Sunday Salon: Bookkeeping and bookish thoughts

The Sunday Salon.com

If you rate books – when you review them on your blog, and/or on your LibraryThing or GoodReads account – what does it take for a book to earn your highest rating?
At our recent SoCal book-blogger meet-up, Amy posed that question to me. She knows I use a 5-point rating scale, and questioned whether I’d given a 5 to any books I read this year. Since I didn’t, she wanted to know: How would a book rate a 5 from me?
Since I haven’t awarded a 5 out of 5, it’s a tough question to answer, but maybe I should give it some thought, just in case I ever need to know – hey, it could happen! Here’s what I think a book needs to do to score a 5, in no particular order and with no one factor weighted more or less than another:
  • The story – which doesn’t necessarily have to be fictional (memoirs and narrative nonfiction tell stories too) – needs to grab unrelenting hold of me. I hate to break away from reading the book, and I keep thinking about while I’m not reading it.
  • The craft – the writing and construction – is noticeable in the best way. I am struck by, and meditate on, the beauty of sentences.
  • The book’s themes are thought-provoking – not just while I’m reading the book, but also days, and even weeks, later.
  • I connect strongly with the book’s characters and situation on an emotional level.
  • When I finish the book, I’m not ready to start another right away – I want it to stay in my mind a bit longer, and I expect to have a lot to say about it when I review it.

I’ve read a few books this year – books that I rated as 4’s or higher – that meet most of these criteria, but they haven’t scored my highest rating. I think I may be afraid to hand it out, to be honest. I might find myself holding a 5 up as the standard for the books I read after it, and that wouldn’t be entirely fair to books that have their own merits, but are very different. One reason I use quarter-point ratings is that they let me approach that top score – I’ve given one 4.5 this year, and a few 4.25’s – without fully committing to it; and after all, any book rated between 4 and 5 is considered “excellent and recommended” according to the rating scale in my sidebar. Maybe I should ease up a bit and not be so stingy with the best grades.

When I first started reviewing, I didn’t use ratings, and I’m still ambivalent about them sometimes. I put a lot more time and effort into what I say about a book in the detailed review than into assigning it a number. I use the ratings because I know they’re helpful to readers, but I really hope my discussion of a book carries some weight too.

I know this is a topic that book bloggers go back and forth about – what are your thoughts on ratings? If you use them, do you feel you’re a tough or generous grader? How often do you award your highest rating?


BOOKKEEPING: The Reading Status Report

Reviews posted this week:
Lift, by Rebecca O’Connor

Next Review Scheduled:

None at the moment, and it feels weird! I’m currently reading a series that will probably be discussed in just one post, and I’m not far enough along for that yet. With luck, though, I’ll get that done, and possibly one more review before the end of the year. But right now I’m more focused on year-end wrap-ups, and I don’t have any blog-tour dates for the rest of 2009, so I’m just reading for the heck of it. I’m also preparing for my Books of the Year post, and thinking about Books of the Decade as well (since this is a year that ends in 9, I’m seeing lots of reflections on the last 10 years, so why not join in?).

New to my LibraryThing “To Read” collection

For review:
Cowboy & Wills: A Love Story, by Monica Holloway (via publicist)
American Rust: A Novel, by Phillip Meyer (from publisher, for upcoming blog tour)
Get Lucky, by Katherine Center (ARC from publisher, for upcoming blog tour)
The Irresistible Henry House: A Novel, by Lisa Grunwald (ARC from publisher, via LibraryThing Early Reviewers)
For me:
Home: A Novel, by Marilynne Robinson (purchased at Portrait of a Bookstore last weekend)

At the SoCal Book Bloggers meet-up last week, we did a white-elephant book swap, and I ended up with In the Time of the Butterflies by Julia Alvarez – thanks, Ti! I’ve logged it into LibraryThing, but not into the “to read” collection, since I read it several years ago.
New additions to the Wishlist*:

BOOKMARKS: Reading-related Reading

Thoughts on how things have changed over the course of four years of book blogging (Happy Blogiversary, Kailana!)

Reading selectively – or snobbishly? Also: reading the classics may be less work than you think

Did you know: unsold books (sometimes) just get thrown away!

Authors are sharing their favorite holiday memories on Bookreporter.com‘s blog this month

While many of us are looking back and thinking about our favorite reads of 2009, here’s some speculation on what may turn out to be some of the favorites next year!


I’m actually away from my computer for most of this weekend (thanks for letting me pre-schedule posts, Blogger!), but I hope I’ll find some comments here when I get back!

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12 comments

  1. Yes, that's an excellent question (I would rate it a 5. ;-> )

    I do not finish books if they are 2's or 1's and I rarely finish a 3. I am not interested in spending time in a so-so book. I want to read excellent books. I give out a lot of these as I rarely finish low-rated books.

    I try to read only books that others have rated highly. This tends to eliminate the tedious books.

