Mission

Bibliophiliac is the space where one passionate, voracious reader reflects on books and the reading life. You will find reviews, analysis, links, and reflections on poetry and prose both in and out of the mainstream.
A book must be the axe for the frozen sea within us. Franz Kafka

Sunday, July 11, 2010

On Ratings and Reviews

You may have noticed that I don't have ratings at the end of my reviews.  Not that I haven't been tempted:  think how cute my Underwood typewriter would look--a really good review would be "Five Underwoods."

As tempting as it is to use a rating system, so far I have resisted.  Here are my reasons: 1) I often read and write about classics.  Can I really rate the novels of George Eliot when I am not worthy to sit at her feet?  Would I give Middlemarch "Five Underwoods" and then be forced to give The Mill on the Floss only four? 2) I've been known to change my mind.  I used to think yellow was my favorite color, then it was green.  Now I don't even have a favorite color.  Suppose I post a review of a well-written thriller, giving it "Four Underwoods"?  Later, I realize the book has faded for me.  But a book I read and would have rated lower has more staying power; in retrospect I would rate it higher.  Which leads me to 3) When I review a book, I try to communicate to readers whether they might like the book.  I do convey a sense of my personal response, but also try to somewhat objectively convey the strengths and weaknesses of the book.  The reader can then draw her own conclusions about whether this is a book for her. Ratings seem to be an oversimplification, something I try to resist. 4) The idea of assigning ratings is too much like assigning grades.  Bleh.

For those of you who skim through reviews, and just want to know--"should I read it?"--the answer is in the last paragraph.  That's where I tend to give my impression of the overall quality of the book, the major strengths and weaknesses; I also give my opinion of what kind of reader will like the book.  If I can think of an apt comparison, I will put that in the last paragraph too (for instance, if you like Lee Childs, you will probably like Stieg Larsson's trilogy, or if you enjoy well-written memoir, you will like this).  I think that helps the reader as much as or more than a rating system--because my two star book might be your three star book.

I'd like to know what you think, dear readers.  Do you like rating systems?  As a reviewer, do you use them?  As a reader, do you rely on them? Have you changed your mind about a rating?  How did you handle that? Do tell!

29 comments:

winstonsdad said...

I made my own unique system ,on whole I find it hard to score 1 -5 ,there may be points in a book I love but overall rate it low ,and may be books I love but have bad points too ,I admire people that can be objective aboutit ,all the best stu

Greg Zimmerman said...

I'm with you on not using a rating system - I don't either. I'm sure some readers appreciate it (and I do, from time-to-time, find myself skimming a review to look for the stars at the end), but if you're really trying to determine whether to read a book, reading the full, thoughtfully written review that objectively evaluates strengths and weaknesses should be your plan, anyway. Also, while we're here - I put NO stock in the star ratings on amazon. So many of those review are "My book was late. 1 star." or "This book wasn't my taste. 1 star."

Kathy said...

My reason for not using a rating system is far simpler than yours--I didn't start off my blog by using them, and the thought of going back through a year's posts to add them is just . . . ugh.

As far as looking at the rating systems of other bloggers--they're nice, but not necessary. I kind of take them with a grain of salt for the same reason you mention--I might not rate a book the same way.

the Ape said...

My discomfort with ratings is two-fold. First, most ratings systems oversimplify the qualities (or lack thereof) of whatever is being rated. Second, I think it is too easy--it prevents having to think about something in earnest if you know, in the end, that your evaluation will come down to a some scaled judgment.

Booksnob said...

I don't use a rating system either. I feel that every book is worthwhile to someone even if I didn't like it. I also feel it is unfair to the author and future readers to give it a negative rating. Just because I loved it doesn't mean you will etc. I don't check anyone's rating to determine if I will read a book or not. So I appreciate your reviews greatly.

Page said...

I don't use a review system because like you I feel the readers want our impressions of the book and whether we would recommend it to them or someone we know. I've noticed when reviewers give so many stars to a book that it doesn't tell me a whole lot. I use Library Thing and I put stars on those reviews, but only because I think that's what the users of Library Thing want.

