Sometimes, the hardest part about book blogging is making up your mind. Seriously, it’s hard to decide what book to read next (especially if you’re a mood reader), or how to structure your reviews (I’m still not sure I have this worked out).
Choosing ratings, though? Oh geez. How are you supposed to put a number on a book?How do you boil it all down to a number one through five? Is there witchcraft involved? Bribery? Throwing a dart at a spinning wheel and seeing where it sticks?
(The answers are see below, we’re getting to that, yes, no, and sometimes.)
But hey, that’s what this post is for. I’ve managed to figure out how to rate books without wanting to tear my hair out, and it’s high time I share that knowledge. I’ll even start off easy, saving all the complicated ratings witchcraft for last! Really, you have nothing to fear, I promise.
Yes, even you, the person who doesn’t like ratings at all. I see you. I’ve got you covered.
Since I work with 1-5 star ratings rather than a non-numerical system, I figure I might as well start here.
Here, where it is definitely not down to a science. See, I suspect some folks have rigid criteria for ratings. Half a star for enjoyable characters. Another half for a solid character arc. One star to plot, one to prose, so on and so on. And while that’s certainly helpful in some cases, it doesn’t feel organic in relationship to my own review process.
Instead, the first question I ask myself is “Did I enjoy reading this?”
Funny how far a yes or no question can get you, but this is where I start. If I did like it, why? If not, why? But if I have a clear answer, then I suspect my review will be 4 stars and above or 2 stars and below. Then again, if I waffle about it, it’s somewhere in the nebulous 2.5-3.5 star range, which means it’s time to ask myself MORE QUESTIONS (which I do anyway, to be sure I feel comfortable with the rating I’ve given).
Especially handy for the 2.5-3.5 star range is making a list of pros and cons about the book. Maybe it had characters I loved but the plot was as holey as Swiss cheese. Or maybe the twist was amazing but I couldn’t stand the main cast. Then factor in other things: did I enjoy the writing style or did it put me off? What about the pacing: was that well done or a hot mess? And of course, I like to think about the representation or lack thereof in a book. Poor rep or no rep often gives me pause in finalizing star ratings, while fantastic rep can boost a rating somewhat, because I feel like that’s valuable even if the plot isn’t as strong as I’d like, or something to that effect.
Plus, beyond just rep, I also try to think about whether or not a book has problematic themes. And by that, I mean harmful content that goes unchallenged, rather than content that is explored with nuance and careful thought. This was a huge factor in my Four Dead Queens review a while back, since I liked the concept of the book but hated how casually it embraced concepts rooted in eugenics without challenging those concepts at all.
Taking all that together, somehow, I end up with a star rating. But the first question, asking whether I had fun reading the book, is the most important, because it lays the groundwork for me to move forward and ask myself WHY WHY WHY.
Question yourself when you write reviews. But in a good way!
And this totally applies to folks who don’t use numerical ratings! Seriously, that first question makes all the difference in the world. If you don’t do numerical ratings, I suspect you’re still rating a book on whether or not you enjoyed reading it. Your scale could run from “I would die for this book” to “I never want to even hear this book mentioned again,” or maybe you run from “highly recommended!” to “oh dear god I’m begging you to save yourself the trouble and never read this ever.”
At the end of the day, it’s your review. It’s your thoughts and feelings on the book, and it’s your approach. My tactics aren’t going to be one-size fits all, and that’s just how it is. But I still think considering whether or not you enjoyed reading a book is one of the most important questions you can ask yourself when trying to write a review and decide on a rating.
So go forth, rate books (or don’t!), and hopefully have an excellent time reading without worrying too much about how you’re going to possibly quantify the contents of that book!