Rating Books (OR hey, look, a non-grace in small things post!)

I have a question for you, my book-reading friends 😉

I use LibraryThing to keep track of my books, and among other things it allows me to rate books on a 5-star scale (half-stars allowed). I am trying to come up with method to my madness as far as assigning stars goes. This is what I have so far:

No stars – Did not finish the book. Because maybe it’s wonderful and all, but I just couldn’t get into it. Or it could be horrible, but once again, I did not bother to finish. Who knows. For example, I could not finish Justine Larbalestier’s “How to Ditch Your Fairy.” The book got good reviews from others, it just wasn’t what I like.

1/2 star – Awful. Finished, but no idea why. Perhaps it was a willpower-building exercise, or I am a glutton for punishment.

One star – Very bad (F). Writing is horrible, plot non-existent, protagonists inspire hatred. Somewhere, trees weep at the horrible use their brethren and sistren were put to.

Two stars – Bad (D). Writing is clunky, plot holes abound, protagonists are not likable. Won’t seek anything by this author out unless I am desperate, and books recommended by this author are automatically suspect. Case in point: “Undead and Unwelcome” by MaryJanice Davidson. The first book in the series (“Undead and Unwed”) was a 4-star for me, the second (“Undead and Unemployed”) a 3-star, and the rest are in the 2-star category.

Three stars – Average (C). Serviceable. Decent writing. Was enjoyable, time went by quickly, but I am not seized with desire to run out and buy the author’s back list. Will check out other books by the author from the library, or pick them up at Half-Price books. A lot of the romance books I read fall into this category.

Four stars – Good (B). Would recommend to others. Want them on my bookshelf at home, and might buy some of these books at Amazon.com in paperback if I can’t find them at Half-Price books (in particular those that verge into 4.5 star category). Most of J.D. Robb’s “In Death” series books would go there. Also most of Terry Pratchett books. Ditto Sharon Shinn, Louis McMaster Bujold, Elizabeth Moon, and Connie Willis.

Five stars – Excellent (A). If I were told to pick books to take with me to a desert island, these are the ones I would take. Often, the authors are the ones whose new hard-cover books I would pre-order at Amazon.com. I am thinking of limiting the number of 5-star books to 100, to promote selectivity. After all, the books that didn’t quite make the cut can have the 4.5 stars rating. Currently, Robin McKinley’s “Sunshine” and “The Blue Sword” are in that category, as well as Guy Gavriel Kay’s “Tigana,” “A Song for Arbonne,” and “The Fionavar Tapestry” trilogy. Also Terry Pratchett’s “Small Gods” and the Pratchett/Gaiman collaboration “Good Omens.” And C.S. Friedman’s “Coldfire” trilogy.

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What do you think? Other suggestions on how to approach the ratings? What makes a book Excellent, Good, Average, Bad, or Awful for you? Where’s the line between Good/Excellent, and Bad/Awful? Go forth and comment!

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4 thoughts on “Rating Books (OR hey, look, a non-grace in small things post!)

  1. I think an Excellent (5-star) book is one that you definitely want to re-read over and over again, possibly every year. Thus the reason to own a good, sturdy copy. These usually include the books that you just can’t put down the first time you read them, even though it’s 2am!

    A Good (4-star) book you might re-read once or twice more over the net 15 or so years. Thus the reason to own any copy.

    Average (3-star) you enjoyed reading, but don’t necessarily want to read again.

    Bad (2-star) you finished finished only because you wanted to know how it ended.

    Here’s where we differ:

    Very Bad – (1-star) Finished it, but not sure why

    Awful (1/2 star) – could not even finish the book

    0-star indicates that you haven’t read the book at all, but intend to.

    Remember – everyone’s ratings are based on their own personal tastes. I routinely go see movies that Ebert & Roper say were bad because I know that their tastes different than mine. Usually I enjoy the movie.

    A book that someone else rates at 5 stars you may not even be able to finish because the subject matter doesn’t interest you. (Take “Kushiel’s Dart” – You recommended it, I couldn’t finish it) Plenty of “classics” out there that I simply won’t pick up because they don’t interest me. A Tale of Two Cities is a perfect example. Everyone says it’s such a good book, yet I couldn’t even get all the way through it (and I was supposed to for a class!)

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  2. For me, a 5 star book is one that speaks to the human condition. The only author I would rate as 5 star off the top of my head is Guy Gavriel Kay, and he’s on another level beyond most authors.

    C.S. Friedman is typical of the 4.5 level for me. I find her work great in that I keep thinking about some of the ideas and write my own fiction (in my head) in her universe.

    My favorite 4 books are the ones I read again and again, because they’re such good stories. The early Anita Blake novels were that for me, and Maia by Richard Adams. I never get sick of that book, it has slave girls, lesbianism, S&M, what more could you want??

    At 3 star, I would put the Riley Jensen (can’t remember the author) and Charlaine Harris novels. Fun, but I don’t even need to own them.

    Below 3, who cares about the distinctions? Bad is bad. 😛 🙂

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  3. Now are we rating books on literary value, or personal enjoyment? There are books I really enjoy and read over and over that are fairly well written, but not necessarily excellent in that regard, and then there are books that I can appreciate the writing, the plot, the characterizations as being very well done, but I’m not burning to re-read them.

    Perhaps that could help define the line between good and excellent; the latter would be those that are top-quality writing AND I want to read over and over again. Good then could include both those that are very well written that I might read again, and those in which the writing is okay but I really enjoy reading them.

    Other criteria could include how much the book sticks in my mind, how likely I am to pick it up and re-read my favorite parts or random excerpts, or how satisfied I feel when I reach the last page (How complete does it feel to me; do I feel like re-writing parts of it?)

    Those are my thoughts at the moment. I agree with Shannon on how much tastes differ; after all, I spent most of my educational career avoiding literature classes because I didn’t care for most of the great literature that was required reading!

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  4. 5 stars: Books that I remember details about and am still thinking about the theme of it months after I read it the first time. Books that I re-read every few years. Things that I couldn’t stop reading, good plots that move fast.

    4 stars: Well written, not too many plot holes or “yeah, rights”

    3 stars: Readable, enjoyable, but forgettable.

    2 stars: Crap, but I still want to see how it ends.

    1 star: I have no idea why I bothered finishing this, if I did indeed finish reading this.

    0 stars: Reserved for books I absolutely despised. I wish I could come up with the name of one in particular, but it seems like it was such a flaming piece of crap that it’s not being published anymore. Jane Austen book Club’s in this list. Great movie, I was really excited to read the book, and…. Sigh.

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