About Books – Reviews and Stars

I’ve been playing with Goodreads lately trying to decide how many stars various books I’ve read should get. It’s not an easy job.

I studied literature for years. I learned how to dissect a book, look at it through various angles, using the tools of the trade and I was quite good at it. I still am.

But that’s not the same thing as “reviewing” a book or deciding how many “stars” it should get. I’ve always found it hard to write reviews although I’ve tried with… various results.

My dilemma is that liking a book is a very personal thing. Although I do think there is such a thing as a “good writer” and a “good book” I still think that liking a book is a personal thing.

I hate Proust but can admit that he was a good writer.
I love Stephen King but can admit that he has his flaws.

So how do I put “stars” on Proust or King? Do I tell you what I think of the writing and value the book from that, keeping my personal feelings about the author or the book out of the equation or do I go solely on gut feeling?

I like going on gut feeling on the subject. Reviews are, after all, very personal. But there is a constant and you can’t fairly dismiss a book that you know in your heart a lot of people will like or is well written just because you didn’t like it. Or can you?

When I give books to people I try to choose books I know the receiver will like. I love to give books to people, especially books I liked but I’ve learned that pushing books on people you know they won’t like just makes them not trust your judgment. And I think the same thing goes for reviews…

So you learn to trust some reviewers and you learn to ignore others.

But how can I put “stars” on books without flinching? I rarely read books I dislike to the finish and I don’t put “stars” on books I didn’t finish so my starring tends to be a bit high. If I got through a book and put a “star” on it in my personal notebooks or online I liked something about it. I liked it enough to finish it.

If I put five stars on some of the Dark Tower series books, how do I star a book like The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle or Crime and Punishment or Don Quixote? Do I lower the “starring” of one book just because it didn’t compare to another? How do I star a classic like The Dwarf by Pär Lagerkvist? I liked it a LOT but I didn’t think it was as good as The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle.

If I were to do this on regular basis I’d make a system of my own and it would be exceedingly complicated and continue to evolve until no one could understand it.

So  I star books according to feelings I have at the moment. I might give a book 4 stars right after I’ve read it but 4 months later I might lower it to 3. I might, on the other hand, give a book 3 stars right after reading it and then a few months later I’ll give it 4 or even 5.

It’s a personal thing, reviewing books, and I tend to be overly expressive to tell people “this is my view, this is what I think”. I like books for different reasons. Some appeal to me even though I find them badly written. If I were to write a lot of reviews I might become more skilled at ignoring my feelings and review more stably.

But sometimes I like books that I deem “bad”. And sometimes I hate books that I deem good. So I tend to just go with my gut feeling. I can tell you why a book is good, why you should read Proust and all about his Magdalena cookies but I can’t help but to tell you that I hated every single word.

So Proust gets 1 star from me, while Pet Semetary gets 4 on a good day.  I can tell you why the Harry Potter books are badly written and why I dislike them but I understand why other’s do like them. I understand it very well…

I guess when push comes to shove I can only tell you what I like and dislike. I can only review books after my own gut but I won’t defend a book to the teeth when I see it’s flaws but I do reserve the right to love it anyway.

Having said that I must add that I rarely read reviews myself… I don’t trust other people to make an opinion for me and rarely have I not read a book I was interested in just because someone told me it was bad.

[This is me on Goodreads]

One Comment Add yours

  1. Hi Eyglo, I enjoyed your comments about the book rating and reviewing system and the assignment of numbers of stars. I agree with you that reviews are personal and they reflect what the reader is/was feeling at the moment. It isn’t a perfect system; after all, how can authors of the great classics be compared to authors of best sellers that are “pumped out” by the thousands these days? For me, the number of stars reflects my enjoyment of the book and what I gained from it. I tend to “rate high” too, because if I finish a book, it had something to offer. I see many books on your list of “read” books that I will add to my “to read” list. Thanks for sharing your insights. Teresa


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