is “that was good. you should read it” 3 is fine. 1 and 2 just seem mean. lol

    • Cathy McMann says:

      This is the scale I use too. I think problems arise on Amazon when some reviewers are covering the product/book and others are rating the service. Alos, there are some prolific reviewers who give every book 5 stars, making their reviews meaningless.

    • Beverly Coomer says:

      I totally agree, Addie! It truly is a personal assessment, so I usually read multiple review of various ratings, to get a feel for why other readers rated a book as they did; it seems to give me a fairly good “feel” for whether I will enjoy the read.

  2. Katie says:

    I’m stingy with 5 stars. The kind of book that gets a 5 star rating has to be a FAVORITE. A book I loved. A book I want to own and come back to. A book I want to read again as soon as I’m done. Most of my books these days, though, are 4 stars and I think that’s a successful reading life for me. I don’t expect 5 star books every day. I’ll give a book 4 stars if I really enjoyed it. If a book was just ok, or good but nothing special, it gets 3 stars. (I used to read a lot more 3 star books.) I rarely give 2 or 1 star reviews. I’ll give 2 if I really didn’t like it (oh hey Redwall) and 1 if I hated it. I take most ratings of others with a grain of salt. I feel like stars are usually given too freely. But I also know that someone’s 5 star book could be a flop for me. I’ll read some 2 and 3 star reviews on Goodreads to see why someone may have not liked it or thought it was just ok. Sometimes someone will give a reason that’s a deal-breaker for me (trigger warnings, content, etc) and I’ll pass. But I also try not to read too many reviews because they can predispose me to view a book in a certain light.

    • Katie says:

      I will also say, I don’t give many 1 and 2 star reviews. My goal is to not have any at all. I used to finish everything I started, but I’m much better about DNF’ing a book now.

      • Bonnie says:

        I relate with your system, Katie! I don’t rate books I don’t finish so 1s or 2s don’t really happen here either. I think a good strategy is to follow the reader, not the stars. If you have a similar reading style to someone else, their star rating will mean more to you.

    • Amy says:

      This is exactly me, Katie. I give a lot of 4 star reviews, but I’m stingy with my 5 stars. And if I know that a book is a 1 or 2 star book for me because of a particular issue, but is likely fantastic for others, I just won’t rate it. In fact, I rarely give 1 or 2 star reviews, because I rarely finish a book that I’m not enjoying. I have a folder on Goodreads called “Abandoned” rather than “Read” for this purpose.

  3. Danica Middlebrook says:

    I probably err on the side of generous. If I really enjoy a book I will give it 4 or 5 stars. I don’t tend to give 1 or 2 unless it was poorly written or it just didn’t connect. It is very much on how much I enjoyed the reading experience.

  4. Shannon says:

    I try to be generous, I will also post in the comments what parts I a was not too keen on. I rarely give a 5 star, on Goodreads, its whole and not a part, which is a bummer.

  5. Kelly Schmidt says:

    I find that I am less stingy with my star rating if there is only a possibility of 5 stars max. I really wish places like Goodreads would go to a 10-star system. That would certainly help me to distinguish the good from the great (and the meh from the horrid).

  6. Rebekah says:

    I use the Goodreads standard for rating. 5-loved it; 4-really liked it; 3-liked it; 2-it was okay; 1-did not like it

    I give out a fair share of 2-star reviews for books that are just okay. As a librarian, I will recommend any book that I’ve given 3, 4, or 5 stars.

    • Tina says:

      If I ever have a book that is a 1 or 2 star, I probably didn’t finish it and won’t rate it. Even if I finish, I won’t rate it because I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings (Enneagram 9 if you haven’t already guessed.) I give 5 stars to books I love enough that I would reread them one day and recommend them freely. 4 stars to books that are really good and I recommend. 3 stars to books that were ok/good but nothing worth talking about.

    • Lola says:

      Rebekah, I just posted the same descriptions for my star ratings on the MMD Book Club FB Page 🙂 I know many authors take the 3 star rating as a slam-I don’t mean it that way at all-I like my 3 stars, just didn’t love them. I do have an explanation of my ratings on my Goodreads profile so others know what I mean with my star ratings.

    • Jennifer Geisler says:

      Your approach resonated with me (daughter of a librarian). I do struggle with feeling bad about 2 and 1 star ratings I give, particularly if I have really enjoyed prior books by the same author.

  7. Lisa Stewart says:

    I do not read a book based on star ratings. The opposite of a low rating for a bent book, is a high rating because it shipped fast and excellent customer service. I read through about a dozen (sometimes more) varied reviews to see what was liked/disliked and how thoughtful and intelligent the review appears to be. For example: I just finished The Night Circus after hearing it discussed on your podcast. I read the reviews after to see what others thought as I didn’t have anyone to discuss it with. And sometimes, based on the flyleaf of a book, I will not read it. For The Night Circus, that would’ve been a loss. The flyleaf was very lacking in a good description of the book. So I intend to investigate further before rejecting a book based on the flyleaf! I also don’t care for “pretentious” reviews in publications, etc.

  8. Sue says:

    I find 5 stars aren’t enough. For my own personal use I will add + or multiples of it after a star. I also err on the side of being stingy I think, needing to feel I still have somewhere left to go if an even better book comes along. Maybe it’s best to think of the stars as bands rather than single points? And that there can still be a variation within those bands, as opposed to thinking each four star book for example is the equal of all others similarly rated?

  9. Alana says:

    I have just realized as well that just because a book doesn’t get 5 stars doesn’t mean I won’t like it. Everyone has different perspectives shaped from their lives and everyone has different tastes. So, with that being said, I am venturing out and giving more books with lower ratings/different genres a try. The wonderful thing is, I don’t have to finish a book not to my taste, but I’ll never know if I don’t jump right in.

    • Katherine says:

      I feel like I’m pretty generous with stars. A 5 star book doesn’t have to be the best thing I’ve ever read, and it’s ok if there are some things about it I didn’t like. I rate based on my initial feeling when I’m done with the book.
      5 – That was really good.
      4 – That was good.
      3 – That was okay, overall I liked it.
      2 – That was okay, overall I didn’t like it.
      1 – I really didn’t like it.

  10. My approach is to not rate at all. We discussed this on your podcast long ago, but I’m just not comfortable publicly ranking someone else’s writing. So much of reading is preference. The fact that any book is published means an editorial team believed there would be an audience for it. I feel like writing has taught me to be more expansive with others’ work. There are books that aren’t my thing but I can still appreciate. There are books that aren’t for me in any way (but are definitely for someone else).

    • Marion says:

      While I do rate…I agree with your sentiment, Caroline. As a writer, I’m much more careful in how I rate books. Because I have an understanding of the writing process. And if a book does not work for me or to my taste, then I will try my best to appreciate it.

    • DeAnna says:

      I haven’t published a book (yet) but I am with you, Caroline, I quit ranking books because reading is all about personal preference. If a book passes the stringent editorial processes then, as you said, they expect there is an audience for it, but it might not be me. While I like to read the actual reviews about a book, and follow certain reviewers that seem to have similar preferences to me, I don’t pick a book based on the star rating.

    • Melanie says:

      I see where you’re coming from, but with hundreds of books coming out every month I totally depend on ratings on help me prioritize which books I read. There just isn’t enough time to read all the books! So if a book has 10,000+ ratings on Goodreads and an average 3.3 stars, I’m probably going to skip it. But if someone who I know has similar taste to mine highly recommends that same book, I’m likely to give it a try despite the less-than-stellar average rating.

    • Michele says:

      I feel the same way and do not rate the books I have read. It feels reductive to assign stars to someone’s work. My approach is to choose books based on the synopsis, then come back after I have finished and see what others thought. I like to make up my own mind about a book first. That said, the star system makes it really convenient to explore different opinions on a book. If something drove me crazy, I’ll look at the one and two star reviews to see if it’s “just me, or everyone”. I don’t bother with Amazon reviews, only Goodreads, because too many in the former are the aforementioned “shipping issues” types of reviews.

  11. Megan says:

    I save 5 stars for books I LOVED!! 4 stars are kind of my catch all; anywhere from good to great. 3 for me means it was meh. And I rarely give out 2s but if I do the book was absolutely not for me!

    My rating system on good reads is really more to help me remember than for others to use as a guide.

  12. It’s entirely possible that I’ve wrecked my credibility by being profligate with my five star ratings. In a perfect world, only Crossing to Safety and Hannah Coulter would get five stars, but that feels unfair to authors who are doing a great job.
    And as for 1 or 2 star reviews, if it’s that terrible, I’d never finish it, and certainly would not give it a rating or a review.

  13. Laura says:

    I tend to be generous with my star ratings, and like you have felt guilty about it, but what you say makes sense. I rate a book highly if I enjoyed it, admired the author’s skill, had something to say, and yes, if it was my kind of book. Sometimes it’s been a book that I didn’t know was my type of book until I read it, so if a high rating encourages others to try it, I guess I can live with that.

  14. CK says:

    I am very stingy with 5 stars… but I know many who will taunt any book as a 5. It also depends if you read that genre much. Give me your reading tate and I can better understand what your star means. Example: I’m finishing Educated. My sister LOVED it. She’d 5 star it right now. But she reads memoirs frequently. I don’t read memoirs frequently. As a book, I’d give it a 4 (compelling story but all over the place and I have so many questions vs. Hillbilly elegy which was also compelling but I’d give a 3 at most b/c of the writing.

  15. Kacie says:

    My rating distribution looks somewhat like a bell curve. A few 5s and 2s, but mostly 4s and 3s. Goodreads stars ar different than Amazon stars, I have learned.

    I do like my 3 star reads quite a bit, but for other readers I know their 3s are more meh. I wish we could do half stars! Or maybe, do away with the star system and make people choose a word rating: It was amazing, I loved it, I liked it, it was ok, I didn’t like it.

    I have been rating more books as 4s lately or rounding up, but I still am a bit stingy with my 5s.

    • Catherine says:

      This sounds a lot like the way my ratings have been shaping up on Goodreads this year. But it is very rare that I rate a book without an accompanying review.
      And when I am choosing books I always read a few reviews from the people who gave 4 or 5 stars and a few reviews from people who gave 2 stars. I am more interested in why people loved or did not fall in love with the book. I pay very little attention to the average star rating – unless it is very high (over 4.5) or very low (under 3) because it is noteworthy when there is that much consensus.

  16. Tamara says:

    Personally, I find the star ratings meaningless. A book I love you may hate, my idea of well written may be very different from yours. Likewise, my idea of terrible. When I look at ratings, on books and other products, I find the comments to be more relevant.
    But, that said, I try to be generous and I read a great deal more than I rate. I seldom add a library or gift book to my Goodreads.

    • Kara McDowell says:

      I agree. I generally look at the comments, especially with 1 or 2 star reviews. I am more interested in why that rating was given than that it was given.

      • Jean says:

        I do exactly the same thing! I feel like the 1 and 2 star reviews are often the most honest about things that are important to me (pacing, writing style, character development, etc.) than so many of the higher rated reviews!

        • Beth says:

          I don’t always look at the reviews before I read a book. Sometimes I do look at the 1 and 2 star reviews. When I am finished with a book, I look at the reviews that have different opinions than mine. I am stingy with 5 star reviews. Many times I find myself disliking a book everyone seems to love.

  17. rachelz says:

    But I also have real thoughts on this.

    First of all, “erring on the side of generosity” is my new religion.

    I often find myself wishing there were 10 stars instead of 5. Because 3/5 stars is 60% and that’s a D. I read a lot of books that solidly deserve a C. The 5 star system is sorely lacking a C – frankly, that’s the grade that the average book deserves.

