Quantifying Enjoyment – My Uneasy Relationship with Counting Stars

I love looking for ideas about what to read online.  I love lists, and Tumblr-created infographics, and websites manned by savvy librarians or passionate booksellers.  I love the rabbit hole of curiosities the Internet can be, and how it can show me things I’d never seen or noticed once and then forgotten.  Good Reads is a daily website for me, both at work and at home.

But I’m not sure how I feel about rating everything in 4 stars, or 5 stars, or however many stars or thumbs up graphics I’m given in a particular context.

As a person giving said stars, I’m almost always unsatisfied.  Three is never quite right – I’m always thinking to myself, really I mean maybe 3 and half, not quite fantastic, but still really enjoyable.  And then I wonder if what I mean by three stars is the same as someone else’s three stars, and on, and on. I know the easiest answer would be to actually review each book I read when add it, say what I really mean to say without relying on the ranking, but that’s time I don’t always seem to have.

I sometimes wish I could create my own ranking system, by adjective, in a handy drop-down menu on my booklist:

  • Book of Pure Wonder
  • Splendid
  • Really, Really Good
  • Really Good
  • Good!
  • Enjoyable
  • Intriguing (for books that I’m just not sure about yet…)

The only thing I’m ever perfectly comfortable with is when I give a book five stars, because it was splendid, amazing, wonderful, fantastic, and I want everyone to know immediately that they should read it too. But not every book I like (or even love) makes me feel that way, and that middle range of enjoyment is much harder to express

Also, because I use a lot of math at work, I tend to automatically turn them in to percentages in my head, which then become letter grades, and then I’m thinking to myself “I really don’t mean that was a C+ sort of book…”

One or two star books I don’t even put on something like Good Reads.  I’m not interested in joining a negative conversation – just because a book wasn’t for me doesn’t mean it’s not for all sorts of other people, and I’d always rather talk about what I like than what I don’t.

In the end, I’m not anti-stars.  They are, without doubt, a handy thing for sorting out information, for coalescing opinion, for highlighting something unexpected happening for a particularly wonderful (or unexpectedly disappointing) book.  That book by an author you’ve never heard of garnering five star rankings and gif-filled reviews on Good Reads? That’s something to watch out for. But it’s all more than the sum of its stars.

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