Monday, December 16, 2013

What those stars mean

I am planning to do more reviewing on this blog in the upcoming year. I find that reviewing books helps me to remember what I liked and didn't like about a book, and gives me insight into future choices. I do review a few of my books on Goodreads, but not enough.

I do, however, give most of them a star rating. I've thought about those ratings a lot. I mean, any system that allows me to give Middlemarch the same four stars that I gave to the last James Patterson book I read requires some explaining.

So here, for anyone who cares, is the scoop.

Five Stars: I don't give five stars very often. To get five stars a book has to be very well-written. It has to be a classic or something that I think is likely a future classic. There has to be something about it that lifts it above the ordinary. And I have to have enjoyed it. For this reason, The Brother's Karamazov, the excellence of which I can recognize, is not--for me--a five star book. Off the top of my head, Remains of the Day; Kristin Lavransdatter; and The Ocean at the End of the Lane are among the more recent books that I've given five stars to. I will not struggle to remember a five-star book a year after I read it.

Four Stars: The aforementioned James Patterson does not even have the possibility of being a five star book. The highest it is eligible for is four. I have two kinds of four star books. The first is the sort that Middlemarch or My Antonia represent. They are very good books and I enjoyed them. But they are not books that, when I finished, I hated to leave behind. They didn't leave me thinking, "Wow," but they were well worth reading.
The second kind of four star book is the James Patterson kind, but few of his merit the four. These are the predictable books, often in a series, by a popular author: Michael Connelly, the Kellermans, Agatha Christie; Brad Thor, etc. Among these sorts of books there is a huge range of objective quality, but if they got four stars it means that for what they are, they were very good. It doesn't mean that that last J.D. Robb or Kristin Hannah are of the same quality as Nicholas Nickleby or the Moonstone. Obviously. It just means that they were very enjoyable.

Three Stars: I gave a lot of books three stars this year. I am guessing that there are some books that have gotten four in the past that would have gotten three this year. Three star books are the classics that I like well enough, but not all that well. They are the series books that are decent, but not among the best. A lot of the lighter non-fiction that I read ends up here.

Two stars: Two star books are mostly readable, but flawed. It seems like, at some point, a lot of the authors that write lots of books about the same character(s) will start to slide into two-star territory. These aren't horrible books, but there are often issues with the writing. Or the writing is okay, but the story is just not clicking. Sometimes they drag. Or never really quite get where they are going.

One star: These are invariably unfinished by me. Usually they are badly written enough that I just can't stand to continue.

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