  18. Kara McDowell says:

    I will give a book 5 stars if I loved it and want to read it again. I give the majority of books I read 4 stars. If I give 3 or below, which I have done, I always give reason. I saw the comment about “too much profanity for their taste,” and your italicized comment after. Is that a bad thing? Aren’t all of these reviews according to our taste? I personally wouldn’t knock off a star for that but that isn’t a big deal for me. But if something about the way the story is told inhibits my ability to enjoy it, I should consider that when it comes time to rate the book. I generally ask myself if there was a reason for it. Is it cultural? Is it to move the plot along? If either of those, I wouldn’t rate it lower. Is it just gratuitous? I might knock off a star.

  19. Emilee says:

    I give star ratings on goodreads for how well written I think the book is, but on my bookstagram I rate books based on feelings: meh, liked, really liked, loved, and favorite. It’s much less stressful because it’s just based on how I felt about the book and no one has to interpret what a star rating means.

    • Colleen says:

      I really like this system! I don’t currently rate with stars, but I could see myself using this feelings based approach. Star ratings give me anxiety, but this seems more relatable and not as judgey. Thanks for sharing. 🙂

      • Emilee Meeks says:

        It’s a lot more friendly especially for bookstagram where you are more likely to interact with an author. Saying something is a 3 star read seems mean, but saying I liked it is fine.

  20. Andrea Ward says:

    I give lots of 4 and 5 star ratings. I rate the book on how it functions within it’s genre. So if I am reading a cozy and I loved it for being a cozy, it will get 4 or 5 stars. And I always write out a review as well, so I can say something along those lines to explain my stars. As you said, stars are really important to authors. So I want to be generous if possible.
    As a reader, I usually go to the 1 star reviews and read what they said. If I don’t think their complaint will bother me, then it goes on my TBR. I don’t usually count on stars to read a book. It is usually when I am buying a book that I read the reviews.
    Recently I read “Valley of Terror” by Zhou Haohui. It is listed as a horror in translation, but several reviews were bad because it was less horror and more mystery. Knowing that going into it, helped me manage my expectations. In the end, I loved the book. I made it clear in my review that it is more anthropological mystery and I gave it 5 stars.

  21. Natalie says:

    When deciding to read a book, I only read the comments from the 1 and 2 star ratings. That gives me a better feel for the type of people that didn’t like the book, and whether I am more likely to agree with them. I can also disregard the unhelpful rating of those whose problems with the book have nothing to do with the actual story.

  22. Kari Sweeney says:

    Oh Anne- this is so timely and it resonates with me so much. I’ve been pondering my “5 star stingy-ness” as well. In fact- I just spent some time in my Goodreads elevating 3’s to 4’s and 4’s to 5’s. I had myself convinced that I couldn’t possibly read THAT many 5 star books in a year. But, thanks in large part to the Modern Mrs. Darcy bookclub, WSIRN podcast and general self-awareness, the books I’m reading are books for me. Books I want to read. Books that I love. With more self-awareness comes better, more intentional reading and therefore, more 5 star reads.

  23. Hildred Sullivan says:

    I, too, reserve 5 stars for only the very best books, the keepers. I give 4s for books I really like, 3s for those that are just ok, 2s for really bad reads and never give any 1s – it just seems too mean. I wish there were 1/2 stars or the aforementioned ten star system to be able to better differentiate among my 4s and 3s. Despite there being so many books I can never abandon a book unless it is REAL stinker. And because I read Modern Mrs Darcy and a lot of other reviews in advance I don’t get many of those. 🙂

  24. Cheryl says:

    ‘I’m an all or nothing’ reviewer. I use a one star system. A star means I’ll share the book with my reading friends and hope that we discuss it in the future.

  25. Donna says:

    About swearing…
    You said that star rating measures how much you enjoyed a book. Well, if there is too much swearing “for my taste” then I don’t enjoy the book very much. For instance, Lincoln in the Bardo – the language used in that book made me extremely uncomfortable (especially since I was listening on audio). Disliking the swearing and vulgar words so much made me unable to enjoy the book and give it only 1 star. I think that is just as valid as any other reason for 1 star!

  26. Lia says:

    I’m likely overgenerous with 5 star ratings, but I find that if the book entertains me and keeps me reading, I’m thrilled! So I give it 5 stars. If it is at all predictable in any way, 4 stars. It may not be predictable for someone else and, hey, I was entertained. I rarely give 1-3 ratings. I mean, someone thought this book should be published and I do not want to hurt anyone’s feelings. Sometimes I don’t give a rating at all b/c I cannot quantify how I feel or what I think immediately. That isn’t a bad thing, it’s just the truth.

  27. Lacey Moody says:

    Star ratings are so subjective, even within my own personal ratings! I try and periodically give the disclaimer that the rating is how well I liked a book, and my reading tastes are different from others. I have also noticed that my Initial rating may change over time. For example, I may dislike a book right after reading, but I find myself keep thinking about this book months later. To me, that raises the star rating because the plot obviously stuck with me. I also try and give that disclaimer too, because sometimes when I don’t like a book it’s because I read it at the wrong time or season.

  28. Becky Homme says:

    I wish there was a way to give an additional half star on Goodreads. I often find myself wanting to give a 3.5 or a 4.5 rating. Then I could reserve the 5 stars for not just books I loved but those that are truly standouts.

    • Elizabeth Ty says:

      I agree with this. I think I tend to save my higher ratings for books I consider literature rather than maybe for chick lit. For instance this weekend I just read a Debbie Macomber Christmas book that I really enjoyed reading for what it is but to use the same ranking system as a book by Jane Austen is tough.

  29. As my mother said when I was young, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say it at all.” I would never give a book a 1 or a 2. I actually don’t rate books any longer. I follow big readers and see what they like and most of the time I am rewarded with a great or good read. I am a travel writer and visit many different hotels, restaurants and destinations. If I really am not happy with something, I let the business know and I do not write about it. There is already so much negativity in the world, I don’t want to contribute to it. Lastly, I don’t know if readers understand how important these stars are to authors or for diners a bad yelp review to a restaurant. In some cases it could be a game changer.

  30. Dee says:

    While I wish there were 1/2 stars, I’m probably going to be in the minority when I say I like star ratings. They are not everything in deciding to read a book but they are helpful, especially when I compare star ratings among the people whose taste I trust and I find is similar to mine.

    I also think it’s entirely possible for Emma and the latest Veronica Mars to share a rating. Their audiences are entirely different, and their ratings are not on a giant continuum. All books are a matter of taste, even classics, even highly revered books of our time. We’ve all seen it. Books that everyone loves and raves about as so well written, lyrical, etc., but when you read it, you wonder what the author was thinking. Two different audiences. So for those readers it’s a 4 or a 5-star read, but for you it’s a 1- or a 2-star read.

    That does mean that if there is a reader for every book, nearly all books will get some 5-star reviews and most will get some 1-star reviews. But don’t view the stars in isolation. Read the reviews. If someone sounds like a complainer, move on. If their language suggests they read differently than you do, move on. But if they talk about things that are important to you – characterization or description or plots about family, you might want to trust that star review a little bit more.

  31. Brenda Mengeling says:

    I do use star ratings, and I base them on how well I thought the lived up to its genre. Therefore, I could give both “Act Like It” by Lucy Parker and “Emma” by Jane Austen five stars. I thoroughly enjoyed both but for different reasons. I don’t think Lucy Parker writes novels that will still be popular 200 years from now due to her addressing timeless themes in a remarkable way, but I was highly entertained reading her novels. I seldom give a one star review; I reserve those for when I think the author has grossly violated the rules of good storytelling, and I’ve finished the book, and I feel cheated. For example, if in a 300 page whodunnit, the author doesn’t introduce the character who turns out to be the murderer until page 280, I am going to be irritated enough to give a one star rating.

  32. Lisa H. says:

    I’m pretty generous with my four- and five-star ratings. I base it largely on how much I enjoy the book. If it’s a ripping good read, with no major flaws, five stars from me! If it’s a slow starter, but picks up and pulls me in, I’ll note that in my review, and I’ll still give it five stars if it turned out to be one I really enjoyed. I have been known to take off stars for glaring and widespread errors in grammar, spelling, and/or punctuation. I know even the best proofreaders may let a mistake or two slide by, but when it’s throughout the book, clearly, more editing was needed.

  33. Anne says:

    I agree…the star rating system is so subjective. I am also stingy with my 5 stars and reserve them for only books i will read again (I rarely re-read a book). I have gotten into the habit of hearing about a book and looking up the star rating before i choose to read it…and unconsciously I do tend to not give books under a 4 star rating a chance. It is frustrating because I am making reading choices based on unknown reader’s opinions. And I’m still stuck with reading a jacket cover to see if it is a book i might be interested in….I must resolve to make some changes in my reading life for 2020.

    • Laura says:

      That’s one thing that I think Goodreads can be useful for, is getting to know other readers/reviewers so you can have more confidence in their opinions. When people ask to “friend” me on Goodreads, I use the “Compare Books” option to see how our opinions match up. If they love my favorite books, or rate the 3-4 stars books similarly to me, that’s going to be a fun bookish acquaintance.

  34. Jennifer Meyers says:

    I have always struggled with this. What would I do if I’m looking for a good, fluffy book, and only Great Literature garnered 5 stars? There are times when a book by Elin Hildebrand or Debbie Macomber is just what I want, but some of these authors’ books are better than others. Where I’ve settled on my own ratings is I use a scale relative to that genre. This makes sense to me because if I’m looking for a beach read, I’m looking for the best book of that type – not of all books every written.

    • Kacie says:

      Yes! Comparing beach reads to like, contemporary romance, thriller, YA… I rate it based on category, rather than comparing across all books I’ve ever read.

  35. Shannon says:

    For me, 5 stars means I enjoyed the book and was thinking about it for days after I finished. It also means I’ll recommend it or give it as a gift. Most of my reads are 3-4 stars. 4 stars means it was a good book for me and I liked it. My 3 star reads are best described by a line from one of my favorite bookish blogs, they “pass the time just fine.” I believe strongly in the importance of the 3 star book and it’s place in my reading life. Not everything needs to blow my socks off. 2 star books are ones that I’ve powered through, but probably should have just stopped. I will usually not finish a book that would end up a 1 star.

  36. Suzanne says:

    I struggle with this as well because sometimes I just can’t get into a book even though I feel it is beautifully written. What I do is rate based on how much I loved the book. Then I may include a comment “beautifully written but I just wasn’t captivated” or whatever the case is.
    My system:
    5 stars = I loved it and could not wait to pick it up again every time I had to put it down, could not stop thinking about it (I have many of these, that’s why I love reading!
    4 stars = Very enjoyable, close to 5 stars but I did not have the same level of obsession
    3 stars = A good book
    2 starts = Struggled to finish, but still could be worse
    1 star = A combo of bad things that made me really have to force myself to pick it up.
    Usually if I don’t finish, I shelf it as such and write a comment but usually I don’t give a star rating unless I finish

  37. Emily says:

    I’m not stingy with 5 stars (and proud of it). I read to enjoy myself…not offer literary criticism. If a book stops me in my tracks/plans to sit down and read, it’s about 4 stars. If a book evokes an emotional or even physical reaction out of me, that’s 5 stars in my opinion. Some recent 4 star reads for me were: The Bromance Book Club, Beyond the Point and The Gown. These captivated me and during the work day I couldn’t wait to get home and continue the story. Some 5 star reads this year were: No Exit (I had to put this down twice and paced around the living room, I got so stressed), The River, A Woman Is No Man, and Ask Again, Yes (these were all very moving in different ways).

  38. Nick E Ertz says:

    My derived from comments I once heard Siskel and Ebert give.
    5= I’ll buy you the book
    4= I won’t stop talking about it until you read it
    3= A good read, especially if you like the author/genre/subject
    2= Serious flaws
    1= A genuine waste of time, stay away.

