The Sunday Salon (July 17): Rambling about ratings

The Sunday When I first started blogging I was very unsure about ratings. I didn’t know exactly what they meant, how I could use them, and that it’s okay to have a different system than what other people used. I spent a lot of time thinking about whether a book was 3.25 birds or 3.5, and that obsession is partly why I eventually switched to the buy/bin/borrow rating system for a while– I needed to stop over-thinking things, basically.

I’m in my third year of blogging now and I’ve gotten more confident about how I handle things on my blog. I’ve also figured out a way to stop obsessing over ratings, which is why I switched back to birds back in May.

Here’s how I stopped: I tidied up my ratings definitions, and then I stuck with them. Before, in my early blogging days, I’d habitually nudge up ratings for books I liked by about half a bird. I had carried over this idea from professional reviews that anything rated three stars (birds) or less wasn’t necessarily very good, and if I liked a book I felt I should rate it higher than 3 birds. To be “fair,” or something.

The problem was that my rating system never said 3 birds = a bad book. In fact, it said that a 3 birds book was good! But I wasn’t going by my own rating system– I was going by someone else’s idea of ratings. So then what happened was I’d rate a book 4 birds when really it was 3.5, and then I’d feel really dissatisfied. And then I got stressed out, which was silly but, well. There you go.

So now what I’ve done is simplified my ratings system a bit, and I’ve stuck by my definitions. Here, this is what my (newly tweaked) rating system looks like (also available for perusal on the right sidebar):

5 birds = Loved it!
4 birds = Really liked it.
3 birds = Liked it.
2 birds = It was okay.
1 bird = It was pretty bad.
Half-birds = steps between ratings.

(I’ve stated on my ratings page that anything rated 3.5 birds or more is “recommended reading,” which basically means that if I saw you in person and I had the book in my hands, I’d push it off onto you and pretty much force you to read it right there. If it was a 3 bird book (or less), I might tell you about it, but I’d let you decide whether to read it or not.)

These new definitions mean that I can rate a book 2 birds and not feel bad, because while I didn’t “like it” I also didn’t “dislike it.” It means I’m ambivalent about it! This actually gives me a lot more freedom in how I rate books, and I love that.

On the other hand, it’ll probably mean more 3 rated books, but maybe that’s a good thing, as it’ll make the 4 and 5 bird books more “special.” (According to my LibraryThing stats, I have more 4 star rated books than anything else. I’m looking forward to seeing how that changes in the future.)

Of course, the new ratings definitions will completely throw off any review written (and using the bird system) before late June, because I was still being cushy back then. But going forward I think it’ll be really good for me and my blog, and I’m already much happier after deciding to stick with this system. I think it helps, too, that I’ve learned how to better define my feelings for books…but that’s another blog post. (A hint: it involves taking more time to absorb a book’s impact on me before rating it– another thing that screwed up my early rating decisions.)

Do you have any preconceived notions about ratings? Have you ever changed how you rated books?

Weekly Book Stats

Books read this week:
71. Storm Front – Jim Butcher [rating: 3.5] *
72. Phoenix Rising – Pip Ballantine & Tee Morris [rating: TBD] R
73. Ruby Red – Kerstin Gier [rating: 3]
74. Stories for Nighttime and Some for the Day – Ben Loory [rating: TBD] R
75. Sirenz – Charlotte Bennardo & Natalie Zaman [rating: 2] B

Books reviewed this week:
46. Dead End in Norvelt – Jack Gantos [rating: 4.5] B

Books acquired this week:

Currently reading:
I’m 33 pages into Brooklyn, Burning, a BEA 2011 book that I’m really enjoying. I’ve read some reviews and I know it’s going to be eventually heartbreaking, but right now it’s just interesting and really well-written. It sort of reminds me of a mix of John Green/Tim Wynne-Jones?


See that ad in the top left sidebar there? Until the end of July Revolutionary Party will be up there looking vaguely dangerous and exciting. Woohoo!

