April 28, 2013

Rants & Raves: Yes, I *Am* Stingy With My 5-Star Ratings

This is a feature that appears sporadically on the blog, whenever I have a bookish issue I need to rant or rave about. Feel free to comment with your thoughts!

*Note: this post was inspired/influenced by any number of discussions other bloggers have had about ratings, and in particular Steph Su Reads's posts here and here.

You may have noticed I don't give 5-star ratings very often. In fact, it is quite a rare occurrence for me. But I know some authors find 3 or 3.5 star reviews disappointing, so I thought I'd explain my thought processes regarding ratings.

To start with: I may not hand out 5 stars like they're going out of style, but I am even less generous with 1-star ratings. In fact, I've never given a book just 1 star on this blog. I think I'd have to be actively appalled/offended/disgusted/horrified by its content in order for that to happen. Usually I can find some redeeming quality in a book, even if overall I didn't enjoy it, and that will bump up the rating.

I guess I see the distribution of book quality kind of like a normal distribution.

You're bound to get a few pretty crummy, poorly written books, on the low end — say, 2 and 2.5 stars in my rating system.

Ones that make me look like this.

You're bound to get a few absolutely fantastic, blew-me-away books on the high end — 4.5 and 5 stars.

Ones that make me look like this.

And then you've got the majority of the books in-between: not bad, but not the best book you've ever read. Those are the 3 and 3.5 and 4-star books.

Bloggers differ in how they approach rating a book. Some people are fine with giving a 5-star rating even if they found several aspects to criticize. Some might only give 5 stars to books that have the "re-readability factor." Personally, for me to give 5 stars to a book, it has to wow me. Maybe it's tackled an issue in a completely original way. Perhaps it's a stand-out example of a story within a certain sub-genre. Maybe there is absolutely nothing I can think of that would improve the novel.

Because let's face it: if I went around giving 5 stars to loads of books, the 5-star rating would quickly lose its impact. It wouldn't be that extra star beyond the (still very good) 4-star rating. And I think I would soon start having trouble distinguishing between what qualifies as a 4-star read vs. a 5-star one.

5 Stars: Outstanding! Buy it!
Not every book stands out enough to be "outstanding".

Interestingly, for me a 5-star rating does not always correspond to a belongs-on-my-favourites-shelf book. Sometimes, but not inevitably. I think there are likely plenty of books I consider my favourites that would get 4 or 4.5 stars, and perhaps even a few books I would "objectively" give 5 stars that aren't among my favourites. So just because I give a book 4 stars doesn't mean I didn't truly enjoy it! It just means there wasn't that "it factor" (for lack of a better term) to elevate it to 5 stars.

I'd also like to point out that books I gave (or would have given) 5 stars when I first started this blog are not necessarily ones I would now give the same rating. I was a lot less particular and critical a reader back in 2010! This doesn't mean I don't still love those books. I just suspect that were I to read them again, examining them critically, I'd probably catch sight of more flaws or areas that could be improved.

The Goose Girl and Crown Duel are a couple that might fall into this category...although it's impossible to tell, since I suspect my view of them will be forever tinted with nostalgic affection!

In conclusion: 5 stars is not my default rating. Authors, your book has to earn it. And because I do read so critically, I keep that 5-star rating in reserve for the ones that strike me as the most exceptional. Kind of like giving out the "class valedictorian" award. So if your book's gotten a 3 or 3.5 or 4-star rating from me, there's no need to worry — you may not be that one kid in the class getting the elusive 100%, but you're still bringing home good grades.


  1. I find it funny that some people (readers and authors) see a 3 star rating and think the book was disliked when really 3 stars is a good/decent read, at least for me anyway.

    I am probably give out more 5 than other readers but I often base them on emotion and sometimes that is all I need to award a book 5 stars :)

  2. Yep, I think blogging has made more of a critical reader too as I suspect books that I would have given 5 stars before I began blogging will probably not earn the same rating now.

    You know, I don't tend to fully trust bloggers who give lots of 5 stars. It gives the impression that they think every book is amazing, making me think they're not looking for flaws very hard.

  3. Yes, totally agree with this! I'm definitely more stingy with my 5 star ratings, but I've grown to accept that, because I think it means that my 5 star reviews mean more. Those 5 stars mean that the book totally wowed me in some way, whether it was particularly insightful or it just made me giddy with happiness at the chemistry of the characters. It sucks that people think 3 stars is a bad rating, because it definitely isn't.

  4. I LOVE this post! Your rating style is pretty similar to my own. I give out 3.5 star ratings the most because that's the "average" book for me. It's a good book! It's just not a great book for me. I love that you included a bell curve because, EXACTLY. That just sums it all up perfectly. :)


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