  39. Tina says:

    It’s funny because in most my life, I’m known as having high expectations and being notoriously picky. I do reserve 5 star ratings for my favorite of books–the books I’ll buy for all of my friends and read over and over again. But I’m very generous with 4 star ratings. As long as the book was a fun romp (even if I had an issue with a plot point or found an error that distracted me from living IN the story), I’ll give it four solid stars.

  40. June says:

    I am stingy with 5 stars! I will rethink this because you bring up some value points. I almost never do less than 3 stars because 3 stars just means it wasn’t for me.

  41. Liesl says:

    I’ve actually wondered about your rating system, because I’ve noticed some books that you recommend here all the time have a 3 star rating, which in *my* rating system is not a book I’d recommend to most people. But then I figured you read so many books, you must just reserve higher ratings for the best!
    My system is as follows:
    5 – I loved it, I’m going to immediately go recommend this to everyone to read, I’ll almost definitely read it again someday.
    4 – I loved it and will recommend it to the people who are the right fit for this book; but I don’t see myself reading it again someday.
    3 – I enjoyed it and will recommend it to the people who I think would also e joy it, but I didn’t love it.
    2 – I really didn’t enjoy it, I disliked it, but didn’t hate it enough to keep from finishing it.
    1 – I disliked it so much that I didn’t finish it.
    Sometimes I go back and change a rate on a book a few months later after reading other books and one loses its just read luster and gets knocked down a rating.
    I do rate a lot of books with 4 and 5 stars, and at first I was self conscious about it, like people would judge me for it?!? But then I decided it just means that I’m reading the right books FOR ME right now, which is a GOOD THING. So I am content with it for now!

    • Casey says:

      This is pretty much my rating system exactly! Except I created an “Abandoned” shelf in place of giving one star ratings. I’ve gotten more likely to abandon books that are not for me, but have also gotten better at choosing books that ARE for me.

  42. Sarah says:

    I’ve always thought there should be two star ratings on Goodreads. Perhaps maybe one for your opinion of how you feel about the book. And one for your opinion on the writing, or something like that. I often have two different opinions that way. You can use comments, but the quick visual would be so much better.

  43. Lynn says:

    I rarely read a book that I have not checked the reviews on first. So, if books mostly have a 3 or lower I may not read at all. Thus I rarely have a rating of 2 or lower b/c I have avoided those books generally (sometimes someone loans me a book and this happens). The majority of my ratings are 3s or 4s. 3s are good but there were some things that were a little off. 4s are almost perfect. I give 5s if I very much enjoyed the book and can’t think of anything that would of made it better. I wish Goodreads had .5 to help when I can’t quite decide which direction to go.

  44. Janna says:

    I’m not consistent with goodreads, but I have a personal book journal that I started about 15 years ago and this is how I tend to think about books. Since listening to WSIRN, I have also added (unofficially) the “well-done” and “to my taste” caveats in my head. I really like that addition to how I think about books. But MY star system, in my book journal, is more about how I personally enjoyed the book:
    One star – why did I finish?
    Two stars- Glimmer of interest
    Three stars- worth missing a sitcom or two- a fun read
    Four stars- entertaining, engaging, referable
    Five stars- could not put it down, would read again anytime, didn’t want it to end
    I also sometimes mark books by types- “ beach”, personal growth, “soul food” and/or cerebral entertainment. There are books that often fit into more than one category for me.
    I love that there is a place that I can share my book nerd habits! 🙂

  45. Laura Ingalls says:

    Because the time I have to read is very sacred (three kids ranging from 17 y.o. to 11 months old! full time job! and just all the other parts of life..) I research the hell out of the books that I do read. Therefore, I only choose books that I know I will absolutely love. I use the star ratings as well as read reviews before I choose a book. I therefore give 4 or 5 stars to the books I read. And sometimes give 3 stars (gasp) for books that did not meet my expectations. I don’t have time for mediocre reads.

  46. Janean says:

    Did you hear me audibly cheering from a few states away? Personally, I love stars. I get the nuances of personal tastes and niches, but I always want to know, yeah, but did YOU like it? The more you know yourself as a reader, the better you are at finding others who you likely share some coveted overlap in bookish love and a 5⭐️ rating from one of these folks is golden intel. Also, don’t undervalue the other info you so expertly provide – telling us who is likely to like the book you are describing. I don’t have a perfect overlap with you, and yet, by those carefully crafted descriptions, I can almost always tell whether I will enjoy the book you are describing. Together, it’s a fabulous mix. Lastly, I have no issue whatsoever with Emma and Veronica Mars both getting 5⭐️ , even for the same reader. It’s just like loving a good filet and a greasy hamburger. They both have their time and place. We wouldn’t want to eat or read from either fare all of the time. A balanced diet is best. 👌🏻

  47. I’ve become less stingy with my star ratings, too, because I have a lot of friends on goodreads and 5 stars is how they know they really really should read the book. I write a review for books that I give 4 or 5 stars to usually so I can say things like ‘for someone who likes character-driven novels’ for example. It also helps me pick out my ‘best of books’ for my annual reading post. So for me, 5 is ‘this was amazing, you have to read it!’, 4 is ‘this was really good’, and 3 is ‘this was pretty good’. I rarely give out 1- or 2-star ratings, but if I do, I always leave a review to explain why. My most recent 2-star rating was for Big Little Lies. So many people LOVED that book but I hated how she did so much build-up for the ending. It feels manipulative to spend 80% of the book leading up to some big, alluded-to event. She did the same thing with “Truly Madly Guilty” and it drove me crazy!

    • Andrea says:

      But didn’t the dialogue of those books make you think about how others think? I don’t like most mysteries for the reasons you state. I just thought the dialogue for those books and The Husband’s Secret were wonderful. Of course it doesn’t hurt that I love Caroline Lee for her reading of those books. That is how I started to read Kate Morton. I probably wouldn’t have enjoyed them as much if I didn’t really enjoy the readers rendition.

    • Meg Evans says:

      I really enjoyed Big Little Lies–probably because I read it first. I had no patience for Truly Madly Guilty, and I started skimming ahead to find out what the “thing” was that had set everything in motion. And then I abandoned it.

  48. Pam says:

    I tend to read and appreciate 3-star ratings more. I feel like I can throw most one and 5-star ratings out as they are either angry at a bent cover (1 star) or are friends with the author (5 stars). I have found that 3-star ratings are generally well written and thought out and I can make an educated choice.

  49. Ellen W says:

    As mentioned by others, I wish Goodreads offered 1/2 stars as I would rate more books at 3.5 or 4.5. I don’t give out too many five stars – The Dutch House was my last 5 star read. I will give books 3 stars if they are fine or fun reads but I probably won’t be thinking about them long term or they can be well written but just not my taste. I would recommend most 3 star and 4 star books to fellow readers.

  50. Mary Prather says:

    This is an interesting discussion! I always err on the side of generosity, too.

    Normally, I put down a book if I am not enjoying it, so those books do not get rated. Consequently, nothing I rate ever receives less than 3 stars. 5 stars = a beautifully written book that changes the way I look at the world – a book that spoke directly to my heart. 4 stars = A book that is well written and was thoroughly enjoyed by me. I loved it in the moment, but if you ask me in a couple of years I might not necessarily tell you it impacted my life. 3 stars = Obviously I made it through a 3 star, but wouldn’t recommend a friend read it. I felt compelled enough to complete the book, but that’s about it.

    I only rate my books in GoodReads — I do keep a book journal and have my own (more complicated) rating system there! 😉

    Thanks for the discussion!

  51. Andrea says:

    I do not read books that I am not totally enjoying. It is subjective. I know what I like and most are 5 starts, 4 if I really liked it but was dying to listen every minute (even if I made myself go slower, or time didn’t permit). Most books are an audio version and I only pick readers that I can’t wait to listen too. Then I even try books I don’t think are for me. I throughly enjoy them because of the reader. So instead of depending on stars, I have my own categories. (I am rigid). Fiction – PLACE, I will read both deep and fluff, no self-help types, or physical sickness, or sci-fi, fantasy, or too much romance. I like historical, realistic plot, etc. I always look at place first.
    I love memoirs and biographies. Non-fiction – History. I look at the rating but can ignore them too. I feel I have read a lot of books never on podcasts but highly rated in the audible world.

  52. Bethany says:

    I’m not a big fan of star ratings for books. I usually ignore them. I prefer to read the written reviews so I know WHY they did or didn’t like it.
    In my personal reading journal I have a 4-point rating system that I’ve been using for almost two decades: (4) means I loved it and want to re-read it someday; (3) means I liked it but don’t want to re-read it; (2) means I finished it but didn’t like it; (1) means I abandoned it and never want to pick it up again. If I abandon it but think I might be willing to try it again someday, I don’t record it at all and leave it to serendipity to bring it back into my life.

  53. Ann says:

    I am stingy with stars. For me, a 3-star rating on Goodreads means the book is good, 4 stars means really good, and I save the 5-star ratings for books that I want everyone to read. The 5-star books are the ones that I recommend to friends and family.

  54. Libby B says:

    I take star ratings with a grain of salt. I’m currently reading Truly Devious and personally I think that the author tries too hard to sexualize the book to make it relatable to teens. Again, I’m 31 years old, so I am going to read and interpret the book differently than a teenager. However, I think the story has a good plot. Book ratings will always be subjective. It’s hard to separate your feelings and experiences when rating the quality of a book.

  55. Laura says:

    My theory is that no one is depending on me to be their arbiter of what is worth reading, so I just go with what I feel is appropriate. I hang out on Goodreads and tend to look at overall patterns of ratings. For example, lots of fives and lots of ones or twos, for the same book, makes me leery, but for the most part I will read what someone writes about the book to help me decide if their three star book might be one I would enjoy. I wish Goodreads had half stars. I’d give a lot of 3.5s and 4.5s. I don’t give a lot of ones and twos simply because I have gotten pretty good at choosing things I will like. I’m relatively stingy with my five star ratings and it’s definitely an odd cohort where Night by Elie Wiesel and my favorites in the Harry Potter series get the same rating. C’est la vie.

  56. Lisa says:

    My star ratings often reflect my tastes, rather than literary merits of a book, but I think that’s ok. I, personally, do not look too much at the overall star rating on a book, but I do look at the ratings from the people who I follow on goodreads and know that my taste is similar to theirs. I give my absolute favorite books 5 stars, amazing books get 4 stars, very good books get 3 stars, books that I think are ok, but probably wouldn’t gush about or tell my friends to read, I give 2 stars and books that I do not like get 1 star. Sometimes I go back later and change my ratings, for instance if something doesn’t stand the test of time in my mind, it may get demoted from a 5 star to a 4 star. I always keep in mind that everybody uses the star rating system differently. The only thing that gives me pause about my system is how it may affect the authors. I hate to give somebody 3 stars, which to me is a perfectly good rating, but the author may not agree. I always try to write a positive review if I can find anything good to say about the book.

  57. Yup, I’m one of the notoriously stingy ones. However, when I got more into reviewing every book I read on Gooreads and on my blog, I had to come up with a system that explained my logic (and I actually had to sit down and figure out what that logic was in the first place!). I ended up writing a whole post about all the criteria that goes into each of my ratings:


    Where I hope for people to be able to get something useful from more than just my star rating is in the review itself—I try to note which books were enjoyable just for the sake of being enjoyable, and I hope that makes people see past a 3-star rating if they know what they’re looking for.

