People love to hate star ratings.
It’s one of the biggest criticisms I hear about Goodreads (and one I feel myself) – a five star rating simply isn’t nuanced enough to give what feels like an accurate impression of the book. For some of us, adding in the review section helps because there, we can vent our frustrations about why this book was really more like three and a half stars instead of four and how we wish that was an option.
And I love reviews, I do. I generally read a bunch before starting a new book. But whether we like them or not… star ratings are kinda important.
They give a quick glance at book quality. Of course, this would all be more straightforward if, as readers, we all strictly kept to the provided definitions of each star rating. Or if books were less complicated. Books we love and hate are simple – five stars and one star. It’s the in-betweens that get murky.
Not everyone is going to read every single review of a book. There simply isn’t enough time in the world. Things like the average rating of a book give good insight as to the quality… or at least the hype. For myself, I know I hesitate when I see a book has been rated at 3.34 stars overall. Do I really want to read this book still? I find myself re-reading the description, assessing my choices… and then, often filtering down to those mid-range and bad reviews to see why it’s rated like that. Was there a controversy? Is the world building rubbish? Did it fail to pull in readers because the writing style was overly simple? For me, a rating is often a jumping off point when it comes to whether or not I decide to still read a book.
And there are certainly others who will only rate a book. And who will only look at ratings. Here in the bookish world, reviews are a part of our blood. We write them en masse and seek out each other’s opinions on the novels we loved, hated, and are thinking about putting on our TBR. But the general populous is filled with different sorts of people, and for many the rating is the only factor they go by. So in that way, rating things is important. Whether we like the stars or not.
But, I do agree with the populous when we talk about how rigid the ratings are when you’re limited to just five stars and no in-betweens. Particularly when we’re talking about entertainment. You may have a visually stunning movie, for example, but the plot is rubbish. How do you rate something that is really good at one thing, and really bad at another?
One of the ways I deal with the uncertainty is by using a weighted rating system, which you’ll see in my review posts. For example, here’s my breakdown for The Beautiful:
Depending on the type of book (fiction, non-fiction, graphic art, poetry) I have different categories I use to break down my feelings and find a more objective rating for the overall book. I like this system because I feel like it’s more fair to the book than my just going “ugh I hated it” or something. Which a lot of people do and that’s fine, but it’s not for me personally.
Problem with this, though, is that we all have our systems. Some people respond technically, others are more emotional. We see books racking up one-star ratings when authors fight or behave badly on social media, which are more a reflection of someone’s opinion of the author than the actual book quality. The variety of ratings styles means that unless you know the system you’re looking at, a truly great book may be underrated for your tastes, or a poor one may be overrated. So sometimes… the stars just aren’t accurate.
Additionally, there’s no way to get around that when it comes to entertainment media – books, music, movies, games – our own personal tastes are going to play into our ratings. There’s no way to be truly objective. I see this a lot when my husband and I talk about books – we both love fantasy, but I read YA and he reads adult. He’s more likely to give three stars to something I read because it’s too simple for him, while I’m liable to mark down something he loves because it’s boring or pretentious. It’s the same book, crafted by the same words, but our personal preferences come into play.
At the end of the day, star ratings are so helpful, but they should also be taken with a grain of salt. I will always leave a rating on a review (of a book I finish) because I know that there are people who rely on the direct simplicity of that rating. But for myself, I need to know why something rated low so I can judge for myself whether that would taint my own experience.
And, for those like me who are constantly frustrated by the lack of half stars, or are hesitant to read reviews because there are trigger warnings… please consider checking out The StoryGraph. It’s still in beta and has, in my opinion, surpassed Goodreads as a tool to discover and organize my books. Plus, they have half-ratings and user-driven content warnings on books. The only two features I’m missing from Goodreads (custom tags and reading updates) are being built now and Nadia and her team constantly solicit and apply user feedback.
Do you use the star ratings on sites like Goodreads? Do you feel like they’re accurate to your experience of a book? Do you feel they’re useless? Let me know in the comments!