What’s Behind the Stars: Some Thoughts on Goodreads’s Ratings

7695093_4438541_lzHitherto I have read 18 books this year, and after finishing each book, I religiously marked it ‘read’ and gave my rating on Goodreads. While I was checking out my ‘read’ list this morning, something seemed bewildering to me. I have given five-stars to nine books (50 per cent of what I read) — Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Charlotte’s Web, Dogsbody, Coraline, The Art of Racing in the Rain, and Gone Girl. 

Now, when I think about the books, I still believe they deserved five-stars. But, I was mad at myself for giving four-stars to one of my most favourite books — The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman.

I wrote quite a few blogs after reading that book, and in most stories, I had quoted it. I have been using many lines from the book in my daily conversations. Not a lot of books get that close to me. So many of my Facebook friends should be contemplating about ‘unfriending’ me, for I have spammed their walls with my favourite passages from The Ocean at the End of the Lane.

Since the time I realised that I had given unfair rating to that poignant book, I have been debating with myself. Some questions that I tried answering: What are the criteria that help me decide how good a book is? Do I approach the rating system logically? Do I allow some time for the book to sink in? How often do I rate a book feverishly? How often do I go back and change the rating? I had answers for some of it. But, I could not streamline my thoughts about the criteria. I understand that it’s hard to be objective while judging a book. However, it bothers me when I fail to recognise some books in a responsible fashion.

Besides The Ocean at the End of the Lane, I remember changing the rating that I gave for Winnie the Pooh. Initially, I gave it four-stars. A few months later, I changed it to five. But, for The Fifty Shades of Grey and some books of Chetan Bhagat, I was rueful about awarding three, and reduced it a while later.

My argument is that our sensibilities change in time. Some stories that we enjoyed five years ago might appear dull. Some authors whom we used to celebrate might seem ordinary now. Then, why should we even bother rating a book, when we realise that numbers can’t be constant? And, should one always rate a book?

Also, I want to encourage a modest thought: My rating is not going to increase a book’s longevity or change an author’s life. Maybe, I rate because I am given a choice, a space. And, my decision to read a book is not completely made on ratings. Usually, the jacket, the blurb, some quotes, and reviews of book-bloggers make me pick up a book.

Now, I have come to believe that I should choose to forgo the stars, although I am uncertain if I can start practising immediately. But the point is, when writing reviews offer immense satisfaction, what is the big deal about fickle ratings?

(If you have some thoughts, please drop a comment.) 🙂

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4 thoughts on “What’s Behind the Stars: Some Thoughts on Goodreads’s Ratings

  1. (If you have some thoughts, please drop a comment.) 🙂

    I had put this up as my profile description on a book site some time in 2007, so it is a bit dated.

    Reading
    I used to be an avid reader, to the point of being compulsive. Now my reading is more tempered; even the pace of reading is much slower – I took over a week to read HP-7!

    I am an indolent escapist, so reading panders to these traits.

    My favorite genres are mushy tear-jerkers, though i do like some dark, philosophical novels. I didn’t like Fountainhead even though it fits the last description. Humor of the Plum type is also high on my preference. If you see my favorites, you’ll find a lot in the children’s literature genre – so my tastes are kind of juvenile too. Remember Peter Pan, the boy who never wanted to grow up?

    A note on my rating scheme:
    * – Did not like it.
    ** – OK types, acceptable.
    *** – Good book that I quite enjoyed reading; I would recommend others to read it.
    **** – Excellent book that had an impact on me while reading it. Definite read.
    ***** – WOW book – no other words for it.

    My argument is that our sensibilities change in time. Some stories that we enjoyed five years ago might appear dull. Some authors whom we used to celebrate might seem ordinary now.

    PS: The rating was done based on recall, so it could be quite different if I read them now.
    PPS: I’d like to quote a blogger on the matter of one’s opinions:
    …Yes the shelf life of my own opinion is somewhere between 3 seconds to 3 months, especially when it is about life and its meaning! 🙂 … But my recorded opinions definitely reflect my growing up for me, sometimes we do grow up in 3 seconds after we express something! 🙂 … yes we do!

    Personal Information
    Over the hill Indian male, married, have 2 adult sons. The old woman is a keen reader too; we share similar tastes to some extent.

    PS: I was reminded of this when I read your post, so pardon me for indulging my vanity . 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I am a generous rater (that’s not a word, is it?) mostly because ratings don’t make any sense to me. I love The Ocean at the End of the Lane too, but I don’t like it as much as Gaiman’s Neverwhere, which I have given a whopping five stars. Yet, The Ocean at the End of the Lane is better than most other books I rated 4 stars. Dilemma, yes, but I know that the rating system will never satisfy me. You just can’t condense a book into a teensy number of stars.
    Congrats on reading 18 books so far this year, I am still at a measly five…
    I am new to your site, but I love it already!

    Liked by 1 person

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