*Note: this post was inspired/influenced by any number of discussions other bloggers have had about ratings, and in particular Steph Su Reads's posts here and here.
You may have noticed I don't give 5-star ratings very often. In fact, it is quite a rare occurrence for me. But I know some authors find 3 or 3.5 star reviews disappointing, so I thought I'd explain my thought processes regarding ratings.
To start with: I may not hand out 5 stars like they're going out of style, but I am even less generous with 1-star ratings. In fact, I've never given a book just 1 star on this blog. I think I'd have to be actively appalled/offended/disgusted/horrified by its content in order for that to happen. Usually I can find some redeeming quality in a book, even if overall I didn't enjoy it, and that will bump up the rating.
I guess I see the distribution of book quality kind of like a normal distribution.
|Ones that make me look like this.|
|Ones that make me look like this.|
And then you've got the majority of the books in-between: not bad, but not the best book you've ever read. Those are the 3 and 3.5 and 4-star books.
Bloggers differ in how they approach rating a book. Some people are fine with giving a 5-star rating even if they found several aspects to criticize. Some might only give 5 stars to books that have the "re-readability factor." Personally, for me to give 5 stars to a book, it has to wow me. Maybe it's tackled an issue in a completely original way. Perhaps it's a stand-out example of a story within a certain sub-genre. Maybe there is absolutely nothing I can think of that would improve the novel.
Because let's face it: if I went around giving 5 stars to loads of books, the 5-star rating would quickly lose its impact. It wouldn't be that extra star beyond the (still very good) 4-star rating. And I think I would soon start having trouble distinguishing between what qualifies as a 4-star read vs. a 5-star one.
5 Stars: Outstanding! Buy it!
Not every book stands out enough to be "outstanding".
Interestingly, for me a 5-star rating does not always correspond to a belongs-on-my-favourites-shelf book. Sometimes, but not inevitably. I think there are likely plenty of books I consider my favourites that would get 4 or 4.5 stars, and perhaps even a few books I would "objectively" give 5 stars that aren't among my favourites. So just because I give a book 4 stars doesn't mean I didn't truly enjoy it! It just means there wasn't that "it factor" (for lack of a better term) to elevate it to 5 stars.
I'd also like to point out that books I gave (or would have given) 5 stars when I first started this blog are not necessarily ones I would now give the same rating. I was a lot less particular and critical a reader back in 2010! This doesn't mean I don't still love those books. I just suspect that were I to read them again, examining them critically, I'd probably catch sight of more flaws or areas that could be improved.
The Goose Girl and Crown Duel are a couple that might fall into this category...although it's impossible to tell, since I suspect my view of them will be forever tinted with nostalgic affection!
In conclusion: 5 stars is not my default rating. Authors, your book has to earn it. And because I do read so critically, I keep that 5-star rating in reserve for the ones that strike me as the most exceptional. Kind of like giving out the "class valedictorian" award. So if your book's gotten a 3 or 3.5 or 4-star rating from me, there's no need to worry — you may not be that one kid in the class getting the elusive 100%, but you're still bringing home good grades.