The Convoluted Calculus of Rating Books

“Your ratings confuse me,” said a friend when we discussed a certain Very Popular Novel with a Very Vocal Fandom. I had just told her that I didn’t care much for it, that actually I thought it read like an episode of Gilmore Girls as written by Nicholas Sparks. “But you gave it four stars!” she protested.

Yes, yes I did. And there was a reason.

Here’s a glimpse of the not at all serious but still somewhat accurate thought-processes that go into my assignment of stars:

5 stars
“OMG, I loved this book. I’ll probably never ever stop thinking about it and I don’t want to and oh man when can I Eternal Sunshine away the memory of reading it so I can read it again afresh?!”

– or –

“Oh shit, I was supposed to read this in grad school, wasn’t I? Did I have a conversation about this with someone recently?”

“My friend loves this book and if she happens to see my rating, I want her to think I loved it, too, even though maybe under normal circumstances I would’ve given it three stars. Because she cares what I think, obviously, and it super matters that we have exactly the same feelings about everything all the time.”

4 stars
“I won’t be shutting up about this for a while, so brace yourselves: fangirling is coming.”

– or –

“Everyone else loves this book and someone is going to give me shit about the fact that I didn’t so I’m giving it twice as many stars as I normally would have to avoid having the ‘how dare you dislike this book I love?’ conversation for the umpty-leventh time this week.”

“I think I remember reading part of this in undergrad that one semester when I took five lit classes and my final semester of Spanish and almost lost my scholarship. I probably didn’t finish it, but the discussion in class was really good so FOUR STARS.”

3 stars
“Not quite MEH but almost.”

– or –

“This is a perfectly non-offensive rating that no one will question. I can always say that I would’ve given it 3 1/2 but there are no half-stars in internet book ratings.”

“Someone I really can’t stand loved this book and I don’t want to be associated with that so BAM: 3 stars.”

2 stars
“I didn’t like it but still felt compelled to finish it. And maybe the sequels, but maybe not.”

– or –

“I didn’t finish this book. A dental exam complete with mean-spirited flossing would have been a more pleasant experience.”

“I might have finished this one out of obligation if I hadn’t had seven other library books out at the same time.”

1 star


Do you like podcasts like This American Life, RadioLab, or Planet Money? Annotated is kinda like those, but for books. Go here to find out more, or click the image below: