Sunday Salon: To Rate or Not To Rate?

by Erin on November 20, 2011

The Sunday Salon.com

Today I’d like to talk about ratings. I know this is a topic that has been widely discussed. However, I’ve never talked about it on Erin Reads, so I figured, why not?

A few days ago I was talking with a friend about rating books on Goodreads. We were bemoaning the lack of half-stars in the three- to five-star range. I have a pretty good feel by now of what constitutes a whole-numbered star for me, but I miss the half-stars offered by LibraryThing for the occasional book that falls in between.

As you have most likely noticed, I don’t rate books according to any set system on Erin Reads. For me, ratings are a way to remember my own personal sense of a book. My experiences as a reader, a blogger, and a bookseller have shown me again and again that one (wo)man’s literary trash is another (wo)man’s treasure, so I don’t feel comfortable assigning an overall rating to books I talk about here. I’d rather visitors read my thoughts on a particular book to get the whole story, as it were, of my own experience with the book and infer based on that than glance at a rating and feel they’ve gotten a sense of the book. I don’t believe any book can be boiled down to a single rating — there’s always more to it than that. So, in the spirit of “better safe than sorry,” I’ve never set up a rating system here.

Rating Stars

I do, however, rate books on Goodreads. Perhaps this seems like a contradiction? My reasons for doing so are twofold. First, as mentioned above, I use Goodreads ratings to remember how I felt about a book overall. Because I know what makes a four-star book to me, for instance, so I can better recall my general feelings toward a book given such a rating. Second, I find it’s really helpful, when looking up new-to-me books on Goodreads, to see how others, with whom I’m Goodreads friends and with whose reading preferences I’m familiar, have reacted to a particular book. Since I use and love that feature of the website, I feel I should contribute.

Does this mean I am against rating systems on blogs? Of course not. Sometimes, I’ll see a blogger has rated something very highly, and I’ll feel compelled to read the review and find out why. The opposite is also true. Almost never do I glance at a rating and skip the review, so I’m really not sure why people will do so if I start using a rating system on Erin Reads!

Do you rate, on your blog or on your favorite book-tracking site? Why or why not? How do you use or react to others’ rating systems? I’m quite curious!

Care to share?

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30 comments
Rebecca Reid
Rebecca Reid

I never rated books I read...until I started being active on Goodreads just a few months ago. I have found that I like the overall reflection on how I enjoyed the read. Much like what you say. I don't plan on rating on my blog, though, that's more for discussion, etc.

Tif
Tif

I have a similar system as you ... I rate on GoodReads, but I don't rate on my blog. I don't always feel that books fall into the 5 star rating system and that is why I don't rate on my blog. A lot of times it is more about what is in the book, not the rating of the overall story.

Jennifer, bookspersonally
Jennifer, bookspersonally

I have very mixed feelings about ratings and also don't rate on the blog, do rate on Goodreads, for similar reasons. I have a pretty tough time giving a rating (and also definitely wish there were 1/2 stars), mostly because each book is so different from the next, but it's also a good personal exercise in considering what makes one book more appealing than another. Have you ever adjusted a rating after the fact? I've done it just a few times - sometimes my impressions of a book evolve over time.. another reason why the ratings make me angsty, I guess.

Kailana
Kailana

When I started blogging I used to rate everything I read, but it got to be too stressful. I do rate on Goodreads, but that is just basic.

amanda
amanda

I don't rate because it doesn't really work for me. Maybe because I change my mind too much! At one point I started using the star system at LibraryThing, but I would go back later and wonder what I was thinking, so I stopped. It seems too muck like comparing one book to another, and I have trouble doing that--how to compare classic vs. contemporary or a lightweight thriller I thoroughly enjoy vs. a heavy epic I like but don't love but can tell is so much better than the lightweight book?

Trisha
Trisha

I do rate (Buy, Borrow, Accept, Avoid) but for the most part the books I read fall under Borrow, and the rating system is rather useless. I go back and forth all the time on whether to remove the system or not.

Charlie
Charlie

I do rate because like you I like to remember my thoughts, and because I like the way it helps me organise my reviews and make it obvious how I felt in cases where I've been abstract in words. I tend to list everything I thought about the book mentally before giving a rating, so plot and writing quality is mixed with my general feeling. Whatever works for each blogger is best.

erin
erin

Hi!

This isn't directly related to your blog, but I have had the handle "erinreads" on twitter for awhile now, and I'm interested in changing it to something else.

