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  • Writer's pictureKara C White

My 4 Star Problem ⭐

Do you use a star rating system for books?

We see star rating systems everywhere, and they're a quick, visual way to record your thoughts about a book or see how other readers felt about a popular title. Goodreads lets readers rate books and displays an aggregate rating from 1 to 5 stars. The Storygraph lets readers give a book quarter or half stars for an even more precise rating.

While I don't rely on these star ratings to decide if I should read a particular title, I do look at them and often find them helpful, if only to see if my impressions of a book match that of other readers.

I also use a star rating system for myself in my reading journal, dutifully awarding stars whenever I make an entry. But lately I've felt like this system isn't working for me as well as I would like-- and the problem is me.

The five star system is designed to be objective.

  • ⭐: Didn't like it

  • ⭐⭐: OK

  • ⭐⭐⭐: Liked it

  • ⭐⭐⭐⭐: Really liked it

  • ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐: Amazing 

But the truth is that different readers may have different understandings of what each star rating means to them. The above scale may not be the way you would award stars to a book. Some reserve a 5 star rating for only a few rare titles. Others will give 5 star ratings more frequently. Some readers base their assessments of a book on their pure enjoyment or emotional connection to the story. Others are rating how well they think the book was written from a more technical standpoint. Suddenly the system is more subjective than objective.


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When looking back through my reading journal, I notice something right away. I'm alarmingly consistent-- but not in a good way. I've given a majority of the books I've read 4 stars. Now on the one hand, this seems great! It suggests I've read lots of books that's I've really liked. While I am pretty happy with my reading life, I don't think I should have given ALL of these titles 4 stars. Looking back through my journal entries, I can remember plenty of books that I thought were just OK compared to some of my other 4 star titles. The rating system loses its meaning if everything is rated the same.

Also, I've given no 1 star ratings and just one 2 star rating-- and that was for a book I remember that I truly disliked. Why didn't I just give it the 1 star I thought it deserved?

Now that I've noticed this system isn't working for me the way it should, I can make some changes. I think I need to reflect a bit more on just what each star means to me and what factors I'm considering when awarding stars. I also need to give myself permission to award fewer stars to books I enjoy less. The authors won't see my reading journal so I won't hurt anyone's feelings!

I'm not ready to give up on star ratings entirely, but I do need to apply them differently to my reading life.

Do you use the star rating system to review books you've read? What works for you? Any tips you think I should try? Let me know in the comments! I'd love to learn from you.

And best wishes for further 5 star reading!


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1 Comment

Katie Schaefer Lawrence
Katie Schaefer Lawrence
May 17

I usually only rate books that I read on my Kindle app. I only rate the books I finish. The vast majority of books by my favorite authors get 5 stars almost every time. I usually leave a three or four star rating if the story was good but lacking the same punch/emotional connection. I have left two star ratings for books that I finish but had horrible editing and/or were sorely lacking in plot development. Anything I would have given a 1 star I typically don't finish, so 1-star ratings are extremely rare for me.

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