Also, I’ve got books for sale at and info about tons of free and cheap books posted at Free (& Cheap) Reads! Yay!

14 thoughts on “The Sunday Salon (July 17): Rambling about ratings”

  1. I’ve started rating books again after a year or two of not rating them. My system is the same as yours. If anyone rates a book three out of five, I’m going to take my time reading it. I think I’ve heard of Brooklyn Burning, so I’m off to read up on it more. Have a great week.

    1. I ended up kind of underwhelmed with BB, but I think that was because it’s such a quiet book and I was expecting it to be louder. You might like it, though! Doesn’t come out ’til September, I think.

  2. My ratings system exists but only in tags. I don’t give it a lot of attention, and when I go back to old reviews I am far more likely to find that I want to revise my rating downward than upward. That’s how I know it’s unreliable. I should just abolish it (but I can’t, somehow).

    1. I think we had a discussion about wanting to revise ratings downward before. 😀 That’s partly what made me start holding off rating something until at least a day later– so I’d have less instances of wanting to revise things.

  3. I think my ratings have stayed fairly consistent over the years, but a few months ago I started including a small explanation alongside each one so’s I could reduce some of the confusion surrounding them. Before that, I’d regularly receive comments on 3.5-star reviews from people who were sorry I hadn’t liked the book–even though my review made it pretty clear that I enjoyed it quite a bit. 3.5 stars is my “really liked it” rating, so I now include that with each review. Ditto the brief explanations for all my other ratings.

    I get the feeling my part of the world uses a different rating system that some other places. When I started rating books, I based my system off the movie reviews in my local paper. There, 3 stars means something’s good; worth watching, but not, perhaps, the most stellar movie in history. I get the feeling that a lot of other folks read 3 stars to mean it’s not even worth a look.

    1. That’s interesting about 3 stars meaning “worth watching” where you are! Here I think it’s sort of assumed that a 3 star movie is something you’d only watch if you were desperate for entertainment and had nothing better to do. Sort of like a “meh” feeling. (2 and 1 star movies are basically left to rot.) I wonder why that is?

  4. I resisted ratings for a while because I was concerned people interpret it differently and think what I say about a book is more important than what I rate it. But I succumbed for reader convenience, though like Jenny (above) I use them as a tag. My rating system is similar to yours except three stars for me, like with Memory (above), is good – just not great. I have little explanations for mine as well and use half stars.
    At Goodreads I usually round up if I use a half star on my blog but I have seen people rate a book 4 stars but in their review say they didn’t like it, barely finished it etc. So I take star ratings with a grain of salt.

    1. I actually moved ratings to the bottom of my reviews because I was worried people would only see my rating (which used to be at the top) and then skip reading the actual post. I figure if it’s down at the bottom they’d at least have to skim?

  5. Uhg, this is why I don’t rate books on my blog–because when I rate something 3 stars on Goodreads, there’s always someone who thinks I didn’t like it.

    Basically 3 stars is average for me. 2 stars means I started skimming at some point and 1 means I didn’t finish it. But sometimes I’ll average a book, like if the beginning was a-mazing and I skimmed through the second half, I might give it 3 stars.

    In the end, there’s really no way ratings can be “consistent,” anyway, because you don’t judge all books on the same playing field. I expect a lot more out of a 600-page classic than I do from a 100-page novella. That’s just reality.

    1. Definitely agree with your last paragraph, there. And I think now that I’ve got a decent ratings guideline set up, I’m not going to over-worry about it. I’ve already spent two-something years worrying about ratings, which is way too long for something so minor.

  6. I never rated books until I started using goodreads about a month ago. I go with similar to what you say: 3 is I like it. 4 really liked it. 5 I loved it and will reread it. I do feel bad about the less than 3 ratings, but really its not personal, its just my reaction to the book.

    1. Goodreads actually helped me fix up my ratings, because while I hate that they don’t have half-stars I do like the way their ratings are. Also ditto about less than 3 star ratings– I’ve rated a couple books 2 or less since I switched over, and I still get that little guilty twinge.

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