Elizabeth on Rating Books

Like Rosemary, I’m a fan of GoodReads, and I find it useful to keep track of books I’d like to read, or know what friends and family would like to read at gift time. (I’m particularly fond of the mobile app that lets me add books to my to-read list by zapping the ISBN with my phone when I’m in the library.)

The main reason I use Goodreads is to keep track of books I’ve already read, and a little bit about what I thought of them. For the most part, I remember books that I’ve read and enjoyed or disliked. Every so often, one will slip through the cracks. I’m pretty sure I’ve read The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd twice, once before I started using Goodreads, and once in 2010. It was a good book, both times, so I guess it doesn’t really matter. Still, wondering makes me feel a little silly.

Image of GoodReads Challenge Icon

Another thing I especially like about Goodreads is the reading challenges. At the start of the year (maybe as part of a reading resolution) I enter a total number of books I’d like to finish. And then, as I finish and review books, each counts towards the total. I’ve read 19 books this year. It’s inspiring! Look at me cranking through novels, even while I’m juggling grad school and work. Hooray for me!

You might well wonder where I have time to read all these: the answer is they’re mostly novels, and I’m entirely too good at staying up late reading a good book. That’s why coffee was invented.

Ahem. Moving on. The set-up of reading goals is a great example of how gamification works to get customers (in this case, readers like me) enthusiastic about engaging with the site by sharing their progress with reading goals, and writing reviews. I definitely review more of the books I read when I’m logging them for yearly challenges because I want to count them towards my goal. Even if I just assign stars and write a sentence or so about “Solid mystery, enjoyed the characters and the suspense,” I’m at least taking the time to write something about what I thought.

Which brings me to one last thing I’ve noticed about Goodreads: rating books is definitely a social process. When I gave His Majesty’s Dragon by Naomi Novik a four-star rating initially, Stephen, an associate editor and fellow fantasy reader, wanted to know what had made me skimp on the final star. His question made me go back and try to think through the process of rating books. After going on to read the next book in the series, I started to think about how much I’d loved being introduced to the characters and their fantasy world. And I started to think more about how I assign different star ratings.

5 Stars: Loved this book! Probably going to talk about it a lot to friends, using lots of superlatives. Stayed up late (or missed a subway stop) because I couldn’t stop reading. Forgot I was reading a book, because I was so engrossed in the story. Probably going to reread.

4 Stars: It was really good, and I’ll recommend it to friends, but possibly not with the same level of urgency and exclamation points. I’ll recommend it to specific friends who like this genre, and not push it so universally. Did not stay up late or miss subway stops.

3 Stars: This book worked for me. Decent story, characters, genre or ideas, well presented. But I put it down to go do other things a few times, and read it in short sprints rather than long stretches.

2 Stars: While there were aspects I liked, there were frustrating parts, and reading this felt like a slow, long chore. There were parts that annoyed me, but I had fun complaining about them.

1 Star or No Stars: Why did I read this? Why was it written? The possibilities are: it was assigned, I was having fun complaining about this book’s many flaws as I read it, or I read it because it was popular and I wanted to know why. May or may not have thrown book against a wall.

How do you track books? How do you rate them?

Earlier Posts:
Introducing AMACOM…Elizabeth
Dispatches from the Special Libraries Association Conference
Elizabeth on Reading Classics on an E-Reader
Elizabeth on Bookish New Year’s Resolutions

One response to “Elizabeth on Rating Books

  1. I mostly leave reviews on Yelp (restaurants, businesses) & GoodReads. My thinking on 5 star reviews for anything is that I have to be absolutely head-over-heels for it. 5 stars is for life-changing books, food or service that is out of this world. (In New York I notice food servers seem to mysteriously disappear around the time you’re ready for your bill, and you have to spend a minimum 5-10 minutes trying to spot and then flag down your server to get a check. So, no matter how good the food is, that means they’ll never get a 5 star review from me.) There’s little I’m that ecstatic about that warrants 5 starts. But there’s lots I’m enthusiastic about (4 stars), or think good (3 stars). 2 stars probably means I didn’t hate it, but didn’t really like it either. 1 star means the experience was overall bad for me. When I take a look at my GoodReads account, I can tell my star-giving standards shift. One bookclub read that I absolutely loathed got two stars, and a classic I only finished because it was a classic got one star. Now though, I think I enjoyed the classic far more than the book club read. I suspect mood at the time of the review factors in.

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