A rating is defined as a classification or ranking of someone or something based on a comparative assessment of their quality, standard, or performance. Sounds about right, right?
As readers and reviewers, diving into literature is a full-on hiking experience and at the end of our journey, we often like to document or share how it was throughout. Did we find any bumps on the road? Did we feel tired or full of adrenaline? Was it a satisfactory journey? All of these questions swirl in a reader’s mind when they turn the last page in a book.
But lately, I’ve been asking myself a question: why does the book community value ratings so much? In a way, I get it; it’s quite a flexible system of classification that allows the space to organize and rank the books we read in a determined order from good to bad, or viceversa. Not everyone relies on it the same way; some people just use flat star ratings, others rely on half-stars to accurately reflect their feelings, and then there’s those who go the extra mile to use quarter-star ratings, myself included, because we like to be overly specific. And yet, although it might seem that way at first glance, ratings don’t mean the same to everyone.
What do they mean to me? Well, let me try to break it down:
- 5 stars: An ultimate masterpiece. Everything about this hits the mark for me, with every element executed perfectly (at least in MY point of view, ofc). May or may not become a new favorite, but I can’t identify a single flaw to it and has left a lasting impression.
- 4 stars: Really, really good. Often a rating left for books that, although I loved and highly enjoyed, their impact wasn’t *as* profound, and in some cases, I may have had a critique or two that kept me from absolutely adoring it.
- 3 stars: A really flexible category, if I say so myself. Might be for a book that I simply liked and don’t have many strong opinions on but my experience was still quite enjoyable, OR a book I kind of loved but I discovered many critiques.
- 2 stars: A book that gave me ultimate feelings of meh, blegh, and ugh, but not necessarily because it was horrible, but probably because my brain is literally the definition of no thoughts, head empty. Most likely used if I was bored and/or I didn’t connect to the characters or the story, the most important elements for me.
- 1 star: Absolutely DESPISED. This book makes me ANGRY and turns me into a vile, hateful creature and I just wanna use it as a punching bag and tear it apart like a wooden log, cause trees shouldn’t have died for it. Left for books that had absolutely NO redeemable qualities for me.
With all that said, this system has served me pretty well during my past four years as a reader (with only some slight modifications in the true meaning of a 2 and a 3-star), but is it completely accurate? Definitely not, which is why I use half and quarter-stars in the first place. And even then, does my rating system even matter in the end? This has caused me many internal crises during the past few weeks. Again, DO RATINGS MATTER? DO THEY? *proceeds to lose grip on reality*
They’re useful, yes, but I like to think of them as the literary gender binary. Or, at least, that’s what the community has turned them into; these tight-knit boxes where we’re supposed to fit every book we read.
So many times, we see a fellow reader rate a book anything under 4 stars, and our minds immediately go to: “ooh was it disappointing?” “omg that’s not great” “👀” “was it bad?” AND SO MANY MORE. Why? Why do we all do this?
First of all, as I already previously stated, the rating system works differently for everybody, and ratings have different meanings for different people, anyway. Just because somebody gave a book a rating that you *think* is not positive, doesn’t mean they agree with your mindset. Plus, half-stars and quarter-stars also exist. Immediately classifying a book’s worth because of one person’s rating is kinda fucked up; we all have different reading tastes.
Sometimes, I can feel more strongly about a 3-star than I do a 5-star, and even have MORE love for it. A 5-star rating doesn’t immediately make a book a new all-time favorite. It’s an AMAZING book that I cannot criticize, but does that necessarily make the book memorable? No. Does it mean I love it just as much as everyone else who’s also read it and loved it? Also no.
And even with a book that I rated low (maybe even hated), I can still find myself recommending it, because if it didn’t work for me, it doesn’t mean it won’t for somebody else. You never know, that person might *just* end up loving it.
As it has been said many times, a person who claims they’re not a reader simply hasn’t found the right book. That can also be applied to us, the avid bookworms and book dragons, who swear off a certain genre or trope or author. A type of writing style or point of view. A reviewer we trust may lead us to picking up a book we never thought we would. A discourse, a conversation, a blog post, a single Google search could all impact us in some way. You may have had a bad experience with a genre, but what if you read another book belonging to this category, and BOOM, you fall in love with it. Life is full of surprises, friends.
There is so, so much nuance to ratings, and sometimes we forget about it. We forget about the depth, the layers to them. We forget that, at the end of the day, literature is LARGER than ratings. So many experiences, stories, adventures, words, and worlds. How can they all possibly be encapsulated in this simple star system? It’s impossible and quite unfair, if I do say so myself.
Sometimes ratings even change after a while. I can’t be the only person whose feelings have evolved both positively and negatively, weeks after having read a book. Maybe my love expands to unreachable heights, or my hate uglily festers and grows into something more (like a fire-eating monster :D). Ratings are incredibly fluid, (just like gender! 😎) and we need to embrace that a little more.
I don’t think I could ever completely abandon ratings; they just bring me a lot of satisfaction and genuinely help me sort out my feelings when I’m done with a book and I’m just a Ball of Confusion. But overall, the system that I’m going to attempt to implement more into my reading life is that of “Recommended” and “Not Recommended”, because at the end of the day, all I wanna do is connect readers to a book they might love.
For this, and many other reasons, ratings have lost their meaning to me. They’re a much too large package that comes with too much weight, and I have no place to put it. So, what am I gonna do? I shall recycle and change its “meaning” because it is pretty unsignificant, and I challenge you to do it too. Like gender, you get to decide what ratings mean to you.