Ah, goodreads. That pandora’s box of book reviews. One peek down that rabbit hole and you suddenly find yourself tumbling through the opinions of people you don’t know and probably don’t care much about, and yet you find yourself giving weight to the ratings they give the books you’re looking at. Sadly, I find myself skimming through way too many reviews before I read a book. This is a sad byproduct of an even sadder reality – without a library, I have to buy every book I want to read. And if I’m going to pay for it, it better be good!
Of course, this is tricky. Because everyone has a different definition of what it means to give a book a 5-star rating. And when I started with goodreads all those years ago, I had to figure out how I would rate books on this 5-star scale. And how does one go about that, exactly? I mean, I can at least say I’d give Harry Potter 5 stars, hands down (or ten stars if that were available – heck, give Harry Potter its own galaxy of stars!). So if we have Harry Potter on one end of the scale, what’s on the other end of the scale? Books I didn’t finish? Books I won’t even pick up? Books I finished but wished I hadn’t? And then once you get that sorted, what about all those stars in the middle? On a scale of didn’t-finish to Harry Potter, where do I put In Defense of Food? I mean, I loved that one enough that I seriously changed what I ate, but let’s be honest – it’s no Harry Potter. That’s the kind of book you read once, maybe twice for a quick review, whereas Harry Potter you reread every summer. So what, do they both get five stars? There are a lot of other books I enjoyed a lot more thoroughly than In Defense of Food so should they all get higher ratings?
For a while, that’s how I thought of it. 5 stars were reserved for books like Harry Potter and the Stormlight Archives and I Capture the Castle. Not many books got that coveted slot. So I ended up having all these books I’d rated as 3-stars. But I’d look through the titles and feel like it just wasn’t right. These were books that I’d genuinely liked, books I’d recommended to people, books that had challenged the way I thought, books I’d related to and laughed at and cried over. And I gave them a measly 3 stars???
I had to come up with a better system.
And here’s what I’ve got:
I take each book in the context of itself. It is its only competition – not Harry Potter, not The Devil Wears Prada, or Bringing Up Bebe. Because you know what? I’m just automatically not going to like a memoir as much as a novel. But if I’m choosing to read a memoir, then I can’t just be automatically bumping it down two stars just because of what it is. It’s like that quote attributed to Einstein: “If you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” A memoir may not be able to climb a metaphorical tree, but it’s sure got its metaphorical swimming strokes down! No more judging book-fish by their ability to climb book-trees.
And I feel like my system is working. For me, anyway. I can’t say this will work for everyone, but I can look back on the ratings I’ve given books and think “yeah, that feels right.”
And I mean, as a book nerd, is there anything more I could possible hope for (besides, like, free books for life)?