I get pop-ups and notifications all day asking for my views on websites, purchases, even deliveries. I try to ignore them but I find myself wondering. What’s the difference between a 4* and a 5* delivery? Surely a delivery is either okay or not okay. If the goods arrive intact and more or less on time, what more is there to say?
As I know from reading too much pop psychology, tell someone not to picture an elephant and they picture an elephant. It’s bad enough that we’re quantifying our every experience on behalf of marketers. Now I can’t stop rating books even as I read them.
I decided when I started this blog that I would not include star ratings for books I review. People rate so differently I don’t think it’s helpful to have one individual’s ratings, though an average of many people’s can be useful. I do record all the books I read on Goodreads with a star rating, whether I’ve reviewed or not, and I give a star rating if I review on Amazon, which I usually do if I’ve had an ARC.
I do have a sort-of system but it’s subject to inconsistencies. I give a book 4* if I enjoyed it. I only give it 5* if it’s exceptional — it stayed with me, it kept me up at night, I couldn’t wait to read another book by this author. I give it 3* if it was good but it had some flaws. I don’t often continue reading a book which I think is below a 3*, unless it’s an author I know or a much-hyped book. If I persevere and it really disappoints, I’ll give it 2*.
It seems straightforward, but it’s not. I might fall in love with a new author and it’s a gushing 5*, but by the time I’ve read their fourth or fifth book, they all feel a bit samey, so it’s 4*. If I’d read their books in a different order, maybe I’d have rated them differently. And sometimes it’s about how I was feeling when I read the book. Did I mark down because I was tired and distracted? Or up because I read it on a sunny day in the garden? Sometimes I like a book more or less in hindsight than I did at the time. Should I go back and change my rating?
In practice, nearly everything I read gets a 4*, so it doesn’t provide much insight at all and in no way justifies the amount of time I spend agonising about it. I know some people use half or even quarter intervals to add some specificity to this crude system, rounding up or down, or they apply different scores to different elements of the book, like figure skating.
Books move me in so many different ways. It makes no sense to compare books that are funny, dark, moving, boring, understated, bawdy, visceral, finely wrought, overwrought, intense, classic, dated, page-turny, zeitgeisty, dense, cliched, rich, overblown, astonishing, by awarding a simple score.
Still, just like social media and clickbait and all the other annoying things that colonise our brains and generate automatic responses, I’m struggling to unthink these ratings. Can I get back to appreciating books on their own terms?