Jess said...

I do use a rating system, but sometimes I feel torn about the number of stars to give. It seems very arbitrary at times, when really my reviews are full of mixed feelings and constructive criticism that may not fully reflect in the stars I attribute to a book. I like that you don't rate, but instead offer a thoughtful review!

Chelle said...

Sorry to play devil's advocate but personally, I don't think it's possible to be truly objective. I know what you mean - point out specific reasons why a book works/does't work. And I do appreciate that. It is important. But I read reviews for a person's opinion not their objectivity. I realize that one man's junk is another man's treasure so I take a blogger's personality in mind when I see their ratings. So, to me that's all any ratings are - a reflection of one's personal preferences not a definitive blessing or curse.

Cozy Book Nook (Lesa) said...

People's arbitrary rating systems don't mean much to me.

I don't read many reviews but I like the ones that are different-- conversational and interesting. I want to hear what the reviewer has to say about the book-- what the book made them feel-- how they found the book-- quirky facts about the author or history of the book.

So reviews with rating systems (and stats and a word for word synopsis from the inside cover of the book) may look slick and may be helpful to the occasional bookreader but they aren't fun to read-- according to this bookworm anyway.

:o)

SmallWorld at Home said...

I do use a vague rating system but I have no idea why. Like someone said, my own system can be totally arbitrary. Might be I just wasn't in the mood for a particular book. But I do find it helpful to myself later on when I'm making my "Best of the Year" lists to go back and see what I gave 5 and 4 stars and what I gave 1 and 2 stars.

Jessica said...

Its a good question. I do a ratings system on my blog but this is subjective and yes I have changed my mind after months of hindsight.

When reading other peoples blogs I tend to go by the review as a whole rather than how many stars its been given. Sometimes a book which has been given 5 stars doesnt appeal to me.

bibliophiliac said...

@stu-your system is unique!
@Greg-the other thing about Amazon ratings is that friends/enemies of the writer deliberately skew the ratings
@Kathy-that is another reason for me, too--I never rated my reviews from the start
@Ape-agreed

bibliophiliac said...

@Booksnob-negative reviews are almost not worth the energy-if the book was really that bad I don't want to finish it, or I don't want to waste more time writing the review

tea lady said...

I actually find ratings quite off putting on other people's blogs as they seem too blunt an instrument (especially marks out of five).

I don't use them on my own blog because I generally only blog about books that I have enjoyed or think are interesting to point out.

bibliophiliac said...

@small world-your comment does make sense to me, if I wanted to have a best of list, ratings would simplify the process. I've only had my blog for 6 months, so I never thought of that...

bibliophiliac said...

@Page-I have noticed that Library Thing and Goodreads force the rating system on reviewers-not sure if I like that!

youngbibliophile said...

I'm just getting started with writing reviews, but I'm choosing not to give a rating because a lot of the books I love are not going to appeal to many people. I also read a lot of Classics and agree that it is nearly impossible to define the quality of a Classic.

Kerry said...

I tend not to like rating systems. If you give a book a 5/5, was it really perfect? Or a 1/5 - really, it was that awful? It's a far too simplified system to analyze such a complex and subjective world as books.

I'd also second Greg's position that I ignore star ratings on Amazon and other vendors because people too often use them to review the store or retailer, not the book itself (ie in the Kindle one-star review proposal). That said, working in publishing, I know that publishers do stress about star ratings on Amazon and the like because unfortunately too many people glance at a book with a 3-star rating and dismiss it - or at least that is the theory.

Julie P said...

I use a rating system, just because it is helpful for most people and easy-to-understand. I also post my own personal thoughts about a book though, so I guess I offer both....

Ordinary Reader said...

