Sometimes I feel like the mean kid at the blogging table. I definitely feel like I am way more critical about books than the majority of bloggers. I read books that everyone and their mother are raving about, and continually find myself thinking “Well, it was okay. It was good, but I don’t see why everyone is giving it 5 stars.”
I've had these thoughts for a long time now, and it reminded me that reading is a lot of different things. Reading can be social, as shown by our blogs and social reading sites like Goodreads, but when it comes down to it, reading is also inherently personal. Reading is about the connection between the book and the reader. I believe in a reader-centred model of reading, by which I mean that a text isn’t fully complete until it’s being read. Each person brings their own background and their own thoughts into a book, and therefore the text and its meaning is different for everyone. That’s why you can read a book and give it a glowing 5 star review while I sit here and go “This is a 2 star book! What are they thinking?!”
So what does a 5 star book mean to me? In my review policy I describe 5 star books as:
Absolutely amazing books which deserve incredible praises. Well written, original, and have that elusive "unputdownable" quality to them.As you can see by that statement I take 5 star reviews seriously. They are the ones that make me have ALL THE FEELINGS, as the saying goes.
When I started writing reviews on Goodreads, even before I started Book Labyrinth, I discovered that I read for character. Of course I get drawn in by plots and settings, and a truly great book (a five star for me) will combine all those elements. It will most likely have an interesting plot point, great characters, and that je ne sais quoi that makes it so hard to describe why exactly you adore a particular book. But when it comes down to it I need to feel a connection to the main character. I prefer likeable main characters that I can empathize with, and I really love good character relationships to come through the text, whether they be romantic, family, or friendship. Those character relationships can turn a four star read into a five star for me.
So what about 3 star reads? I’m sure most authors would hope people rate their book as four or five stars, but of course it’s impossible for everyone to adore every book they read. Because I’m a bit picky with my books the majority of them end up being 3 stars. But what people seem to forget is that 3 stars is still a good rating. On Goodreads it means you like the book, and in my review policy I label 3 star reads as “Fun reads which I enjoyed, but are not particularly groundbreaking or dynamic.” 3 stars isn’t always a bad thing; there are quite a few 3 star books out there that I’ve liked quite a bit, but they didn’t compare to 4 star books I had read.
So really, rating and reviewing is so subjective. It all comes down to personal taste and what you’re looking for at the moment. It comes down to comparing, and it comes down to mood. If you read an action thriller when you’d really prefer a romance that book might get a lower rating than if you were really looking for that genre at that moment. This makes ratings tricky, but I still feel like in the end they’re helpful in distinguishing the great reads from good reads.
After discussing all this I know I’ll still feel like the mean blogger sometimes, but I think think I’m okay with that. I’ve come to see my reading quirks and pickiness as a good thing. It means that when I say I love a book you know I’m being completely truthful. It’s not just every book that I give five stars to, so that makes it something special. I've seen evidence in the comments from you guys that you recognize this about me, and that can only be a good thing from my perspective. And those 3 star, sometimes “meh”, reviews? They're probably a good counter to all the glowing fangirl reviews out there.
If you’ve made it through this ramble I salute you. I’d love to hear your thoughts on five star reviews, ratings systems in general, or if you ever feel like a "mean blogger" for being more critical about books you read.