  58. Natalie says:

    I am so glad this topic is being discussed. I, too, reserve 5 stars for books I either consider life-changers or for books that I love so much or am so mentally invested in that I beg all my friends to read it so I can commiserate over my feelings on it. However, I won’t read a book if it only has 3 stars for. Friends. There are so many good books out there, why waste time on one that is only a 60% positive if stars were converted to school grades. To me 3 stars is just slightly above “didn’t like”. So for me, it makes perfect sense that most books I read and like, I give 4 stars to. That is the benchmark rating that I use to help me choose which books I want to read, so unless I almost wouldn’t recommend a book, I give it 4 stars. If I have given a book 3 stars, it means I didn’t dislike it but I wouldn’t recommend it. 4 stars is the best and since there are so few starts to delineate, i don’t find it bothersome at all that Emma and Veronica Mars have the same rating. Time will tell the whole story. Years from now, when Emma maintains its rating with a million people reviewing it, and Veronica Mars won’t hold up AS well so either it’s rating will fall a bit over time OR readers will see that there is a much smaller pool of people rating it, which tells more of the story.

  59. Jean says:

    I’m somewhat stingy with my 5 stars (only books that I really loved and resonated with me) but do give out a fair amount of the rest of the stars. I use the Goodreads standards for the most part:
    5 – loved it, blew me away
    4 – really liked it, would recommend and/or probably read again
    3 – it was good, not great but entertaining
    2 – it was okay, I was able to finish it
    1 – hated it and/or DNF
    I always write a detailed review with my 1 and 2 star reads because I know that just because something didn’t work for me doesn’t mean it won’t work for others. Personally, if I’m on the fence about a book, I’ll only read the 1 and 2 star reviews because they’re usually more honest and can tell me if what made those readers dislike it is something that would bother me. For example, swearing. For some people that’s a deal breaker, but for me, it doesn’t bother me. If all the bad reviews are because of swearing, I’ll probably give it a shot because that doesn’t bother me. If all the bad reviews talk about how the dialogue is stilted and clunky, I’ll probably pass because for me, that’s something that I really hate in a book.

  60. Tina says:

    I love this post. I’m an advocate for star ratings. I think some people use their stinginess with 5 star ratings a point of pride and use it to make them look superior to other readers. (On the other hand, nuance is a good thing and no one wants to hear from a reviewer who gives only 5s!) I do find I rate my books in comparison to others and use .25, .75, and .5 to further differentiate. That seems to work for me 🙂

  61. Marci says:

    I find that I stop reading books I don’t love so a lot of the books I DO finish are because I loved it, so I give a lot of 5 star reviews. On goodreads then I also have a shelf for “not finished” and that shelf gets a lot of books on it. My 5 star books vary greatly – from nonfiction/memoirs to cheesy cozy mysteries that I just love. Very different books, but perfect for me at the time I read them

  62. Susan says:

    Same idea for recipes. Some people leave 5 stars and say, “haven’t tried this yet, but photo looks yummy!”. That is NOT a rating. Or, “I changed this and added that, but I didn’t like it,” so only 2 stars. I try to be thoughtful when I rate a book and keep in mind that just because it might not be to my taste, that does not make it deserving of a low rating. I love this site!

  63. Grace M says:

    I’ve come to an understanding of what the star rating means to me and instead of looking at the overall star rating of a book I have some fellow book lovers who I trust that their tastes and opinions align with my own and I trust their ratings. So if they give a book a 4 star rating even if the overall is only a 3, I’ll trust I will probably like that book. Star ratings often feel more about popularity than quality, so finding bookish friends you trust is a must.

  64. Lori East says:

    Like many others, I rarely give a five-star rating. If I do, you’d better know that it’s because I was flat gobsmacked by the story AND I think everyone else should read it AND it is exquisitely written. Rarely happens. Likewise, I seldom give one- or even two-star ratings. After all, someone went to a huge effort to write this book, they worked hard on it. But. If they failed to proof it; their facts don’t line up with truth (or even with their own story line); and they can’t be troubled to send out their very best, I will speak up. Don’t insult me by taking my money and my time for a half-baked attempt. But again, these are rare. So that leaves threes and fours. Seems a very narrow rating into which to put everything I read, yes?

  65. Judy Gibson says:

    I take Goodreads descriptions literally. Five stars mean “it was amazing.” These are the books where I’m grabbing people by the shoulders and shouting, “Have you read this book?” So far this year I’ve read 90 books, and have given 5 stars to six of them. Most of my ratings are 3 or 4 stars. If I don’t enjoy a book but finish it, it gets 2 stars. One star is my code for Did Not Finish.
    As to other people’s ratings, I use them to guide me to what reviews to read. I’ll read a few of the highs and lows. Also my judgment of the average is tempered by how many people rated the book. For example, one of my five star books this year was the classic Two Years Before the Mast, which has an average rating of 4.18. I thought, wow, everybody liked it as much as I did. But in this case “everybody” is only 223 readers in the whole history of Goodreads. Perhaps a self selecting readership.
    average rating

  66. Debi Croy says:

    I reserve 5 stars for truly amazing books, but I am generous with 4 stars.I’ll give a 4 star rating If a book is entertaining (even if not my favorite) or well-written (yes, grammar maters) or truly instructional (I learned something new or was influenced to look at a subject in a different way). I really don’t like a lot of profanity, but don’t down-star the book if an author is using it for the character. I down-star it if the profanity is used recklessly but will indicate that in my review.
    If I give a low rating, I explain why. I don’t rate based on the look of the book (damaged cover, poor book jacket design, etc) or other things the author cannot control.

  67. Amanda says:

    I give 5 star ratings for books I enjoyed/learned a lot from that I would absolutely recommend to most other readers I know. Most books I enjoy get 4 stars, in part because I don’t want to dilute the 5 star rating. Books I kind of like get 3 stars, and books I didn’t like, but which had SOME value, get 2 stars. I used to be very stingy with 1 star ratings, but I’ve given out more of them lately to signal that I didn’t like the book/author and would absolutely not recommend it to my friends. That said, I prefer ratings to come along with reviews because someone else’s 1 star could easily be my 4 or 5 stars!

  68. Raela says:

    I use stars, and I find that I grade them on a curve based on my own personal tastes. If I really enjoy a book, I tend to compare it to my other 4 or 5 star reads and see if I feel it’s on the same level of enjoyment for me. I don’t rate based on where I think a book falls in the realm of all books written for all people–I very much rate based on how much I personally liked it or was moved or challenged by it. I’d say my purpose in using the stars is for my own memory and less about how others will perceive it.

    One flaw with the star system I’ve noticed is that books with not very many ratings can have a 4+ average rating because there are just a few passionate reviewers while an uber-popular book will be under 4 just because there’s a critical mass and, thereby, more variance of opinion. Just because 6 people LOVED a book and averaged a 4.7 rating does not mean it’s a better book than one that 500k people collectively rated 3.8. I have no solutions to that problem, though!

  69. Sarah Ry says:

    I would rather have a 10 star rating system than one based on 5 stars. I feel like there are a lot of books that are great and worth reading but aren’t quite worthy of the top rating due to plot issues, annoyances about the characters or even my own tastes and preferences. I think if the amount of stars was doubled we would get a better idea of how good a book really is, especially those 3 and 4 star books. The way the scale is set up now tends to skew too negatively for my liking. I would be more inclined to rate books in general if the scale was wider because it would more accurately reflect what I thought of a particular book. The 5 star system only serves to discourage me from rating books because it doesn’t allow for much nuance.

  70. Christine says:

    This is my rating system which I include on my Goodreads profile and which is pretty much the suggested Goodreads scale:

    1 star – I didn’t like it/hated it, I wish I hadn’t wasted my time.
    2 stars – Meh. It was ok, I had some issues with it.
    3 stars – I liked it, it was enjoyable, glad I read it. (Most books fall into this category)
    4 stars – I really liked it a lot and would recommend it. This book made me feel things.
    5 stars – I totally loved it, it’s a new favourite, I highly recommend it. This doesn’t happen often, so when it does you know the book meant a lot to me!

    I rate purely based on how much I enjoy the book. I don’t consider a 3 star book “bad” and I also only end up giving 5 stars about 5% of the time (and yes, that included the Veronica Mars book).

  71. Kate Mai says:

    I think there is a place for star ratings, as long as people remember that they are a personal, subjective exercise. The fact that the rating is personal does not invalidate it, as long as others keep that in mind. My stars reflect how I enjoyed the book, which may not be anything like how you would enjoy the book. I, too, rarely give 1 or 2 stars because I toss the books I’m not enjoying.

  72. Barbara Andrade DuBransky says:

    I feel similarly to your post today. I want my stars to not reflect me, but instead to reflect the book, because the whole point of stars is to communicate to others and I don’t want to communicate to others as though they are my clone.
    That being said next year one of my bookish goals is to use the Nancy Pearl System in my reviews, rating the book on four scales: story, character, setting and language. I’m also going to add a narration scale of I listened to the book. Also, challenging myself to include a commentary on each in the review. I’m usually so eager to get to the next book I don’t write many thoughts down for myself or others.

  73. Carol says:

    I am not a generous star giver. I have to LOVE a book to give it 5 stars. If I hate putting it down, and can’t wait to pick it back up again to finish, then it’s usually a 5. I generally use the guidelines that Goodreads give you when you hover over the stars. I know people that give every book they read a 5 star rating. For this reason, I never use a book’s rating to decide whether I read a book or not. I believe in making up my own mind on what to read instead of letting other’s opinions decide for me, and pick books that interest me. I’ve read books that have nearly 5 star ratings that I hated. I then have a crisis wondering what is wrong with me because I disliked a book everyone else seemingly loved. And vice versa, I have thoroughly enjoyed books that have a 3 rating.

  74. Belle says:

    I am a giant 5 star reader. I have so many 5 star ratings in Goodreads that I feel like my average star rating is diluted. I give a 5 star first for a well written book and 2nd for whether it spoke to me. If I didn’t get the spoke to feeling it will probably be 4 stars. 3 only happens if there are writing problems and I didn’t have feelings for the book. I don’t think I ever give 2 unless I am coasting on a 3 which means I’ve read to the end and then the end just takes a very sudden wrong turn. No one would be able to rely on my star ratings to pick themselves a good book! I figure stars are more for the author than for the reader in my world.

  75. Jan says:

    I err on the side of generous. A 5 star rating means I thoroughly loved the experience of reading it, and had a hard time putting it down, even if it’s not destined to be a classic.

    I do occasionally give 2 stars to a book. Although I try to dnf a book I’m not enjoying sometimes a book slips through and I keep reading in the hope it will get better. Or it falls apart near the end. According to Goodreads 2 stars is “fair”. Not great. Not bad.

    When choosing my next book to read I almost always look at the 2 & 3 star ratings. Sometimes the reason given for a 2 star rating tells me it’s a book I would love and sometimes the reason given is one that would be troublesome for me too.

    Goodreads ratings are entirely subjective and that’s what I like about the site. I don’t need to know the literary merit of a book, I need to know if readers like me enjoyed reading it.

  76. Elaine says:

    My biggest problem with the star rating has been exactly as you stated; how does one give both beautifully written classics that have endured the test of time a five star rating equal to a quick little beach read, thoroughly enjoyed in the moment/mood but totally not one to be read again? I’ve never figured it out. I often find that I give out the stars based on my mood when I’ve finished–not perhaps the best way to evaluate a book. . . just saying.

  77. Melissa says:

    I essentially use Goodreads star ratings for myself, and whether I enjoyed the book or not. While I appreciate reading comments from other readers, as well as considering their star ratings, both are merely a guide for me. I am not a professional critic, and don’t believe my star ratings on Goodreads should make or break an author’s book for another reader. For me, it is important to parse out a critique of an author’s writing, plot lines, and characters vs an average reader’s thoughts on a book or novel. It doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy reading what the average reader has to say, it just means I don’t fault the reader for either disliking or enjoying a book more than I did. I have a few Goodreads friends whose taste in novels tend to really align with mine, and their reviews tend to influence whether or not I pick up a certain book!

