There are few things more hotly debated in the world of online amateur book-reviewing than the Goodreads star-rating system. It is a loose set of guidelines that has been rehashed and reinterpreted in so many ways as to be virtually meaningless (well, moreso than it is inherently).
And, while I have many issues with Goodreads as a platform that I will hash out in future posts, I wanted to take a minute to discuss how I rate books on Goodreads, especially as it becomes a more widely used, and indeed powerful, tool in the independent publishing community—a community to which I am inextricably linked.
As a starting point, I try to stick very closely to Goodreads stated guidelines for their star-ratings (from one to five, for those unfamiliar) to eliminate aforementioned ambiguity. When we are all rating books on independent scales with no agreed upon standard, we lose meaning in the system itself. So, here is my attempt to clarify my interpretation of these stars.
Note: Sometimes, my rating will reflect my personal emotional reaction to a book. Also, at times I will rate a book based upon whether or not I feel that the book is executed in a way that delivers on its purpose/genre/base readership. Most of the time, I will attempt to do both. I fundamentally believe that reviewing should encompass acknowledgment of what an author is striving to do and for whom the book is intended beyond my own personal preferences.
Five-stars (it was amazing): Incredible read. A book that lingers and causes me to think even after I put it down. This does not necessarily mean that I found the narrative or the characters to be relatable or enjoyable, but that the book is valuable, and I loved it for precisely what it is.
Four-stars (I really liked it): An engaging read. The book contains no glaring plot/structural/writing issues, gives a solid reading experience, perhaps gives me moments that linger, and leaves me glad to have picked it up.
Three-stars (I liked it): The dreaded middle ground! This is a book that I enjoyed or found interesting on some level, but has issues or leaves me feeling that something is missing/in the way, be that writing style, plot holes, continuity issues, characters, or intellectual/emotional connection. Despite whatever obstacles I found with the book, I still enjoyed the experience, though it is not likely that I will return to reread it.
Two-stars (it was okay): I lean more on the “I do not like this book” side of it was okay. This book has interesting ideas or characters but is executed in a way that I did not find to be complete, interesting, or emotionally engaging. In a nonfiction work, this might mean that there were factual errors or contradictory arguments. A book in this category may have a few things that are worth noting as positives, but this is definitely a book that left me feeling disappointed.
One-star (I didn’t like it): This rating is generally reserved for books that I find to be majorly flawed in ways that can span from incomplete storytelling and major plot issues to topics that I find to be harmful (be they harmful narratives or blatant misinformation). I will never revisit this book unless it is to utilize examples in the future. A one-star book definitely can move into the territory of regret.
I absolutely do not rate books that I DNF, though I have created a shelf specifically for DNFed books. I do not think that it is fair to the author to rate a book on a platform that may materially impact their livelihood when I did not put forth the effort to read the book in its entirety.
I hope that was illuminating, and I do hope it is helpful to others when interpreting my participation on this platform. As always, happy reading!