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.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.