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.