  78. Lindsay says:

    I rate books based solely upon what I think about the book. Most of the books I read get 3, 3.5 or 4 stars. I’ve only given three 5 star reviews on bookstagram this year, if I remember correctly. Here’s what I use:

    1 star: I didn’t like it.
    2 stars: It was okay.
    3 stars: I liked it.
    4 stars: I loved it.
    5 stars: Everyone should read it!

  79. Meagan says:

    This year, I’ve started to read books by people that I have followed online for years and that are local writers who I’ve met through writing groups. I’ve started writing my own novel this year too, and it has entirely shifted the way that I rate books now. I’ve become much less stingy as a result and more times that not now, I won’t even rate the book if I didn’t love it. Knowing how much work goes into writing a novel and how many hopes and dreams are resting on people reading their book, I can’t bring myself to lower their average on Goodreads. Maybe this isn’t the right way to do it, but it’s what helps me sleep at night, ha.

  80. Chris W. says:

    I’m generous with my star ratings. 5 stars are books I loved, still think about after I’ve finished, think about months or years later. 4 stars are very good books, I thoroughly enjoyed them, loved reading them while I was reading them. The majority of the books I read tend to get 4 stars. 3 stars is “good”, I liked it. Two stars is just “ok”. I think two stars is the lowest rating I’ve given a book I’ve finished. If I don’t finish a book, I don’t give it a star rating, as I may go back in time and pick it back up. Usually I don’t finish a book due to time crunches on my part, and what is going on in my life, not because the book isn’t good, compelling or well-written.

    I also don’t use the Goodreads rating average on deciding if I’ll read a book, either. I seem to have a sweet spot where if a book has a 3.10 – 3.50 rating, I tend to love those books. They tend to be books that fell off the beaten path, didn’t get commercial acclaim or recognition, didn’t win national awards.

  81. Kimberly says:

    I agree the star rating system leaves much to be desired. As you’ve mentioned before a book can be well written and we can appreciate that, but it still doesn’t mean it was a great book for me. I have a hard time deciding on star ratings. If it’s private and just for me, I like to indicate how much I liked the book. If it’s in a public space, like goodreads, I am more likely to rate based on how well done I thought it was rather than just my personal taste / opinion of the book.

  82. Diana says:

    I am mixed with star ratings. We all have likes and dislikes. I give a 5 if I loved it and think you should too, 4 is it was really good, 3 is I enjoyed it and I have never given a 2 or 1. If I did t like. That was my personal choice. The author and publisher put a lot into the book and I just can negate that.

  83. Darcy Lambert says:

    I use the star system to remind myself of a book’s merits. Five is reserved for books that I believe everyone should read; it will be easy for me to recommend. Four is a well written book that I enjoyed. Will recommend to others on case by case basis. Three is an entertaining read. Not a literary giant, but nice story. Two is for books I read and finished, but had to suspend judgement along the way. One is reserved for not finished, or waste of my time. Of course, these rating are all my opinion. Well written, character development, and the other “English class” features are important to me. For example a book that is not well written although covers an interesting subject line will receive a lower score. The writing is my priority. I read reviews to understand why a rating was given. It’s a fine line- don’t want to ruin a book for me by reading reviews, but also I hope to avoid poorly written titles. Also if there are just a few reviews for a book I will not give a 1,2, or 3. I don’t want to be responsible for hurting an author’s chances for a sale. My reading limit is very limited and want to focus on well written titles.

  84. I believe in rating books, but in my review, I always give my reasoning behind the number of stars.
    If the book is from a brand new author, and there are simply too many mistakes and inconsistenties, I will go a step farther and email them a detailed list of pages and the problems (I can’t be the only person doing that,am I right?)
    I will make note in my reviews if I will read again, or if the plot was awesome but doesn’t feel completed, etc..

  85. Marissa says:

    I take star ratings with a grain of salt. The system is completely subjective and there’s no room for a nuanced rating. I sort of wish book ratings were done like movie ratings. “This book is rated PG-13 for language and thematic material” or “On a readability scale of Dr. Seuss to James Joyce, this book is squarely Thomas Hardy.” I jest. Sort of…

  86. Karen says:

    I don’t think the individual star given is going to help anyone make a decision about whether or not to read a book. It’s the collective ratings that give the reader a sense of whether or not they will enjoy a book. I think you are thinking about this way too deeply. As someone who has limited time to read the star system is just one piece of information I use. I always read a sample as well. The star rating is absolutely helpful and shouldn’t be taken so seriously.

  87. Nancy Holte says:

    I am a generous star giver. If I loved the book, regardless of it’s “literary excellence” I’ll give it five stars. In fact, here are my “rating guidelines”:
    Five Stars = I LOVED the book. It might not fall into the category of amazing literature, but it kept me entertained or I found the information inside fascinating and/or helpful.
    Four Stars = I liked the book a lot.
    Three Stars = The book was okay – interesting enough for me to finish reading it. It might be a great book but wasn’t a great book for me at this time in my life’s journey.
    Two Stars = It’s not the worst book I’ve ever read but it didn’t thrill me. Again, just might not be for me right now.
    One Star = I didn’t really like it at all, but I took the time to finish it. (I never rate books I don’t finish because that doesn’t seem fair.)
    Rating books is such a complex issue so I usually explain what my stars mean when I write the review.

  88. Carol Ann Ellison says:

    I agree that star ratings are completely subjective. The ratings have been an issue for me, too, and I recently decided to base the star ratings I give more on my enjoyment and whether I’d recommend the book to friends than on the fact that it’s a classic or a prize winner. It always stressed me out — what’s wrong with me that I didn’t love this classic? Am I a “bad” reader or shallow person because I didn’t make the deeper connections? I’ve finally found relief in dropping all those thoughts and having a more relaxed attitude toward the ratings – simply approaching the ratings in terms of my own personal experience and if I’d recommend it to friends. I also apply this attitude toward choosing books based on star ratings. We’re all looking for that life changing 5 star read but in the end, a 3 star read is totally enjoyable, too. I always read a few 3-5 star reviews AND 1-2 star reviews that state why they rated it as they did. This often gives me all the info I need about a particular book.

  89. I used to be much stingier with my 5🌟 until a few years ago when my word of the year was GIVE. I became much more generous based on pure enjoyment factor and that has carried over the last couple of years too.

    I do rate books 3.8 or a 4.2 but I round up or down as the case may be, but I always am generous when the writing and editing are good.

  90. Brenda Rogers says:

    I always leave a star rating but feel iffy about them at times. Sometimes I wasn’t in the mood for that book or genre. Sometimes I just didn’t like the narrator on audio books. But I try to be fair and always write a review as to why I rated as I did and what I thought of the book. I never include the summary you find in the book flap, or on goodreads or amazon. My son is an author and I have author friends so I do know star ratings are important. Appreciate your feelings and they are much like my “star struggles”!

  91. Hannah says:

    For me, it’s always a question of what I am using this system for. Am I rating based on quality or personal taste? It’s hard for me to be consistent because sometimes my excitement for a book outweighs how well it was written. Is it objective or subjective? I do give out a fair amount of all 5 ratings and lots of half stars. I don’t mind giving out 1 and 2 because I think, what’s the point of using this system if I don’t ever go below the average 3 star rating? But when I do get to 3 stars and below, I will always explain myself on what it was that knocked those stars off. I try to be more objective on the lower ratings.

  92. Sheil says:

    Can I just put it out there that 5 stars is not enough for me? I need 10 to really make my point! (Or half stars would be appreciated).

  93. Brandon Harbeke says:

    As I am not a public figure, I am a little stingy with my star ratings.

    1 and 2 stars are given for books I dislike, and the difference is just the intensity of the feeling.

    3 stars is a book that was okay, decent, or one that I am generally glad I read.

    4 stars is one that I enjoyed with no reservations.

    5 stars is for a book that really impressed me, one that I would definitely want to read again.

  94. Leah says:

    I think star ratings should be taken with a grain of salt. I use them but only because it seems like the only option we have. I see 4 and 5 stars on books I would only give a three. I try (and fail most of the time) not to look at the ratings on books. It’s all a matter of perspective. If I’m reading a four or five star book I try and make sure I give a shining and lengthy review. Ultimately it’s up to the reader to decide and they shouldn’t read or not read a book simply based on what other people are saying about it.

  95. Hortensia Gomez-tirella says:

    I am a stingy star rater. 5 stars are for favorite books, keepers and re-readers. 4 stars are for very good books. Highly enjoyable, well written but probably will not revisit. 3 stars are for perfectly fine, pleasant reads, nothing spectacular but enjoyable nonetheless. 3 stars are pretty much my norm. Very rarely do I give 1 or 2 stars. Those are mostly used for audiobooks in the narrator category.

  96. Michelle says:

    This is such an interesting topic. What each of us read and how much we enjoy a book is so personal. Timing….What did you read right before, how did it leave you feeling? What is your mood? What have you been through personally that can change how much you enjoy a book and its subject matter? How old are you? Do you read the same type of book over and over? Every detail can alter how many stars we give a book. Our reading is such a wonderful and ever changing journey. Looking back at my shelf I realize that if I re-read a book I read many years ago, I’m certain my star rating would change, simply because my reading life has and continues to evolve all the time. I like to use other people’s shelves that tend to have the same reading tastes as I do as a tool to choose the next book to read. When finished I don’t base my star rating on anything other than my personal enjoyment. I don’t have any preconceived requirements that a book must have in order to get five stars from me. A book can be the furthest thing that might be considered “literary genius”, but if I loved it…Easy to give 5 stars. Bottom line is how many stars a book got from someone on any site where book reviews are posted, is not what you should base your decision on whether you read a book or not. Does the book sound good to you? Who cares if you are in the minority or the majority, JUST READ !!!!

  97. AJ says:

    I am not stingy with my 5 stars, I will give at least 15% of the books I read every year 5 star ratings and I very rarely give a 1 star rating. Several people have told me it’s because I am young and so I don’t have as much experience with amazing books and so am more free with my 5 stars. I think the reason is more in line with what you have said above where I understand that people like to read highly rated books and also because I will very rarely push through to finish reading a book that I am not enjoying so my 5 star rating is a higher percentage of the books I actually stick with.

  98. Hilary Knecht says:

    haha- much like your upcoming book Anne, I just don’t overthink my star rating system all that much. The stars are for ME. Not for others. I know that some 5* books I’ve read are a long distance from literary masterpieces but I enjoyed them 5 stars worth. I definitely agree with the 10 star commenters. i wish we had some more nuance but all in all, I like goodreads and their star system. Sometimes if a book isn’t for me and I didn’t care for it, I just won’t star it at all. I leave it blank. I can appreciate that others may like it… but it just wasn’t for me. Happy Reading 🙂

  99. Liz wright says:

    A friend and I were just discussing star ratings today. Both of us are stingy with fives. We also find we rely on 1/2 stars often because in our minds, there’s a big difference between a three (ok) and a four (good). Sort of like the difference between a C and a B grade.

  100. Cristy says:

    I use the entirety of the metric, 1-5 stars. 3 = I liked it. 2 = I didn’t like it. Writing quality absolutely affects a given rating. If I were to only use 3-5 it would make 1-2 meaningless. 5 is an outstanding book worthy of recommendation. We know not every book is for everyone. I’m not going to suggest A Little Life to my mother, but that doesn’t stop it from being a 5 star quality read.

  101. Annie says:

    I sometimes find myself giving authors I love 5 star ratings for books that are probably in the 4 star range, to be supportive of them. I also think that timing is everything when it comes to books/reading. It’s all about what you’re in the mood for at that time.

  102. Blaire says:

    I’d say I’m generous with 4 star ratings and stingy with 5. 5 is a book that truly stood out and will be in my top reads for the year. If I enjoyed my reading experience I’ll give 4 stars and note 3.5 in my review if I was on the fence. Three are ones I’m glad to have read but something was either missing for me or was somehow problematic. Two stars are reserved for ones I truly did not like and wouldn’t recommend.