Would you like it? I'm not entirely sure how one goes about shifting one over. Feel free to email me about it.

Trish
Trish

I do rate books but I do so completely arbitrarily. And I've heard many people mention the fact that they hate when a blogger doesn't explain her ratings, but I just can't. I guess I should put a disclaimer up that a rating for me is how much *I* enjoyed a book at a given time. Doesn't mean much for the actual book itself. Like you, seeing how I rated a book helps me remember a bit about my feelings.

And for what it's worth, I really appreciate when other bloggers have a rating system. Even if it is as arbitrary as mine. And truthfully, I'd rather the person rate the experience than the book anyway. Does that make sense? Hmm....

Kristi
Kristi

We share the same philosophy. I do rate for goodreads, but I can't bring myself to do it for my blog. There are some books that I rate a three that I really think others should read, but didn't work for me 100%. I'm afraid if I put that rating on my blog, it might deter people from reading a book that they otherwise might enjoy.

Christina
Christina

I used to rate on my blog and ended up removing them. People seem to take ratings as set and stone and don't actually read your thoughts on the book. At least, that was my experience. I would also receive negative comments for giving a classic four stars and a newer book four stars because don't you know that classics are all five star books?!? I use ratings on GoodReads to organize what I have read, but I really don't stress that I am also on GoodReads.

Care
Care

You've captured my thoughts (and dilemmas) on ratings! I mentioned the conundrum today but I do think my ratings are for ME and when I see other's ratings, I don't depend or assume that they are must influence my reaction to a book. I do rate on my blog and in goodreads (and try!! to make sure they are in sync.) I do think, in the long run, my ratings hold true - again FOR ME! :)

Ellen
Ellen

I do the same as you, as far as rating on goodreads but not on my blog. I don't tend to post reviews on goodreads, which is why I do the ratings there - but they feel so broad that I'm not always even comfortable assigning a number of stars, though I'm the only person really looking at my shelves there. As far as the blog goes, ratings don't provide the chance to look fully at a book that a review does; I guess I could do a rating and a review, but half the time I can't be clear with myself about something as basic as "how much I liked this book." Because there are books I race through but don't think are of much artistic value, and there are books that I didn't much like as a whole but had moments of real beauty, and there are others that I recognize for their artistic achievement but still wasn't in love with...how could I hope to sum that up with a number?

JoAnn
JoAnn

I use ratings on my blog, but it's mostly for me. My blog was originally my online reading journal. It has gradually morphed into a little more but, since I don't use Goodreads or LibraryThing, I've kept the ratings.

That said, I do enjoy seeing a rating on other blogs, especially those that I read regularly and know the blogger's tastes. A rating will never prevent me from reading the entire review though - there is always much more behind the number!

Jenners
Jenners

I wish they let you do half-stars on all book sites. It makes a difference to me to have that distinction. I struggled with this for the longest time for my blog but then decided to go with it and stick with it. (I do give half stars.) I even made up a short guide to tell what the rankings meant. I think all people realize that just because I give a book 5 stars doesn't mean it will be a 5 star book for them. But, over time, you get a sense of what a blogger is like as a reviewer and it might help you decide whether to read a book or not. I think people appreciate it as a quick overview but I think it is matter of preference for the blogger.

Mary
Mary

I used to rate on the blog but not anymore. I do on Goodreads.

Stephanie @ Read in a Single Sitting
Stephanie @ Read in a Single Sitting

I rate, but I do feel strange rating classics or non-fiction. I try to rate books based upon how well I feel they achieve what they set out to do, and I try to be consistent. It can be tough, though--and I do suspect that people skim to the star rating at the end.

softdrink
softdrink

I only rate on Goodreads, and even then it's a haphazard rating. I've been known to change my ratings months later. It totally depends on my mood. I can't even imagine doing it for the blog. I'd probably have a meltdown an delete my blog.

Jenny
Jenny

I don't rate on my blog mainly because I'd hate to think of someone seeing my rating and not reading the review. Like you said, there's usually more to a book then a rating. I DO rate on Goodreads but that's usually for my sake and because it's there. ;)

Steph
Steph

I rate books both on my site and on GoodReads, but I kind of don't really think that these ratings mean anything to anyone other than myself. They are, after all, completely subjective, and I just use them as a blanket signal to myself regarding how much I liked the book. I pretty much don't pay attention to ratings on other people's blogs when they use them because while a 5-star rating tells me that the person liked a book a lot, it doesn't tell me why they liked the book or anything really useful. I assume most people don't use my ratings at all, unless it's to find review of books that I love or hate (since people really seem to love reading my reviews of books I did not like at all).

