Bloggers in the Attic is back for round two!
This month we’re bringing you different takes on book-rating systems: whether they’re important and why/why not, how we do them, how well we think they work, things that should be improved, et cetera.
The Bloggers in the Attic is a discussion chain. And what is a discussion chain? Well, it’s pretty simple.
Me and [SEVERAL] other bloggers united together to discuss a common topic, covering the whole arc of February, and sharing our unique perspective. Camilla @ Reader in the Attic created the initiative with the wish to create a discussion space that could explore a normal topic for different parts of the world.
The rules to participate are pretty simple. So, if you ever wish to take part in future discussions, just comment under the introduction post. Topics will be discussed bi-monthly, so the next round will be up in June. There’s plenty of time to join in, but the best option is always to enter early.
There have been some changes to the discussion chain schedule, so the full updated version is included below!
This Month’s Discussion Chain (click to show)
April 1 – Camilla @ Reader Attic [announcement/intro only]
April 3 – Clo @ Book Dragons
April 5 – The Unseen Librarian
April 8 – Lauren @ Northern Plunder
April 12 – Isabelle @ BookwyrmBites
April 15 – Ben @ Books With Ben
April 18 – Nora Eliana @ Papertea and Bookflowers
April 20 – Kerys @ The Everlasting Library
April 22 – Anthony @ Keep Reading Forward
April 25 – Kal @ Reader Voracious
April 27 – Dany @ Ambivert Words
April 29 – Rain @ Bookdragonism
How did we (I) get here?
When I first started writing “reviews,” they consisted of a few lines in a wide-ruled notebook recording my reaction to the book and a rating out of 10. (I’m pretty sure this Reading Journal is still in my room at home somewhere; my past and present selves are both notebook hoarders.) After I switched to Goodreads, for a while I stuck to whole-star ratings, still accompanied by a paragraph or so detailing my opinions about the book’s components; at some point, I started giving out half- and quarter-star ratings as well.
At present I mostly go off of my instinctive impression, for lack of a better term, and give an initial rating without thinking too hard about it. While I’m writing up my review, it may change by up to half a star (or, rarely, a whole star) as I reflect on each element of the book — including diversity/representation, worldbuilding, character & plot development, writing style — but I base my rating almost purely on how much I enjoyed the reading experience.
If my rating isn’t a whole number, I ignore everything I learned in math/science classes and round up or down based on how I feel. So if I loved the story but subtracted half a star for an unsatisfying ending or a single problematic scene/remark, I’m likely to round up; if the book has objectively great elements but I just didn’t connect with the characters, I may round down.
My current rating system has carried me through periods of high and low reading volume, and I still refer back to years-old ratings to see which books might or might not be worth revisiting. However, for a while now I’ve been considering changing my system.
Advantages of the 5-Star System
- Simple to use, understand, analyze
- Somewhat standardized, in more stars = better
- Overview of general consensus about a book (i.e., Goodreads average rating)
- Quick way to view & sort books
- Compare whether you share reading tastes with a new Goodreads friend
- Sort your shelves to easily find favorites and recommendations for others
- Commonly used across sites: Goodreads & Netgalley; can be easily converted to Edelweiss’s 10-point rating scale
Disadvantages of the 5-Star System
- Not completely standardized
- Some regard it as an objective rating of the book’s literary merit or appeal to a broader audience; others use it as a completely personal, subjective rating
- Some people consider 3 stars to be “good but not great”; others may consider it to be “meh” or “boring” or even the lowest rating they’ll give
- Distinction between ratings (particularly 4 & 5) differs between readers; for some 5 is “great” or “almost perfect” while others reserve it for those rare “blew me away” reads
- Lack of nuance
- Some people only look at numbers, but as noted above, different numbers mean different things to different reviewers
- The content of reviews is in most cases more important than the numerical rating
- Extremely high/low ratings may lead to reactionary comments on a review
- May be inconsistent since it is so highly subjective
- Even the same reviewer may change their mind as they evaluate the book’s parts and their sum, or looking back after some time has passed
Some Alternative Systems
- Edelweiss system
- Overall out of 10; 5 = Average, 10 = Great/High
- Optional individual ratings for Writing Quality, Image / Illustration Quality, Character Development, “Couldn’t Put It Down”-ness, Intellectual Depth, Originality — can include none, one, two, …, or all of the above
- Flexible and adaptable, since categories can be included / excluded on book-by-book basis
- Ex: Cat @ Pages & Plots
- Individual scores out of 10 for Characters, Atmosphere, Writing Style, Plot, Intrigue, Logic, Enjoyment
- Breaks down certain key elements of each book with relatively straightforward system
- Can be averaged for final rating
- Ex: CW @ The Quiet Pond
- May contain levels: (Very) Highly Recommended, Recommended, Not Recommended
- May specify audiences: “(Not) Recommended for readers who (don’t) like _____”
- Almost always accompanied by review, sometimes also by breakdown of representation, themes, etc.
- Focuses on specific strengths & flaws of each book
- Specifically guides other readers; aligned with the reviewer’s role as an influencer
Where do we (I) go from here?
As I mentioned, I’ve been considering changing my rating system for a while since I’ve noticed inconsistencies in my own ratings over time. Personally I really like having concrete numbers to refer to, and I have always written reviews first and foremost for myself: as a reminder of what I’ve read, what I currently like and don’t like reading, how it affected me, et cetera. (I do think these reviews can help others decide whether or not to read the book, but mine is just one opinion from a very specific perspective.)
I’m leaning towards a system that combines different aspects of the systems I’ve seen: something like a 5-point rating system with multiple categories, some consistent and some optional based on what’s important to me as a reader, ending with a weighted average rating. Of course it won’t be compatible with Goodreads’ system and it’ll be a bit more work for me to assign and keep track of ratings, but I do think it better aligns with my needs and values — and since I’m still writing reviews anyway, the rating is just another piece of data.
Thank you for sticking with me all the way to the end! I’d love to hear about whether you use the 5-star system (with or without partial stars), and why or why not, as well as any alternatives that you’ve considered.