  103. Roxie says:

    I will definitely give a 5 to any book that keeps me hooked, stays on my mind when I’m forced to put it down, and fulfills (or even better, exceeds) my expectations of the genre. I think that last part is important. It doesn’t have to be my ALL TIME FAVORITE or BIG IMPORTANT LITERATURE to get a 5…that’s what the GR Favorites Shelf is for, right? A really fascinating thriller can score a 5 without being *important* or life changing. In the words of Holden Caulfield, if it “really knocks me out” while I’m reading it, it will probably earn a 5.

    That said, I give far more 4s than 5s. The 4 ranking is a bit of a catch-all for me. Often the books that “would be a 5 if not for ______” gets a 4, but also “good not great” usually gets a 4 too.

    3 – mediocre writing/disappointing plots/too many flaws to fit in the 4 category, but still somewhat interesting or redeeming in a way.

    I don’t give many 1s or 2s, but if I really detested a book, I won’t shy away from it. Sometimes my 2 star ratings go to books that were MAJORLY hyped up online but then flopped for me personally. I know it’s not the book’s fault that I went in with such high expectations, but I can’t help but feel that disappointment more deeply than something that wasn’t so heavily inflated with praise.

  104. I am stingy with 5 stars but I give a lot of 4 or 4.5 stars to books I found enjoyable. To earn a 5-star rating (I read a lot of library books) means that I would either (a) buy the book to keep or (b) read the book again. In other words, it is a book that I find worthy, unique, or stellar. I err on the side of generous as well. I ALSO include it for my romance novels that some readers feel are beneath them. Some of us (especially me) like a good steamy romance every now and then and I give them 4 or 5 ROMANCE stars. That’s just my opinion.

    IG: @bookbimbo

  105. Marilyn says:

    Star ratings are a matter of taste. We have enjoyed movies,shows and books that critics have given unfavorable marks,while others that we didn’t like received rave reviews.
    Marilyn,Joan and Marion

  106. I changed my ratings when I actually wrote and published Carola book! You know how it is since you’re an author. It’s harder than people think and some of the toughest critics would never be able to write a book.

  107. Trisha says:

    I rarely share my star ratings because they are so subjective, but I do rate my reads for my personal tracking. I also tend to be stingy with my ratings, at least relative to how I perceive others to rate their books. 1 stars are books I hate and that I think have no redeeming qualities (very rare). 2 stars are books that weren’t for me but I appreciate parts of them or think another reader could enjoy them. 3 stars are good, average reads (the bulk of what I read). 4 stars are books I love and 5 stars are ones I’d describe as lifetime favorites.

  108. vicky agnew says:

    I have been misled so many times by star ratings for books, often ones in which tens of thousands of readers seem to agree on how great a book is – and then I dislike it. Star ratings for books are tricky. My workaround is to read reader reviews and critic reviews from several sources. Having said that, I try not to overthink it or expect anything from stars and reviews. Part of the beauty of reading is to stay open to being astounded in ways we do not anticipate.

  109. Caroline says:

    It’s not so much how many stars someone’s gives, to me I rely on the review, WHY someone gave it two stars or 5 stars. Reading several reviews with high and low stars will give me a feel for the book. One persons reasons for a low star might not be mine.

    I also think being able to use half stars would be helpful.

  110. Melanie says:

    I always give star ratings and write reviews. Here is how I think about my rating system:
    5- loved the book, want to buy it, will likely read it again. I don’t give tons of these, maybe a handful per year.
    4- Really enjoyed the book and would recommend it to others.
    3- Fairly entertaining, probably wouldn’t recommend it. My average rating is somewhere between a 3 and a 4. I also often write in half stars when writing my reviews.
    2- Meh. Either it felt like a waste of time or there was some twist at the end that ruined the book for me.
    1- I had a negative reaction to this book and I want to TALK about it!

    I’m surprised at the number of people that don’t give 1 and 2 star ratings. I don’t really care that an author poured their heart and soul into writing a book or that an editor/publisher deemed it worthy of print, if I had a poor reading experience with a book, I’m going to give it a low rating! I always write reviews with my ratings though, so people can understand my reaction and judge whether or not what bothered me would bother them. (Can you tell that I’m a strong T? I swear I’m still a generally nice person!)

  111. Lori Samilson says:

    I’ve never been one to pay attention to movie, tv or book reviews. I usually choose a book suggested by a friend or relative whose taste I trust or by the plot description (WSIRN). I am usually plot driven in my choices, but I admit I am also attracted to a catchy title!

  112. Sabiha Chunawala says:

    I for one am glad that you are rethinking your star rating system. Readers may base decisions on these alone, however, more than likely the decision is not just based on the star rating, but hopefully the context behind the rating. In my Goodreads early years, I thought the rating would be a reflection of what people thought of me in terms of taste or intellect, so I was hesitant to give 5 stars to books that weren’t literary fiction or some book award shortlist/finalist. Then one day, I realized that the books I was gushing about to friends weren’t always in this limited “literary” category. There were often books in other genres such as fantasy that were actually what I was most excited to recommend and most fulfilled with after completion or there were diverse authors or debut novels that knocked my socks off and that I wanted to support. That is when I decided to be true to myself in my ratings and not care what people may think of my varied reading and ratings. My main purpose for rating and writing reviews is to encourage people to read prolifically, broadly and diversely, and that can only happen if we are more inclusive with our rating systems.

  113. Annaliese Wink says:

    If it’s less than a 4, I won’t even finish the book. So any books I am leaving a rating for are ones that I thoroughly enjoyed, and I guess that means I lean toward generous – if it’s less than a 4 to me that means it’s not really worth my time.

  114. Glen says:

    I won’t give star ratings simply because I have definite dislikes which will guarantee I won’t read a book, no matter how well (or poorly) written. Present tense, alternate history, lack of parentheses to show someone is speaking…..all of which I have encountered lately in books that were recommended. I have also read books I liked very well, But would hesitate to recommend because they were a bit unusual and odd. And books I liked simply for the language, in that I hadn’t to look up a lot of words, or words that I knew but were used in unusual ways. I do have books I loved, and loved to sell when I worked in the book store, and books I get from the library and then want for myself, but giving them star ratings…..I’m not so sure of that. Sometimes it’s the mood I’m in, or I’ve read seven books in the same vein, and thus I dont like this one. Maybe I will try it again I need a year or two, and can read it with fresh eyes and a clearer mind.

  115. Jess Anne says:

    I’m pretty picky about what I read. I get lots of titles from What Should I Read Next, my daughters and my local library. I’m rarely disappointed in a book, because I have reliable sources to get book suggestions. Therefore, I never give 1s or 2s. My favorite reads are a 5 and I want everyone I know to read the book! I want to tell the mailman, my dentist, the guys who pick up the garbage etc. to read this book! Most of my books are a 4, because I get book recommendations from people and sites I can depend on. I never give 1s or 2s. A 3 is just ok. Again, it’s really important to get recommendations from people who know books and can give a good overview. No trouble rating books if you have great book recommendations!

  116. Loanne says:

    I do not rate books. But I always look at ratings to determine if I want to give a book a try. And I always start with the one star ratings. I want to know why folks didn’t like a book. I find that there tends to be more concrete reasons for disliking a book than those who gush in the 5 star ratings. But any rating it is very subjective and determined by where a person is in life. I know my tastes have changed. Books I’ve loved in the past no longer get my attention simply because I don’t enjoy them. And too many books, too little time to read what I’m not interested in.

  117. Michelle says:

    I would love to know where you got your stars stamp?? I have been looking for ages so I don’t have to continue just drawing stars in my reading journal.

    I tend to only review books in my journal, so that I’ll know , at a glance, if I’m interested in re-reading.

  118. Tara says:

    I don’t post ratings of the books I read on Goodreads. For me, it’s all about my mood at the time and I don’t want to rate a book on that. I simply use my Goodreads account as an accounting of the books that I have read.

  119. Amy Agent-Borchardt says:

    I think giving a book 5 stars That isn’t exceptional, is like giving everyone a participation ribbon. I also save my five star books for perhaps two to three books a year. It’s meaningless if everyone gets a 5.

  120. Lis Moriarty says:

    YES!!!! I agree 100% to err on the side of generosity. For my own reading journal and on IG, I don’t use stars rather consistent descriptive words (and emojis) but on Goodreads and review sites, I err on giving more stars rather than less – I’m here to help others read more, not less, and that usually happens when books have more stars because let’s face it, most people don’t read the minutae of the reviews like so many of us do.

  121. Haley says:

    What star rating I give a book definitely depends, at least to a certain extent, on how I’m feeling on a particular day. One star and five star ratings are the easiest, but if I give a book a two to four star rating, I probably spend some time debating which star exactly to give it.

    I’m not too worried about giving certain books five star ratings because they’re not classics (yet, possibly) because I just assume people will know the difference. Actually, I often don’t give classics five star ratings at all. Since I expect people to already know enough about the book to know whether they want to read it, I don’t think they’re all that necessary. I consider them more for books that you don’t know much about and need to decide whether to read.

    That being said, I wouldn’t base my decision on whether or not to read a book entirely on its star rating. Instead, I see it as something I can consider when debating reading a book that I already wasn’t all that sure I wanted to read.

  122. As I contemplate writing my Books I Read This Year blog post soon, this is helpful and relevant! I give a star rating to the books I list, and this is how I’ve described my criteria. (I usually don’t give half stars because that’s too complicated for me.)
    5/5 “This is exceptional; I’m a better person for having read it, and I think everyone should read it.”
    4/5 “This is excellent; the subject matter is compelling, and the writing is strong.”
    3/5 “This is good; it’s interesting and thought-provoking.”
    2/5 “This is okay; it wasn’t quite for me, but others might like it (or have liked it).”
    1/5 (or, of course, 0/5, though I don’t finish many zeros!) “Reading this was not, in my opinion, time well spent.”

  123. Maryalene says:

    I always rate books based on how much I liked them personally. I don’t worry about the book’s literary merit, cultural relavence or whether other people should read it. The stars are based only on my enjoyment/appreciation of the book.

    So that means if a book has so much profanity that it ruins the book for me, I’ll give it one star and not feel bad about that. However, I almost always explain my one star reviews so people can judge for themselves whether my dislike of the book is for what they deem to be a valid reason.

  124. Debbie says:

    A book gets 5 stars if I read it more than once or couldn’t put it down (or couldn’t wait to be able to get back to it). I like grades better. A grade of A+ or A-, means more to me. If I don’t finish a book on purpose or stop within the first few pages, it gets an F!!!! But that’s only recorded in my own little book journal. And I get more picky the older I get. Life’s too short to read a book that I’m not loving. I take into consideration how well it’s written or if it keeps me in suspense and wanting to know what’s next. I rarely leave a rating online but will for those I felt strongly about.

  125. Jennifer Kepesh says:

    I hear you, Anne. There is no way to create a rating system that captures multiple dimensions with a single rating number, and no one would want to use a complex system, and even a complex system would miss out on key things that affect some aspects of rating. I give a lot of 4s to mysteries/spy books because it’s the genre I most enjoy, even if objectively many of these books aren’t better than books in other genres. I prefer literary books to most other fiction, so I’ll bump a rating up if I find the writing itself to be good even if there are problematic aspects. If a book just catches me at the right time, or evinces a feel-good moment, I’ll probably bump it up. But if I read a book that is too much like too many others I’ve read of late, I’ll probably bump it down. And if I go in with high expectations because it has a lot of buzz, and it doesn’t meet my own high expectations, I’ll bump it down. For my own use, I think I can safely say that a rating of 3+ means I’d recommend it to others, a rating of 2 means it just was not the book for me, and a rating of 1 means I am offended as a reader (usually because it was a book I should not have finished, but I nearly always finish books, so I get mad at those that waste my time).

