Some would say that you should never trust my star ratings on Goodreads. I give four or five stars to nearly every book I read. I am easily pleased. However, just because I give a book five stars on Goodreads doesn’t mean that it will make my Best of the Year list. The books I put on that list are the ones that have had the greatest influence on me in the past year. They have resonated with me the most.
But I love certain books for very sentimental reasons. They aren’t critically good, but I read them at the perfect time in my life. Take Beezus and Ramona, for example. It’s essentially a collection of related short stories about a young girl with an overactive imagination. It is certainly not the most thought-provoking children’s book I’ve ever read, but it helped me through many a sleepless night. I also loved The Secret Language by Ursula Nordstrom and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl. Because these three books were childhood favorites, it feels wrong for me to leave them out of a list of my all-time favorite books.
I don’t think the average reader rates a book on Goodreads solely on its literary merit. Many give five stars to a book that they enjoyed even though it wasn’t very well-written. Or, those books are favorites for very personal reasons. Stories could be written about the role certain books have had on our lives. This may also explain why so many adults count the Harry Potter books as favorites. They grew up on the series. They read each book four or five times. Even if Harry Potter may be lacking in certain areas, adults who loved and continue to love the series will include the books on their “Favorites” list.
And there’s nothing wrong with that.
Not only do we all read for different reasons, we all rate our books for different reasons. I gave four stars to Dan Brown’s Origin recently even though it certainly wasn’t a literary masterpiece. I wanted a fun Robert Langdon book, and I got a fun Robert Langdon book.
I love the “amateur” reviewing industry that has emerged online in the past decade. I consider myself a part of this industry. We amateurs share our true feelings about the books we read. Professional reviewers try to be “objective” in their reviews, but I often want to know how a book has influenced the reader on a personal level. My intention is not to criticize professional reviewers. I follow professional reviews as well as amateur reviews. But we love books for a wide range of reasons, and professional reviewers tend to focus exclusively on character, plot, and sentence structure.
I personally decide whether I will read a book based on written reviews. I read the 5 star reviews and the 2 star reviews. They give me a good idea of what people liked and disliked about a work. But I often choose a book based on the themes it explores. If the book is set at sea, I will definitely give it a try.
And who knows? Maybe I will read the book at the perfect time in my life or in the perfect environment and it will become a favorite.