So, I made a post last week about some things I don’t get, some more controversial than others. Today I’m going to post about something I think every author and reader can agree on “not getting”.   The Goodreads rating system.

For example, in what world does two stars equal “it was okay”? Do you look at a two star rating on a book and think the person liked the book? Heck no. You think, “Wow, they didn’t like this book, but it wasn’t the worst thing they’ve ever read in their life either.” But apparently in Goodreads world, two stars means “it was okay”. I don’t understand.

This rating system makes sense to me.

In my mental star system (where Jean-Luc Picard reigns in naked glory like the time when the Borg kidnapped him), it works more like this:

One star = Loathed this book and think it sucks like a massive black star of suck.

Two stars = This book was pretty bad, but I’ve read worse.

Three stars = The book was incredibly mediocre but the author could spell and use commas, even though it was dull and I almost didn’t finish it.

Four stars = Yay, I liked it!

Five stars = Yay, I liked it a hell of a lot!

So, here’s my question–when you rate at Goodreads do you use their star system or your own mental star system? And does your star system more closely resemble mine or Goodreads’?

Also, what about rounding up? If you feel like the book was really 1.5 stars, do you give it the benefit of the doubt and round it up? Or do you stick it with the lower number because you’d hate to mislead people?

Another thing I’ve noticed about Goodreads–some people give stars based only only literary merit and not how much they enjoyed the book. I got a few emails from a friend proclaiming that she was crazy about a book featuring gay football players in love, couldn’t stop thinking about it, spent the whole day at work wishing she was home and could read the book. When it was over I got a text reporting that she was sad the book was done and the ending had been just what she wanted. Yet, on Goodreads, she gave the book only three stars. When I asked her why, she said, that it was a great read and she’d loved it a lot, but it was no Deathless or Fortress of Solitude.

This was fascinating to me because I always like to give stars based on the books effectiveness in its genre. If it’s erotica, did it engage me and get me titillated? If it’s romance, did I fall in love too? If it’s literature, was I impressed by the words and the craftsmanship? If it’s fantasy, how was the world building? If it’s self-help, was it actually, you know, helpful? If it’s a children’s book, will actual small children enjoy it? If it’s a spy novel, was it exciting and did I guess the end before it was over? If it was historical fiction, was it well researched?

I couldn't resist.
I couldn’t resist.

It had seemed to me, from the outside in, that the gay football players in love novel had been a total five stars for her in terms of it being a book that did what it was written to do. But she rated on how it worked as literature, not how she reacted to the book in the context of what it was designed for. And that’s her prerogative and one of the things that makes Goodreads a confusing mire when it comes to interpreting the ratings given to a book.

What are your thoughts on the Goodreads rating system? How do you use it?


ETA: I wrote this post a month ago or more, and I honestly have no idea what Jean Luc Picard has to do with any of it. Just…you know…go with it.

7 thoughts on “Goodreads Rating System – Stars In Confusion

  1. My rating system (for Goodreads and anything that has a five-tiered rating system) is pretty much like what you stated above. Specifically, the things going through my mind when I rate are as follows:

    1: This book was a special kind of torture.
    2: This book wasn’t the worst thing I’ve ever read, but that’s the nicest thing I have to say about it.
    3: This book was meh. It was lacking something. It was probably either written about a subject about which I have absolutely no interest and the writing, although good, wasn’t outstanding enough to compensate for that, or it was just mediocre writing.
    4. I really enjoyed this book and will recommend it to others who like the genre.
    5. I love this book. I will probably read this book again once every few years for the rest of my life.

    1. Yes, this rating system makes so much more sense than the Goodreads official rating system. I mean, seriously, two stars for “I liked it”? No. Just no.

  2. My system is very similar to yours, although my three stars is higher. For me, 1 star is THIS SUCKED BEYOND THE TELLING. 2 stars is mediocre, but not terrible. 3 stars is decent and enjoyable. 4 is great, and 5 is LOVED IT.

    1. Yes, I think because I have a tendency to grade up a bit, I’m more likely to give 4 stars to “decent and enjoyable” books, so 3 stars is really a very meh experience for me.

  3. Perhaps Q dropped Jean-Luc into your post–you know how he loves to do such things! Seemingly random but with a purpose :p

    I didn’t even know Goodreads had definitions of their star system–never looked for it :p I treat the stars the same way I do my Netflix account:

    1 star. I most likely didn’t even finish it, it was that bad. If I did finish it, it was either because someone else was also watching and wanted to see the end or one of the actors I will watch no-matter-what was in it (Mosquito Coast, I’m looking at you). In book world, I may have skimmed to the end just to see what happened, but did not read the entire thing.

    2 stars. I finished you, I may not even regret giving you part of my life but I’d rather not see you again and don’t want recommendations for something like you

    3 stars. I liked you. Not enough to have a burning desire to read you again but you were all right.

    4 stars. I will probably, most likely read you again sometime. Or at least have the desire to, even if I don’t find the time. So I really liked you 🙂

    5 stars. I LOVE YOU. SO MUCH. LOVE YOU LOVE YOU LOVE YOU. I will read you again, most likely many times.

    I tend not to rate based on how a book stacks up against another because I go by what I am feeling about that particular book at the time I read it. And I tend not to think in partial ratings so its either a one or a two for me, nothing in between. I think Netflix trained that in to me since I don’t have a 3.5 option LOL

  4. I actually rather like the Goodreads definitions. Took me a few weeks before I noticed them but once I did, yeah, they fit my experience. How I would additionally define them is:

    1 star: I may or may not have finished this. Hated every moment of it. The writing was bad, the story was bad, the characters were awful. I wanted to throw up. I wish I had never polluted my brain with this filth.

    2: Some things were good, perhaps the writing or the characterisation but mostly I seriously disliked and/or disapproved of the writing techniques or characterisation. And no, I don’t think this was written very well. (and then my review sets out exactly what and why and how and urgh!)

    3. “It was okay” sums this up perfectly. I may have somewhat disliked some aspects but I kept reading and yeah, I can see how it would set someone else’s world on fire. Not mine. But it was all right. Can’t scream too loud about this.

    4. Near perfection. There was this one flaw which I’m going to bang on about in my review but mostly I’m all raves.

    5. Perfection. Absolute bloody marvellous perfection and this was why and this was why and this was why. Unless it’s Jane Eyre and then I can’t even begin to say why cos then I’d write a book or several. *lol*

    Though admittedly, yeah, I’d like the half star option. And it always frustrates me when people CAN’T explain why they took a star off! I had this exact conversation with a friend on Goodreads. “Oh, why the star less?” She said, “I don’t know.” Oof. So I totally agree with you about your literary merit friend.

  5. I also find the stars to be about what I think. I only put five stars for my absolute favorite books that I think are total genius. So even something like Kavalier & Clay which I adore, but the whole second half is weak, I give four stars to. And yes, I’d definitely give the gay football players book three stars. I give three stars to things I really enjoyed and would recommend, but don’t think are anywhere near the brilliance of a four or five star book. Two means I managed to finish this book so it must have had some redeeming qualities, but I pretty much didn’t like it. (So, actually, yeah “it was okay”), and one is hate, hate, hate!! I actually wish one could be “bleh, this sucked” and there could be a no star rating for things I’ve read (or read part of) but despised. One star, being any star at all, doesn’t feel strong enough.

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