  126. Pat says:

    I am very stingy with 5 star ratings and I think everyone should be. I, also, think with just a 5 star range, it makes sense that very different books have the same number of stars. I take this into consideration when I am reading people’s reviews. Eventually you learn which reviewers have similar taste to your own. I would prefer an 8 star range, but no one is offering that! Keep your 5 stars for the exceptional books! If you don’t, then your 3 star ratings aren’t worth reading and I enjoy 3 star books now. Keep reading, y’all and keep your standards high!

  127. Suzanne C says:

    I’m so enjoying everyone’s thoughts on this. For myself, I’m a little stingy with my 5 star ratings. I feel like something special should be saved for those books and authors that just really go above and beyond. But I’m a little freer with my 4 star ratings, often ’rounding up’ my personal 3 1/2 star ratings to a 4 for Goodreads if there wasn’t anything in the book that specifically turned me off. (But seriously, Goodreads, we need half stars, for crying out loud!!)

  128. Toni says:

    It was a Kristan Higgins book that made me rethink the star rating. I genuinely loved the book and the number of times it struck an emotional note. I felt it was too stingy to save 5 stars for only literary works because all sorts if books bring joy for all sorts of reasons. So, I said so in my Goodreads review, and just kept going with it. The reviews are for me to remember how I felt. While I know the analytics matter for a variety of reasons, it’s not my reading responsibility to worry about that. I think all types of authors should be supported.

    I also worry about the one-stars that people give for what I consider to be “silly” reasons…but that’s to be expected, I guess. Maybe someday a tech whiz will formula the way out of that.

  129. Nanette says:

    I start every book with a three and go up or down from there. I don’t rate books that are DNF. Five is only for books that make me cry, scream, or repeatedly say “oh my god”. These are the books I recommend to people or give away. Four is for books that are very good, compelling, interesting. I may or may not recommend them to others. Three is ok. Two is often for books that get a lot of hype or are “supposed” to be fantastic but that don’t work for me. One is for books that are just plain bad. On Goodreads I try to leave comments especially for the higher or lower ones. I do look at reviews and tend to read the very positive ones as well as the very negative ones. Often what one reader doesn’t like is something that I probably will like. I’ve also learned not to trust major awards, Oprah books, etc. I have a couple friends I trust on pretty much every book they recommend (and others who I know not to trust since our reading tastes are so different).

  130. Aquagirl809 says:

    I am quite generous with 5 and 4-star ratings, because so many of the books I love have come to me via the “What Should I Read Next” podcast. The few books I have given a 1 or 2-star review have been from our local Yoga Book Group. I felt I had to finish reading these books to join in the discussion at our monthly meetings. And yes, I wish Goodreads had a DNF category.

  131. Cyndi Moskal says:

    5 stars for me means I LOVED the book and would read it again and would recommend it to almost anyone, if not everyone. 4 stars means I really liked it, it’s staying on my bookshelf and would recommend it to at least some people. 3 stars means I liked it and am glad I read it but it will probably make it’s way to the library books sale. 2 stars means I finished it but didn’t like it. And 1 star is usually for books I couldn’t finish.

  132. Gail says:

    I’m pretty generous with my stars, three stars are for an okay book. Four and five are for like and love. But I love reading one starred reviews the most. Because not all books are for every person. Sometimes a book is just bad, but probably only if it is self published or vanity published. Most 1-star reviews are about taste and reading them gives me the best sense of the book, because what someone might hate, I might love. I have bought books based on one-star reviews.

  133. Eileen says:

    As a 70 year old reader, I am amazed sometimes at the issues that others become attached to concerning books. Making reading choices based on others’ ratings (at least unknown others) baffles me. Over the years, I have gathered up my favorite authors – oh so many of them 😊. And I have trusted friends whose opinions count. Finally, there are book reviews that I go to out of interest or curiosity, sometimes to expand my information about a book, sometimes to add to my tbr list. I am connected with Goodreads, a helpful site for keeping track of books I’ve read and books others have recommended. I rarely write or read reviews. And when I give stars, the # is based on my enjoyment of the book – lots of ⭐️⭐️⭐️ and ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️! The gift of 5 stars means “oh, I so loved the book!”. So, let’s all enjoy reading, maybe while letting go of ratings and overthinking. Just enjoy!

  134. Elisha G. says:

    I think I am generous with my stars. 5 stars are reserved for books that I loved or that I can’t stop thinking about. If I genuinely liked the book and would reread it if I had the chance, I usually give it 4 stars. 3 is are books I liked but wouldn’t reread again. 2 is for books that I struggled through. 1 is for books that I found problematic in some way: bad writing, proofreading or that I found to culturally insensitive; really anything that made it difficult to read the story with any pleasure.

  135. Kristina Baas says:

    The data analyst in me won’t let me do a 5-star system, I buck tradition and do a 4-star system, because it forces me to take a side of like or didn’t like, and gives me two degrees of each (I also don’t rate things online, only in my reading journal). The problem with 5-stars, is that so much (especially on goodreads) ends up with 3-stars, which is really just a failure to take a side.

  136. Amy says:

    I use goodreads for me. It’s a place to record the books I read with a very short synopsis sometimes, and a rating of how well I enjoyed the book. I don’t give out stars for anyone else’s benefit and my review is meant for just me as well. I’m not trying to write a beautiful review that could appear in a newspaper review. It’s a reminder to me of why I loved (or didn’t) the book. That being said, I luckily rarely read books that warrant a one or two star rating for me. (Thanks mostly to WSIRN!)

  137. Jodi Thomas says:

    I realize I’m not as stingy with my 5 stars. I realized I should rate books on what they are – a 5 star romance or young adult book may not be the same “level” as a 5 star more classic novel but I can still appreciate how well it’s written for its genre and its intended audience. Sometimes it’s like comparing apples and oranges – both equally tasty, just different!

  138. Stefanie says:

    I used to be stingy with my 5 start ratings. I wanted to hold on to them for me – for those books that really mean something to me. But then I realized the star ratings are not for me. I do not own them. They are for others – a way to communicate this book as a possibility to others. I have my favorites list/shelf. That I own – that is a reflection of me. The ratings are a reflection of the book.
    Lately I think about it like star ratings for Uber/Lyft drivers. Did you know that scoring below a 4 star will eventually lead to the driver’s disengagement with the company? I have books I’d return to that I have rated a 3 – but technically if it was a ride-share driver the book would be “fired.” While I do not agree with this assessment, this is how our society views the rating system. Pretty much every driver who gets me where I need to go safely without getting into an accident, whose car is as clean as my own and without me feeling unsafe gets a 5 star. If they ran a stop sign or my purse fell over and dumped out on a sharp turn, they get a 4. They did their job and so they should be able to keep doing it. Now I apply this to books – should the book keep its job? YES pretty much every book written should keep its job and be read. “Every book its reader.”

  139. Jen Lehmann says:

    I only give a 1 or a 2 if I have reasons for not liking the book beyond my own taste. On my Goodreads account, this is most frequently an old book (I’ve read all the Caldecott medal and honor books, and am working my way through the Newbery and Printz books) that is blatantly racist or discriminatory. Otherwise, it might be a nonfiction book of some kind of advice that doesn’t give room for experiences other than the author’s own. I would never leave a rating like that without a solid explanation in my review. 4 is kind of my baseline for books that are not offensive or poorly written: 3 if it was fine, but not my taste, 4 if I liked it, 5 if I loved it.

  140. Emily says:

    I try to be generous. If I would say I loved a book and there wasn’t anything I disliked about it, I give it a 5. If I really liked it but I had a complaint or two, a 4. If I enjoyed it well enough to finish it but didn’t love it, it gets a 3. I rarely give a book a 2-star rating–that’s only in the case that I kept reading in the hopes that it would get better, but ultimately I didn’t like it. And I haven’t given a 1-star rating in years, because if I hate a book that much, I don’t finish it (and I don’t rate DNFs). Authors work hard to write books, and it doesn’t feel fair to take stars away from books I loved, just because it wasn’t AS magical and perfect as my favorite book in the world.

    I give very little thought to the way other people rated a book. I rarely ever check the ratings on Amazon or Goodreads when deciding whether to read a book. Occasionally I will look after I finished, if I’m wondering what others thought, but in general I don’t find an average rating from thousands of strangers to be any help in choosing a book.

    One thing that I struggle with in book ratings is whether to change past ratings that I now disagree with. There are some books (especially nonfiction) that I gave a good rating when I first read them, but now disagree strongly with the author’s stance on a topic. My current rule is not to change a rating unless I re-read the book, but it makes me cringe to see those ratings now. Plus I know friends can see those ratings, so I still think about changing them, or just deleting the book from my Goodreads.

  141. Denise P says:

    For me the rating system is purely about whether I liked a book or not, and how much I liked it. I’m not a literary critic. I leave that to others.
    I give 5 stars only when I LOVED a book, which doesn’t happen that often.
    I do give 1- and 2- star ratings, even if I didn’t finish the book. I always give a reason for the low rating (mostly because of excessive language, or explicit sex and/or violence – not my thing) and I state if I didn’t finish.

  142. Denise says:

    I am stingy with my 5 stars, but most books I read get 4 stars. Anything less than 4 stars, in my opinion, I don’t finish, and I don’t record on Goodreads. I will leave a FYI if the book I am reviewing has salty language. I appreciate if someone warns me if the dog dies. I find those impossible to read.

  143. Jenna says:

    I’ve grown to not trust the star ratings very much. I read reviews and see, for some of the same reasons you mentioned, some pretty strange reasons for ratings one way or another. No matter what the reviews are I still like to read the book for myself if the subject matter/storyline interests me. I don’t have to finish it if I don’t like it!

  144. Kae says:

    I am a little confused about the implication that it is not right to give only one or two stars if there is too much profanity for your taste: “Did you get that. For your taste.” So is that wrong? You talk about highly sensitive people (HSP) not liking a lot of violence or whatever. In my opinion, needless and excessive profanity is just as legitimate as violence for a book not to be for you. Isn’t the whole star system about your own taste? I just didn’t understand what you meant by this, Anne.

  145. Carla says:

    I prefer if people lean towards stingy. There are thousands upon thousands of books out there and my time is limited. I’d rather read the cream of the crop.
    As for rating something lower because of bad language (or whatever the issue) is not to their taste? Of course! Isn’t that what rating is all about? We rate something lower because it is not to our taste, and higher if it is. It’s all subjective based on our preferences.

  146. Olivia Solomon says:

    I really think before giving 5 stars. Was it a favorite, life changing, or un-put-downable book? I mostly give 4 stars for really great but not amazing, 3 stars for pretty good, enjoyable reads. But I am also a book abandon-er. I usually give a book until the 20% mark to really catch me. Otherwise I drop it. However, I don’t always star review those books. If something is just not to my taste, or not the right book for my mood, I won’t give it a star rating at all. It will just live on my abandoned book shelf of Goodreads. The ONLY reason for me to give a star rating to an abandoned book is if I really felt strongly about it. Seriously, some books are just plain terrible. And they deserve the 1 star.

  147. Dana says:

    If I leave a 1 or 2 star, I will comment “WHY”. In case it just wasn’t to my “taste”, but no reflection on the author. I previously did not rate any book, but now I will rate everything, since I know a human is looking at it. If I am on the fence about buying/reading a book, I always read the 5 star and 1 star ratings, before I give up my time. I use my Goodreads EVERYTIME I buy a book.

  148. Tabitha says:

    I get 99% of my books from the library, so I only give 5 stars to books that I would like to buy– I love them so much that I actually want to own a copy! 4 stars means I’d like to read it again at some point, and 3 means I liked it but will probably never read it again.
    So I guess I use my star ratings totally for personal preference, and not based on how well it was or wasn’t written or various other merits. 🙂 I feel like that is a lot more helpful, especially for sites like Goodreads!

