I stole this idea from Em @ Pretty Lil Book Blog – for which my thanks – but I’ve also talked about it at my book club, so I decided to try and get it down on paper, especially as personal taste is really hard to quantify.
I’m a fairly hard nut to crack in that most of what I read gets 3 stars. Few books get 4 or 5 stars. I’d have to check, but I suspect 2 or 1 star(s) are handed out on an even more rare basis. Lately I’ve been thinking that the 3 star bundle are a very mixed batch and I really should do something about that but, with only 5 stars to work with, it’s tricky. As a novice writer, I find it almost impossible to hand out less than 3 stars, unless a book is truly gut-wrenchingly awful, or written by a hugely established writer to whom my review is going to do absolutely no harm.
To add a little more detail (and some visuals, you know, just ‘cos …)
To qualify for the full 5 stars, I must have found a book exceptional, truly excellent. If I’m being entirely honest, I don’t think I could give 5 stars to a book I didn’t like. To make it into this category, a book has to be near perfect in my eyes – although the emotions it causes can emcompass everything from hysterical laughter to sadness, even distress. Some examples of my 5 star-ers include the classics “Pere Goriot” & “To Kill a Mockingbird”, Man Booker winners “The Narrow Road to the Deep North” & “The Luminaries”, as well as some less expected examples such as “The Moon is A Balloon”, “World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie Apocalypse” and “Cocktail Hour under the Tree of Forgetfulness”. A mixed bag there, I think you’ll agree.
For me to give 4 out of 5 stars would mean this is still a very good book. But, it’s possible that I didn’t like it, or found an aspect of it a trifle irritating, or it just didn’t blow me away. It’s hard to quantify always, especially as it’s also for those books which I feel deserve to be lifted out of that massive 3 star group. So in the classics category we have “Doctor Zhivago” & “The Great Gatsby”, award winners “The Shipping News”, “A Brief History of Seven Killings” and both Hilary Mantel’s Man Booker winners. But there’s also two from the Harry Potter series, a couple of Tom Clancy thrillers, one or two from favourite authors Jasper Fforde & Marian Keyes.
I give 3 out of 5 stars to books that I’ve liked and I’ve found well-written. This category can include everything from pretty decent to good. Some are lighter than others, in either subject matter or style. A few teeter on the edge of going up or down, but didn’t quite make it. Pretty much everything I’ve ever read from the pen of Dick Francis fits in here – they’re my comfort reads, Anne Tyler features regularly, as does the “Rivers of London” series. Other examples are “The Miniaturist”, “Small Island”, “The Time Traveller’s Wife”, “Murder on the Orient Express”, a couple each of Robert Harris & John Le Carré, “The Wind Up Bird Chronicle”, even Pulitzer Prizewinner “The Goldfinch”.
To get 2 out of 5 stars, the book has to have committed some sort of sin – be written badly, contain annoyingly obvious incorrect fact(s), be horribly trite and stereotype-laden, be disappointing offerings from good authors, or have been hugely over-hyped. Examples include two from a recent Man Booker shortlist “We are all Completely Beside Ourselves” & “To Rise Again at a Decent Hour”, bestsellers “The Alchemist” & “Girl on a Train”, as well as the earlier books from the Harry Potter series.
To get 1 out of 5 stars, the book has had to be beyond the pale – in my opinion. Examples of this rarity are “Heart Shaped Box”, “The Secret”, later Jack Ryan offerings from Tom Clancy and “Three Cups of Tea”.
There are authors who’ve featured in multiple sectors – an extreme would be Tom Clancy who appears in every sector from 1 to 4 stars, whereas Haruki Murakami & David Mitchell only cover 3 to 5. Dick Francis stands alone as an author whose work has been steadily rated (as a 3) and to whom I return over and over again. Generally I judge on a book-by-book basis.
In general terms, my tastes tend away from detailed gore and towards nuanced emotion, away from horror and towards wit, away from action-packed scenarios and towards more character-driven work. But, I reserve the right to change my mind when I read something I really like!
How about you all out there in reader land? What is your rating system? Need to disagree with me over any of my examples?
© Debra Carey, 2017