The Literary Omnivore
The Literary Omnivore

I rate. My system is pretty clear cut (1: OH GOD NO, 2: BAD, 3: EH, 4: GOOD BUT NOT GREAT, 5: I LOVE YOU JACQUELINE CAREY), which helps. I think it's pretty clear that the views expressed on a book blog are the views of the book blogger in question.

Nymeth
Nymeth

I do ratings on LibaryThing sometimes, but not on my blog. I notice that when I do them they tend to be pretty samey, as it's pretty difficult for me to translate my often complex and contradictory feelings about a book into a number. I don't mind it when others bloggers rate, of course, but I don't pay much attention to ratings either. Most of all, what I want to know is WHY a blogger felt the way they did about the book.

Linda
Linda

I don't rate books but tend to say something like recommended or explain who I think might enjoy the book. I do rate books on Goodreads but I think what I say means so much more.

Stephanie
Stephanie

I like when other bloggers use ratings systems because it's easy to see how they felt about a certain book. However, I don't think it's necessary to use a rating system and I personally don't use one. I guess it feels a little arbitrary to me--it's just hard to determine where a book falls on the spectrum sometimes. So I guess my answer is a little bit hypocritical!

Jillian
Jillian

I find it difficult to rate, though I do it at Goodreads for the same reasons you state. At my blog, I have a page where I rank everything I've read from favorite to least favorite. That's not a rating -- not a "grade." It feels less final to me. I've twice juggled my rankings page because books feel different to me, on reflection. A rating feels like me judging the book "good" or "bad" -- on what level? story? writing? wisdom? poetry? scope for thought? controversy? characters? font size? cover? spelling errors?

In the end, for me, it's more about how I responded to the book personally, than a judgement upon the quality of the book itself. So setting up a favorite to least favorite page lets me put myself at the helm, rather than the book. I can look at the list as a whole rather than rating a book on an island -- because ultimately for me, I'm rating how I respond to the book in comparison to the other books I've experienced. For me, each book becomes a part of me -- and I'd rather see how it fits within the scheme of other works, than treat it as a singular piece to be merited and demerited.

I don't know. Since I'm writing a journal rather than reviews, ranking my favorites makes more sense to me than grading. And grading is far too blurred, in my mind -- since a poorly written work could be a brilliant story. Or an incredible character might be sat in a mind-numbing plot.

Alison
Alison

I had the hardest time deciding on if I should use rating systems. I guess mine works out fairly well because I've defined it pretty well and combined it with the buy/borrow system I've seen on other blogs.

Example: 5- means I absolutely loved it and urge you to go buy it. 4/4.5- I really liked it and I'd consider it buy worthy. 3/3.5- enjoyable and worth borrowing. Etc.

Having a rating system that's well defined makes it easier for me to rate a book. Hopefully it helps my readers decide if they want to read a book.

zibilee
zibilee

I don't rate on my blog, but do on Library Thing and GoodReads. I am not too worried about rating things on my blog because opinions are so subjective when it comes to the books that we read, and like you said, one man's trash is another person's treasure. I had at one time considered using a rating system on my blog, bu decided against it pretty quickly, not that I don't enjoy them on other blogs!

Colleen
Colleen

I don't rate - mostly because my ratings always seem relative to whatever else I have read and as I read more it affects ratings I may have given to books earlier on. I do read a few blogs that rate very consistently and I find I depend on their ratings to guide my decisions about reading a book. Contradiction - I know!

Robert Parry
Robert Parry

It is probably not that important for readers to see stars if you are providing a comprehensive review written by yourself, which is far more valuable and interesting. Sometimes, stars can be a bit confusing, too. For example when they don't seem to match a review at all - like when there is a glowing review of a book accompanied by just a 3-star rating. What is even more odd, is sometimes a reviewer will give different star-ratings in different places - ie. 4 stars on amazon and then 3 stars on Goodreads! Now that IS confusing. Perhaps that is where your half-stars would come in handy.

Jillian
Jillian

Yes! I read this after I wrote my comment below. This is exactly what I was trying to say. :-)

I also forgot to say below that ratings on other blogs don't bother me at all. I'm just referring to my own style -- not that of others.

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