  149. Lynne Smith says:

    I am generous with my star ratings. As a former high school and middle school librarian and children’s public librarian, my job was to encourage reading and turn kids on to books. My reviews and stars are still a matter of taste but I do try to keep in mind who might like the book as well as or better than I did. As a rule I don’t review books that I don’t like. The exceptions to this would be a book that was written very badly, one that had major errors (grammar, typos, etc) in the writing, or nonfiction works with factual errors. I feel the need to call those out. Between my generosity with stars and the lack of 1 or 2 star reviews, some might think I just like everything. However, I always include this information in my bio.

  150. mary hunt says:

    My Star Rating is really for myself. 5 stars means I loved it, would recommend it and will own it. 4 stars means I loved it, would recommend it, but will probably not reread. 3 stars means “meh”. 2 stars means I did not like it, but finished it. 1 star means I abandoned it.
    These are in my reading journal for myself. when I am looking for my next read I do not rely on ratings. We all have such different tastes.

  151. I always think that a star rating says more about the reviewer than the book; I treat them as a reflection of “here’s how well suited this book was to my tastes at the time that I read it”. I don’t actually pay any attention to star ratings when I’m considering my next read – I’d always rather read what someone has to say about a book in a review than get this kind of reductive quantitative measure that, ultimately, doesn’t tell me all that much about whether it’s the kind of book I’d enjoy. Just my 2c! 😅

  152. Karen B says:

    Like many fellow readers, I too am stingy with 5 star ratings, reserving them for a book I’d recommend to anyone. I prefer the rating scale used by Bookmarks magazine over that of Goodreads. Same star designations, different descriptions: 5 stars = Classic, timeless book to be read by all; 4 stars = Excellent, one of the best of its genre; 3 stars = Good, enjoyable, particularly to fans of the genre; 2 stars = Fair, some problems – approach with caution; 1 star = Poor, not worthy of your time. I find the Bookmarks scale to be more book centered than reader centered. I’m still trying to become more articulate about assessing what I read — I’m hoping Book School will help!

  153. Lou Ann Darras says:

    Yes, it seems they particularly matter for a lot of people who make their living off of such ratings. Our data is valuable. That’s the problem though, “data points” can’t capture complexities, they are not meant to without complex meta-analyses attached to ongoing aggregation. Go for it, Anne! I love your site and want you to continue to provide a very valuable service.

  154. Jenny Womack says:

    I tend to be pretty generous with star ratings for the reasons you mentioned & I’ve chosen to stop giving a star rating if it’s below a 3 for me. I haven’t written, much less published a book so I feel bad giving less than 3 stars to anyone who has. It’s a serious accomplishment.

  155. Jamie says:

    My star ratings on Goodreads are mostly so I can remember how I felt about a book. When deciding to read a book, I care more about what is written in the review, than the number of stars. I’ll usually read a variety of both good and bad reviews to get a good idea of whether or not I’m interested. There are some trusted reviewers with similar tastes to mine, and I would be willing to read anything they rated 5 stars.

  156. Sarah says:

    I’m trying to be a little less harsh with myself about the star ratings I give out. If I really loved a book, even if it wasn’t the height of literature, I’ll give it a 4.5 or 5, with the knowledge that this isn’t a perfect system, and take the comments/feedback section to expand on what worked and what didn’t for me. I also do not shy away from 2 or 1 star ratings if I feel a book really deserves it- ratings and reviews really help me decide on what books to read/continue reading, and sometimes books just aren’t great (though I will always explain my reasoning).

  157. Jane says:

    My 5 star books are reserved for those books that I can’t put down. I read them in the middle of the night, waiting in line, instead of doing housework, etc. If all my books were 5 stars, I wouldn’t get anything done 😉

  158. Erica says:

    I rarely give below a 3 star rating, but I think that is because I am pretty quick to stop reading if I’m not enjoying the book. My average rating for 2018 and 2019 on Goodreads is 4.1 stars. I go buy the “liked it, really liked it, it was amazing” guide on Goodreads, and I really like most books I read I guess!

  159. Vanessa says:

    Nowadays any book I finish is getting 4 or 5 stars because it had to be good to pique my interest and keep me reading. I’m past the age where I’ll slog through something just to finish it. I’m not in school anymore, haha!

  160. AngD says:

    I will look at the stars, but I go beyond that when I’m trying to find a good book. I look to see why people rated it the way they did. So even if I see something rated 2 or 3, but the synopsis appeals to me, I’ll see if there are any 4 or more stars and read those reviews and I’ll read some of the lower reviews then make my decision. Everyone’s taste is different and I can usually tell by what someone writes in their review if they like what I like :-).

  161. Krys says:

    I just recently rewrote my review policy today and removed the rating system I had in place— I had 2, one that was for YA and middle grade reads and the other was for everything else. I felt that it wasn’t working anymore since my career path took a turn and I felt a little like an impostor.
    I will be rethinking my rating system, maybe just a smiley or sad emoji?

  162. Leira says:

    I think of my goodreads star reviews as a right-shifted bell curve. Hopefully, most of the books I read are 3/4/5 with a rare 2 (Did Not Like) or 1 (Hated it). Five star books are in the running for best book I’ve read this year (I started goodreads tracking when I did a reading challenge and tend to think of it as year by year). Four is I liked it a lot. Three is I liked it, but there was some major thing I disliked; or, it was Just Okay. I definitely think of them as taste over quality, but I definitely err on the generous side…I am a kind, if not necessarily helpful, rater.

  163. Elizabeth Dehghani says:

    Does anyone else out there wish goodreads had half star options? I feel like that is often what I need to describe a book perfectly. Particularly in the 3-4.5 range. I run into a lot of books that are not 3 or 4, but 3.5, or 4.5 (for a recent example, I would have liked To give the Ann Patchett’s ‘The Dutch House’ a 4.5 instead of 4) and would like that option. I know I’m not totally alone bc it’s fairly common to see the star rating clarified with a 1/2 in the text of the review. Surely goodreads could make that option happen.

  164. Kellaciousd says:

    Ratings are complete crap! People cannot (will not? Same difference?) remove their ideologies, beliefs, egos, etc. etc. from a rating. I can not agree with something and not think it is only worthy of 1 star. I can also wholly agree with something and not think it is worth 5 stars. The amount of reviews I have read where someone gave a rating of 1 star!…Worst thing ever!…Terrible!…on something that was mediocre is staggering. The common denominator tends to be a subject matter that makes the viewer/consumer feel antagonized or called out. Any extreme rating, either glowing or damning, I take with a grain of salt; I read the review and any other reviews made by that person before I decide anything. Most things are ok, not terrible, not great. Maybe not high praise, but realistic. People as a whole suck and are incapable of accepting anything that might make them feel uncomfortable about their place in the world. None of us can pick what life we are born into, privileged or otherwise, but we can pick how we deal with that life, and it’s privilege or lack there of.

  165. Shana says:

    I give out fewer 5 star reviews – just if I feel like the book was amazingly written or if I just really loved it.
    I mostly give 4 stars – that it is a well written book and I felt like it was worth reading.
    3 stars for me is just ok on both accounts
    I rarely give less than 3 stars, but I did this week give a one star to a new release that probably earned the author a lot of money. But I felt like it didn’t have a plot and was mostly a bunch of gossip. I didn’t think any characters were likable or if they grew, it was quick and not really reasonable.
    I feel that a lot of authors only give 4 or 5 stars because they know how it feels, and they just don’t rate other books. However, as a reader, I feel like the books that are usually close to 3 stars or lower usually have major problems. I have liked some in the 3 star range, so if a plot or author interests you, it can still be worth the read.

  166. Ann Antognoli says:

    From a writer’s point of view, I appreciate when readers offer reasons why they rank a book as they do. When readers explain why they enjoyed the book or did not enjoy the book, they sway readers. While one reader may dislike an aspect of the book: politics, religion, child abuse, etc., another reader may find those same elements interesting and gravitate toward the book.
    As long as a reader ranks or reviews a book with honesty and consideration, authors will appreciate the feedback, and readers will have one more way to gauge whether they wish to give the book a chance.

  167. Rick O'BRIEN says:

    Very few, if any, of my reads get a 1star. I am usually long gone by then and if i dont finish i don’t rate. Very few get a 5 star ,it has to be “right” on all aspects, which of course is subjective. If I finished and it really didn’t do it it gets 2 stars. Most books get 3 and if its a 3.5 I round up to 4. I think you have to be stingy when awarding stars for them to carry meaning. To each his own. Happy reading.

  168. Cindy McMahon says:

    I’m wishing we could go to a 10-star spectrum. As it IS, I rarely finish a 2-star book, NEVER finish a 1-star book, so I’m left with 3 stars to express my feelings. Then subtract the “gotta be VERY close to perfect” restriction of the 5-star, I’m left with 2 possible stars for most books I read. In my journal I use 1/2 stars (3.5, 4.5) also, but that’s not allowed most places.

  169. tabitha says:

    I actually ignore 5-star ratings in most cases. So many of them are posted by paid sponsors and frankly, every book can’t be the “best book ever written” or the “PERFECT book”. I also tend to take 1-star ratings with a grain of salt. I will skim them sometimes to find out if the book is filled with profanity, excessive violence, or gratuitous sex but since most are either vague “I hated it”, “I’m punishing the author because the ending was wrong” or “I wanted it to be a different genre” most 1-star ratings have little value to me.

    I pay more attention to 2-4 star ratings. I feel that people who rate things in the 2-4 range are more likely to be average readers giving an honest review. It allows me to see if the reviewer has a specific thing they found objectionable (the language, graphic sex or violence, the way characters behaved,etc.) or if the rating is just a general feeling the book left them with.

    If I am choosing a book, I am more likely to use Goodreads reviews over retailer sites. I love the reviews where they tell me why they think the book deserved their rating. If they didn’t like the book because they didn’t like the ending or which guy ended up with the girl, that’s fair because reading is subjective. But that sort of review isn’t necessarily a deal-breaker for me since I may have a different opinion about what they disliked. I also tend to read reviews for books I have read to see which users have similar tastes so I can check their review for a book I am considering.

    Long story short, I may avoid a book that has 5000 1-star reviews but I also don’t refuse to buy a book if it doesn’t have a specific star rating. There are a number of highly-rated books I didn’t like and some books with lukewarm reviews that I liked.

    As for how I rate, I tend to give higher ratings for books I like on retailer sites than on Goodreads. I try to limit my Goodreads 5-star reviews to books I loved enough to read it again rather than books I enjoyed once but would only read again by accident or as part of a book club. I also try not to give negative reviews unless I feel really strongly about a book, typically something over-hyped because of a TV or movie tie-in that is poorly written.

  170. Cynthia Lee Pratt says:

    I do rate books I DNF if I think the fault is the book. I am more likely to write a review of why I didn’t like a book than why I did. What I don’t like about reviews is how many need to recap the whole book before they say why they did or didn’t like it. I say I generally give 4s. If I feel I care enough, I check the distribution of the stars. If the majority are 3 or above, I am likely to read it. If a lot of ones, I will check those in more detail to see what everyone disliked. I agree 5 ratings can be very misleading on some books. I have really run afoul of books vs reviews in the Fantasy genre on Goodreads.

  171. Alyson Woodhouse says:

    I don’t tend to read star ratings before picking up a book, certainly not in isolation, as they are purely subjective and don’t tell me much. I’m more likely to read something from other people’s detailed reviews or recommendations from readers who broadly share my likes and dislikes. I don’t really give 5 star ratings often either, and I’m not even sure whether there is actually such a thing as a perfect book, it all comes down to individual preference and taste. Great discussion, thanks.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.