Thursday Thoughts - Discussion about books

Thursday Thoughts is a weekly feature on Ashley’s Blog Ok, Let’s Read. Each thursday, Ashley would open a discussion related to reading. This week, the topic is “rating systems”.

“Do you use a star rating system when you read/review books? What are your opinions on star rating systems? Are there any other forms of rating books that you use? How do you think rating systems could be improved? Along that same line, do you see any problems with the way Goodreads’ rating systems work?”

Feel free to join and/or check other people’s opinion on Ashley’s post!

I used to review video games on a previous blog. I decided right at the beginning to not use ratings. I thought you couldn’t summarize a game into a 0 to 5 stars mark and that if you really wanted to know about a game, you should read the whole article and you would get a good picture.

Well, I changed my mind.

When I started Maple Books, I decided to use GoodReads rating system, except I also use half points if I need to. First reason was to keep it homogeneous between my GoodReads profile and my blog, but more importantly… I just needed a rating system.

A rating system doesn’t tell you much about a book, a game, a movie or a product but it is useful for two things: first, it’s a short and effective way to advise people to stay away from it (low mark) or get it (high mark). Second, it allows you to sort reviews by rating. Put together, it’s a necessary feature on a blog. Why? Because people browse blogs and websites. There is so much content in them that you need a way to quickly sort it: visitors might be interested to check what were your all-time favourite books, but who cares what you hated four years ago? A rating system can show a list based on your ratings, which reflect in a quick way how you liked a book.

However, I still think a rating is a huge simplification and can’t replace an (even succinct) article. The biggest issue about rating is that they seem to put on the same level books that are obviously not. For instance, I believe H.G Wells and Jules Vernes are some of the best Science-Fiction writers of all time. However, I loved Harry Potter and would rate it 5/5 while I might give only 4/5 to some of H.G. Wells and Jules Verne’s works just because they got a bit dated and thus less exciting. Does that mean I think Harry Potter is better than, let’s say, The Invisible Man? No. It just means it’s impossible to put classics and contemporary books in the same basket when it comes to rating. We don’t judge them by the same criteria: for instance, originality is a huge criteria for a new release while for a classic, it would be its timelessness (or how the book still makes good points decades or centuries after it was written). Rating fails at giving perspective.

So, I still don’t really like ratings but I have to admit they are a necessary tool on a blog, or any platform featuring tons of reviews. They are a massive simplification of our feelings about a book but they still give the best way to sort the good and the bad in a long list.

Did you ever feel that one of your rating would be misleading without an explanation?