  2. Well, I am glad you don't rate a lot (or any) books a 5. when I see that a blogger rates a lot of books a 5, I don't take their reviews seriously. All books can't be a 5. I have read too many books and know that. I have only rated 2 this year a 5 and I would have given them a 4.5 if the rating system on the site I was using would have allowed that, but I did put it in my review. It takes quite a book to make a 5 in my view. There is actually one blogger who rates almost everything a 5 and I don't even bother reading her reviews.

  3. I think your criteria for a 5 star book matches up with mine very closely. I often say that for a book to rate a "5" for me, it must wow me. I've been a little more liberal this year with my 5's than I was last year. I think I have 3 or 4 books rated as 5's. I rated quite a few books with 4 stars this year, I've noticed and used 4.5 more than usual.

    I generally write my review first and then assign the numeric rating. I often ask my husband what he thinks my rating will be based on my review. He's gotten good at guessing. He hates that I use half stars, but I just can't bring myself to stop. There are times when books fall in between as you well know.

    My ratings are really more for my own personal use and I have thought about not posting them on my blog. I go back and forth on that subject.

    I hope you have a great week, Florinda.

  4. First – I continue to be envious of your SoCal blogger meet-up; sounds like a fun event!

    It's good that Amy's question got you thinking about your criteria for rating; you were able to put it so clearly into words.

    I don't rate books on my blog, but I do assign ratings when I add the reviews to LibraryThing. I go back to the Netflix rating guide, which is simply 1=didn't like it; 2=just OK; 3=liked it; 4=really liked it; 5=loved it.

    I haven't thought it thru as much as you have; really more of a gut reaction when I finish reading a book.

  5. Debnance – I don't abandon very many books; it's hard for me to let go. And most of the times when I have, it's really not been because the book was all that bad; I just wasn't connecting with it for some reason.

    I tend to begrudge the time I've spent on lousy books, but I don't necessarily begrudge the books themselves. They help me appreciate the good ones even more :-).

    Rebecca/CCQ – I'm OK with not giving 5's for the most part, but sometimes I wonder if I'm just too picky.

    One of the things I like about LibraryThing is that it does allow half-star ratings.

    Wendy (Literary Feline) – It was actually pretty difficult to articulate the criteria; I had to deliberate for a few days. But now I'm glad I've done the exercise, especially since it helped me realize I've read a few books this year that probably should be 5's – I've just been reluctant to commit, I guess. I know you don't give many of them, so I'm very impressed when you do and consider it the highest recommendation!

    I do the review first too; I really am more concerned with that, and I feel that the rating should sum up, and be consistent with, what I have to say about the book.

    Kathy (Bermudaonion) – I know exactly what you mean, and that's a big part of why I hold back on the 5's; I feel just about the same.

    Dawn – Thanks; as I said in reply to Wendy's comment, it was a challenge to articulate it! And if it weren't for Amy's asking, I doubt I would have thought it out nearly so much.

    I think my rating scale works out to be pretty similar to Netflix's. It's not that hard for me to "really like" a book, but it's a leap to out-and-out love it, I guess :-).

  6. I have given 3 books a 5 star rating this year. Anything given a five star rating is one of my all time favourite books – probably in my top 25 list. I am finding that book blogging is increasing the quality of the books I read and so I have read far more 4.5 and 5 star books this year than in my pre-blogging years, but 5 stars is still a rare, wonderful thing.

  7. I don't use ratings on my site but I'm always hesitant to rate one as a 5 on Goodreads. To me, that would say the book was one of my all-time best reads and that sometimes takes some time to consider.

  8. Jackie (FarmLaneBooks) – That's a good point. Quite a few of the books I've given higher ratings to this year have been books that were well-regarded by other book bloggers; they definitely are influencing me to check out good stuff :-).

    Lisa – I agree about the test of time. If you still feel the same way about the book after a couple of years – it's stuck with you over time, and remains just as affecting – it really might deserve that 5 rating :-).

  9. I rate on LT and GoodReads and Amazon but no longer on my blog. I find that sometimes, my perception of a book will change. And I think I look at different books on a different scales. Your criteria are really good. I prefer NOT to rate books on a scale on my blog (or when talking to friends) any more because sometimes I won't like a book, but I know that someone else would LOVE it. And that they shouldn't allow a less-than-stellar rating to hold them back from reading it.

    As for 5-star books I've read this year? I think I've read a couple, but they're so different than each other. I think for me, a 5-star book is one that breaks limits and preconceptions that I might have myself.

  10. Jeanne – Can't say I blame you :-). I've been working on a project where my LibraryThing ratings have actually been pretty helpful, though. Maybe I'll make a minor change next year – rate on LT and just link to the book record from here. Hmmm…

    Aarti – That's an excellent parameter for evaluating a 5-star book, and you make good points in favor of not including ratings in blog reviews.