I recently changed most of my book ratings on GoodReads to no stars at all. When I originally started listing the books I’ve read on GoodReads, I did it to keep track of my personal reading and connect with book club people for recommendations. Once fellow authors started friending me, I started thinking about how they might feel if they ever saw a lower ranking I’d done of any of their books.
Plenty of smart people say not to worry about reviews. Some people don’t even read them at all. I wouldn’t say I worry about them, but it is a bummer to read a disparaging review or to come across a low rating of one’s book (On GoodReads and elsewhere) without any context. Two out of five stars? Really? I don’t give any weight to anonymous social media reviews since I assume those are people with some sort of an ax to grind…someone who’s having a bad day, someone who wants to be a writer, someone who doesn’t like any books about talking animals, etc. But I admit it gives me pause to find my books ranked low by people I know. If it’s a so-so review, I have to wonder, “Why bother pointing out your lukewarm feelings for a fellow author’s book?” Have they never been on the receiving end of SoWhatIsm?
I had a conversation with one ranker who says that in her scheme, a three star book is a good book. When I pointed out that 3 points out of 5 usually means exactly average, she suggested that expecting 5 stars is akin to grade inflation — expecting As for C work. I disagree — for me, 5 stars doesn’t mean a book is perfect, but that I really think a lot of people would like it, or a few people would like it a whole lot. Plus, when a ranker who gives most books 3 stars gives her own books 5, the “three stars is a good review” argument seems disingenuous.
Most of the books I list as read are books I like, with a few exceptions. I have weighed in with negative reviews of uber-popular books (reasoning that the book has already found its intended audience), and have ranked classics that I didn’t love. But I decided not to do the star thing on my reviews anymore. It’s all or nothing. Who gets five stars? Books I want to promote. My own books and good friends’ books. I am blunt about this because I think it’s fair play: positive reviews and rankings can help books. I’ll also give five stars to books I simply loved, or books I liked a whole lot and which I think deserve a little extra buzz. I figure most people go to sites like that for recommendations rather than warnings, so if I think a book wasn’t worth the time, I don’t list it. If a book is on my GoodReads list without comment or ranking, it doesn’t mean it sucks. It means I’ve read it and think others would like it.