Why Do We Rate Books The Way We Do?

adult, books, businessSome 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.


Where Are All the Histories?

I think I know why many book bloggers and vloggers don’t review histories: They’re just too darn long.

Like many bloggers, I am participating in Nonfiction November this month. I made a TBR of all the books I planned on reading in November. The major reason why I filmed the TBR was to gush about my favorite histories. I wanted to encourage more readers to try that genre of nonfiction.

It has occurred to me in the past week that many readers are probably put off by the length and density of most histories. Any history worth its chops is at least 500 pages, and who has the time to read 500 pages of dense nonfiction in a few sittings? I love history, but I am usually reading multiple histories at once. It takes me months to finish a single book because I am reading so many other works at the same time.

As a result of my reading habits, I don’t often mark “Read” on Goodreads for nonfiction. Biographies and 800-page studies are just too long to read in even a couple weeks. Goodreads, book blogs, and booktube are perfect for shorter books (fiction or nonfiction) and maybe long, fast-paced thrillers, but readers using those platforms may be deterred from tackling longer nonfiction because they take so long to read.

There is nothing wrong with reading multiple pieces of nonfiction at the same time, but viewers and followers may get the impression that the content creator isn’t serious about reading nonfiction. Goodreads, blogs, and the like reveal a lot about a person’s reading tastes, but these platforms also have their limitations. A reader’s desire to show how many books she has read in a month may deter her from reading a biography or a large history. On the flip side, a reader could read nothing but nonfiction the entire year and fail to reach her reading goal.

I have more than surpassed my Goodreads reading goal of 50 books this year, and I generally am indifferent to the number of books I read in a month. However, I am currently dipping in and out of quite a few massive histories. I want people to know that I enjoy histories, but I don’t finish many in a year.

Lovers of essays and short stories face a similar issue on book reviewing platforms. Essay and short story collections are the most common books readers dip in and out of. Even if a reader has read nine out of the ten essays in a collection, he can’t mark the collection as “Read” until he has read the tenth essay. I enjoy reading short stories, but I often lack the motivation to read a short story collection in a few sittings.

Maybe, we need to rethink the way we discuss certain kinds of fiction and nonfiction. Instead of waiting until we have completed a study of the Middle Ages, for example, we could write blog posts or make videos about the topics that we have already encountered in the book. This could be a great way to introduce followers to a work, because, unlike fiction, nonfiction is hard to spoil. Besides, it is nearly impossible to review an 800-page history in a 500-word blog post.