Monday, 17 October 2016

How I rate books

A couple of BookTubers have posted videos (1,2) about what, for them, makes a five-star read - the highest rating on Goodreads. Their videos have not only got me thinking about I consider to be a "five-star" book but also about my general process for rating books. One thing I've realised is that my system for rating books doesn't match-up with Goodreads' rating system.

WARNING: Some spoilers below

One star
Goodreads = "Did not like it"
Me = "I absolutely hated it"

Somewhat perversely, I only give one stars to books that I think are well written. I tend to hate a book when I vehemently disagree with its themes or how the characters are portrayed. The author has to sufficiently portray both the characters and themes for me to understand them to disagree with them! After all you can only disagree with a set of policies if you know what they are. 

An example of this is Gone With The Wind by Margaret Mitchell. It's an undeniably compelling book but it's also undeniably racist. You do have to judge a book by the moral standards of when it was written rather than the standards of today; therefore, given Mitchell wrote it in 1936 -  a good 28 years before US legally-enforced public segregation was abolished by the 1964 Civil Rights Act - it's not totally surprisingly that she's not exactly championing equal rights for black people. But I felt that in Gone With The Wind, she doesn't just reflect the racism of her day (which would have been bad enough), she reflects the racism of the South during the Civil War. The subtitle of the book might as well be "slavery: black people preferred it that way". Given the horrific race-related events (such as Scottsboro Boys case) that happened in the USA in the 1930s, I couldn't keep reading.

Two stars
Goodreads = "It was OK"
Me = "A total let down"

I give two stars to books that I am frustrated with or disappointed by in some way. I got totally hooked by SJ Watson's Before I Go To Sleep until the big twist was revealed. The whole way through as I was like "that can't be the twist; it's too flipping obvious" but oh no, the twist was that obvious. The twist may as well have been "it was all a bad dream" it was so unoriginal. If you're going to go for a predictable ending, don't con your readers into thinking your book is anything other than your average  airport thriller paperback. Actually, that's unfair. Airport thrillers don't have delusions of grandeur and just get on with being your bog-standard page-turner. 

Three stars
GoodReads = "I liked it"
Me = "It was OK"

Three stars tends to be the lowest rating I give a book on Goodreads as I tend not to finish those that I consider to be one- or two- star reads. Life's too short to be reading a book you hate I say. Therefore, I give three stars to books that I enjoyed but I felt had one or two flaws that keep me from being that enthusiastic about it. The Watchmaker of Filigree Street by Natasha Pulley, which is the last book I read, was a good read but I did find it lost its way towards the end. As I mention in my review, I would be interested to read other books by Pulley (this is her first one, so she's allowed to be less than brilliant) but I don't think I would rush to recommend this one. 

Four stars
GoodReads = "I really liked it"
Me = "Nothing to complain about here"

I give a book four stars when there's nothing I would criticise about it - I enjoyed it, the plot was good, and characters were well developed etc. The only reason I give it four stars rather than five stars is because I am not passionate about it. As much as I enjoyed it, the book is not one that will stay with me. I really enjoyed Andrew Miller's Pure and wouldn't hesitate to recommend it but, a few years after reading it, I'd struggle to say what happened or why it was I liked it.

Five stars
GoodReads = "Awesome"
Me  = "Wonderful"

A five-star book is not necessarily the most well written but one that I feel connected to in some way. And having looked at the books I've given five stars to, they all seem to share a common theme - lonely outsider finds their place in life. Jane Eyre, of course, is my favourite book of all time.. I am not quite sure what that says about me; probably that I still haven't, at 36, quite got over being the misfit at school. 

Mind you, I am also partial to books featuring redemption in some way. The House of the Spirits, by Isabelle Allende, is one of my favourite books that I've read this year. I loved that the "baddie" in the book isn't as all out horrible as he initially appears. Again, not sure what that says about me. I am going to pretend it's because I am a Quaker and thus duty bound to see the divine in everyone rather than because I've got psychological issues going on. 


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