What do you mean by your star rankings for various books? Don’t you think it would be helpful to define for your readers what they mean and how you decide to assign them?
Why yes, Jenners, that is an excellent question, and one that has been bothering us for quite some time.
Initially, I didn’t rank books on my blog. The primary reason was that a ranking from just one person doesn’t tell you much. On a site like Amazon, LibraryThing, Shelfari or Goodreads, a collection of rankings is meaningful. A bunch of people rank a book, and the average ranking is probably a good reflection of how people are reacting to a particular book. Although I don’t usually decide whether to read a book based purely on how it ranked by reviews, it does carry some weight with me. If I’m looking for a book on Amazon and I see it has 375 2-star reviews and only 4 5-star reviews, chances are that I’m not going to read that book. However, if only one review appeared, the ranking that reviewer assigned is virtually meaningless as it is just one person’s opinion.
But then I thought that I owe it to my readers to give them a quick overview of what I thought of a book … and a ranking system is perfect for that (especially when you tend to write overly long reviews like I tend to do). Plus, it is quick way for a new reader to find out what kind of books I like and don’t like. After all, if you see my list of 5 star books and you hated every single one of them, chances are we aren’t going to be book compatible. I remember reading the reviews of a particular movie critic years ago and almost always disagreeing with him. So I started using his reviews as a litmus test for what to watch: If he hated a movie, I made sure to see it … pretty confident that it would be something I’d love.
When I was keeping tabs of my reading for my own use, I was using letter grades like A, B, C and so forth. However, I found that system seemed too loaded with meaning from my school days so I switched to a star system. At first, I used 1 to 5 stars … but that seemed like it didn’t have enough wiggle room. Then I settled on using half stars (4.5 stars, 3.5 stars) and so forth. This gave me up to 9 different rankings I could assign to a book, which seemed like enough.
When assigning a ranking to a book, I often knew the ranking I wanted to give it but I could not always put into words what these ranking meant. For example, what is the difference between a 5 star book and a 4.5 star book? What keeps a book at a 3.5 star ranking rather than a 4 star ranking? Well, it was time that I defined for myself (and you) what these rankings mean. So after quite a bit of thought over the last week, I ended up coming up with some “definitions” of my rankings (see below).
After doing this, it caused me to reevaluate some of the rankings I had assigned previously to books. For example, I had previously given The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society and Fingersmith5 stars but decided they were probably really 4.5 stars when I used my new criteria. (Sometimes when I read a book I really enjoy, I get “razzle dazzled” and give them higher rankings than I think they “deserve” in hindsight.) I also realized that I wanted to differentiate between books that I loved because they entertained me but I didn’t think deserved a 4.5 or 5 star ranking because they didn’t have enough substance; this ended up putting most of Christopher Moore’s books in the 4 star category. 4 stars also became my “go to” category for books I really really liked but realize I probably have a personal weakness for. I also downgraded some books to the 3.5 star category when I realized this was where I put books in genres I don’t love (YA, romance, thrillers, paranormal), but that stood out from the pack for me. All in all, I ended up “reranking” about 41 books.
Here is my new definition of what my rankings mean and how many books I have in each ranking now.
5 star books (5 books)
- Fully engaged me fully from beginning to end (“I got lost in it”).
- Have gravitas and substance to them.
- Connect with me on a personal level, whether emotionally, spiritually or creatively.
- Contain writing that made me appreciate the power of language in a new way.
- Are not soon forgotten and might be read multiple times.
4.5 star books (15 books)
- Involved me throughout but I didn’t get “lost” in it.
- Might lack the gravitas and substance to make them a 5 star book
- Were so close to perfect but had some quality that kept me from giving them 5 stars
- Might deal with subject matter that I couldn’t fully fall in love with.
4 star books (42 books)
- Solid reads but lacking substance at some level
- Often read purely for my own entertainment and enjoyment
- May lack lasting literary value but gave me immense enjoyment
- Might be books that I personally have a weakness for but others might not share
- Might be excellent books that I just didn’t fall in love with for some reason
3.5 star books (29 books)
- Books I admire or think have merit but I thought had serious flaws
- Have flashes of greatness or held in high esteem by others but didn’t work for me
- Could be a book that seemed above average for a genre I don’t really love or expect much from
- Books I didn’t think were great but stood out from the pack
3 star books (33 books)
- Are just OK (didn’t hate them but didn’t love them)
- Might be in a genre that isn’t my favorite
- Often forget about them immediately after reading.
- Aren’t awful but don’t set my world on fire
2.5 stars (or lower) books (only difference is the degree to which I disliked them) (6 books)
- Books I didn’t care for at all
- Books I probably struggled to finish
- Books I wouldn’t recommend
So now that I’ve worked this all out for myself, here is a brief snapshot of each ranking, which I’ll use on the sidebar of my blog. Please give me your feedback on these and suggest any improvements.
- 5 stars: Perfection. Won’t forget this one.
- 4.5 stars: Almost perfect.
- 4 stars: Solid and/or enjoyable read.
- 3.5 stars: Overly difficult or flawed OR above average
- 3 stars: Just OK
- 2.5 stars: Wouldn’t bother
- 2 stars: Ugh
- 1.5 stars: Run for the hills
- 1 star: An abomination