The truth is I have no idea how to review a book properly. For the first few months of blogging I wouldn't even use the word "review" because it sounded professional and I have no credentials. When I post about a book I say whatever I would say if I was talking about the book to someone in the room: what emotions it brought out in me, what I loved, what I hated. Whatever thoughts flit through my head when I'm reading is what goes in the post. I don't use a rating system, though I keep wondering if I should. The comments I make on the writing, character development, plot, etc are totally subjective. I have loved the writing style of books that I've read very negative reviews on in other blogs. I've hated characters that others have loved. Reading is such an intimate thing that I can't find a way to be objective in my reviews (at least I'm brave enough to use the word now). Anyway I'm having a lot of fun blogging about books and plan to keep doing it as long as I can. I read many other blogs and sometimes books they write off as terrible are the ones I add to my tbr list because they sound like something I might like! We are all so different and that's one of the things I like best about blogging. It's a big, wide, wonderful world of books and bloggers and I love it here!

bibliophiliac said...

@Ordinary Reader-I love your candor and your genuine approach. People who read blogs often find an approach that might be missing from "professional" reviewers--and that is probably what makes reading the many book blogs so interesting.

Melody said...

I was opposed to rating books for the longest time. At some point, though, it got really frustrating to look back on the hundreds of books I'd read and not remember what I thought about them. So for me, it's a nice way to be able to remember at a glance what the highlights and lowlights of a year were.

That being said, I don't focus on the rating (in writing reviews or reading reviews,) and don't often hand out 5 stars or 1 star. I also don't seem to change my mind much about a book's specific rating, although my tastes have changed some over time.

It is interesting to hear everyone's take on it!

....Petty Witter said...

I used to rate the books that I read but not any more. For prety much the same reasons as you I stopped a while ago.

petekarnas said...

I don't really find ratings useful when reading reviews, so I can't justify using them when I write about books. I like reviews that try to hone in some part of the book that the reviewer found interesting. I find those types of reviews much more useful than, "I like science fiction, so I give this book 5 stars." I, for one, don't like science fiction, but I'm not opposed to reading in that genre if there's a particular aspect of the story or theme that would be of interest to me. So, when writing reviews, I try to do the same and I don't think that stars or ratings serve that purpose very well.

Isaac7985 said...

I never use a rating system in my blog, either. I had a friend who wrote a blog with reviews and he said he never gave a rating because he didn't want people to skim over what he wrote and just look at the rating. That stuck with me, plus I mostly review collections of short stories, and those are impossible to give an overall grade. Every collection will have really good and really bad stories. So, like you, I just give my overall impression. I do give ratings on Goodreads, but those can be easily adjusted if my opinion changes (I gave "Coraline" 3 stars originally, but I've changed it to 4 now).
Thanks for the question.
-Isaac
http://towerofstories.blogspot.com/
PS I thought about writing a post just like this, but after reading the replies and the number of people who don't like ratings either I think I'll leave it be.

bibliophiliac said...

What a great conversation took place here! This is one occasion when the comments were better than the original post. Thanks to each of you who contributed to this discussion!

Man of la Books said...

Hi Lisa,

I think you're right about the ratings since it is an individual preference.

I do rate books but in a general tone (1-5 stars).

It's very difficult to rate on a specific scale because there are many external factors which fall into place.

For example, I finished a book today but the whole time I was reading it I had an earache, and today I can barley keep my eyes open - yet I'm at work (and surfing...shhhh).

That level of enjoyment would destroy a specific rating system (1-100 for instance) but on a more general system it won't make a difference.

Vicki said...

I feel much the same way. I never leave ratings on a book because I never feel right boiling a review down to a five or ten-point scale. And, if I took it on a 50 or 100-point scale, then I'd feel like one of those judges at the Olympics, ticking off points for seemingly random things. Plus, I don't keep a tally while I read--that'd be too much work. So I just give my impressions, what I liked and didn't like, and let the reader decide if the book is for them.

parrish lantern said...

Simple reason I don't rate books the books I review, is if I do not like/love them, I won't review them. If I cannot express how I feel about some book in the write up( even if its confusion)then a selection abitrary symbols is not gonna make things any clearer & also I'd be "is it 4 or 5 could it 4.5 4.75 "etc