Tuesday, June 5, 2012

What's In a Rating?

I've seen this topic discussed on various other blogs, and I've decided to go over it myself.  Lately, I've seen these questions popping up more and more often: What do ratings mean?  What can be considered "great literature"?  Do we rate based off enjoyment, or literary merit?  Should we even use star ratings?

What do ratings mean?
Ratings mean something different for everyone.  For example, many people follow the Goodreads star ratings system.  It works like this:
1 star=didn't like it
2 stars=it was okay
3 stars=liked it
4 stars=really liked it
5 stars=it was amazing

This system works for many people.  What gets confusing, though, is when people have different systems.  Like me.  I, personally, don't care for the Goodreads system.  My rating system works like this:
1 star=practically nothing I liked about it
2 stars=didn't like it, but it had a few redeeming qualities
3 stars=it was okay
4 stars=liked it
5 stars=it was amazing

I use this system because it makes the most sense to me.  I like to keep three stars as "okay", because I'm in the middle with my opinions of those books, and three is in the middle of one and five.  Simple as that. 

Some people use half-stars, but I don't.  I think it just gets confusing.  I do read books where they're right in the middle of two ratings, but then I round up.  For example, if I read a book that was somewhere between three and four stars for me, putting it at 3.5 stars, I'd round it to four stars.  The only reason I round up instead of down is because up is mathematically correct.  The only one I don't round up is 4.5 stars, because for me, a five star rating is a high honor and if a book isn't quite there, I don't want to give it that rating.

Should we rate based off enjoyment, or literary meritWhat can be considered "great literature"?
Frankly, I don't understand the difference.  Why would I enjoy a book that had no literary merit?  And if I enjoyed a book, doesn't that mean it has literary merit?  If a book has a compelling plot, realistic characters, then it has literary merit.  It doesn't have to be considered a "classic" (I have issues with that term, too, but that's another post for another time.) to be considered "great literature".  If I liked it, then the author did something right.  He/she wrote a well-written book with a compelling plot and characters I connected with.  It doesn't matter if I found it on the shelf at Walgreens--I still consider it great literature.  My definition of great literature is any book I really enjoy.

What I also have trouble understanding is the concept of "guilty pleasure".  If I liked it, why should I feel guilty about it?  Again, if I liked it, the author is doing something right.  To use a music example, I have an entire Justin Bieber CD on my iPod.  I'm not ashamed of it.  I enjoy it (okay, most of it).  If I enjoy it, then doesn't that mean it has some merit? 

I feel like I've just answered this question with more questions.  Still, it's something to think about.

Should we even use star ratings?
This is another matter of opinion.  Some people feel that star ratings give them a good idea of whether or not the reviewer recommends a book.  Some people like to turn to a trusted review and see, at a glance, how much they liked it.  On the other hand, some people feel star ratings are biased (even though there is no such thing as an unbiased book review).  They're just numbers, and they can't express the whole picture of the reviewer's experience with the book.  

There are valid points to both sides.  I fall more to the first side.  I'll always use star ratings.  As a reviewer, star ratings are an easy way to tell my readers, at a glance, whether or not I'd recommend the book.  They're also an easy way to keep track of what books I liked or didn't like.  I can sort and categorize them and keep them organized, which I like. 

Whether or not you use star ratings is entirely up to you.  Every reviewer does their reviews in a different way. 

What about you?  What do your ratings mean?  What are your thoughts on this subject?

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1 comment:

  1. I agree with you - a book's merit is the reader's opinion. Where some people think it's lacking, others see nothing wrong. It's part of human nature to disagree on some such points. Also, I like your rating system: the goodreads one doesn't make too much sense to me. And the half-stars are all the more confusing. Just my opinion.

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