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Reading With Stars In Your Eyes: How Goodreads Changed How I Read

There’s nothing like the feeling of starting a new book. It’s so full of possibility! Scanning the first few lines, you can almost immediately discover what you think of the writing style, but the rest of the reading is still wide open possibility. Will it make you laugh? Cry? Put it down in boredom at page 46? There’s no way to tell for sure until you really dive into it.

Still, I find myself deciding almost immediately upon starting a book whether I’m going to like it or now. Sometimes, the style is so beautiful, so lightly humorous, so engaging that I know I’m going to really like the book, even if not much happens. If a sentence grates on me, though, it makes for an immediate bad first impression, and I am skeptical about the book’s ability to draw me in.

How this has manifested for me is that I will find myself, completely unintentionally, mentally rating the book I’m reading according to Goodreads stars. By the first page, I’ve already guessed what my future rating will be. “Yep, this seems like a 4 star book,” “I love this! It’s going to be 5 stars, I just know it!” or “I don’t know, this seems like a 3 star book… I’ll read a few more chapters to see if it’s even worth finishing.”

As I continue, I’ll reevaluate my rating based on new information: “Hmm, I actually really like this new character! Maybe I can bump it up to 4 stars. I’ll give it another chance” or “Ugh, was that a sexist joke that went completely unchallenged? Well, there’s no way it’s getting 5 stars now.” With a book that I’m unsure about, this can go back and forth within a few pages, which makes my mental argument quite distracting.

I don’t know when the Goodreads stars system seeped into my subconscious, but now it’s a fundamental part of how I experience reading. It’s frustrating, because I’ve always found the 5 star rating system to be so reductive. I end up rating the majority of books I read 4 stars, which kind of renders the system meaningless, doesn’t it?

In fact, I think the reason I started rating as I read is because I was having so much difficulty deciding on a star after I finished a book. I wanted to rate it so that I could have some rough estimate of what I thought of the book (I forget books very quickly, so it’s good to have a record), but distilling the complex reading experience into that simple of a grading was tricky. Now, I am pretty confident about that decision once I’ve finished the book, but it comes at the price of distracting me while I read, and in possibly erasing some of the nuance of the books I’m reading by slotting them into such simple categories.

It’s not all bad, though. The upshot of this habit is that I’ve found myself thinking “Well, I don’t love the writing style, and it used this racist trope, so there’s no way I’m rating this higher than 3 stars when I finish it.” Realizing that there was no way it could possibly achieve 4 stars or 5 stars, no matter what it did in the rest of the book, made it obvious that there was no point in finishing that book. I usually have trouble putting aside a book I’m not enjoying, but this system makes it a little easier to cut my losses.

Am I the only one who reads with stars in their eyes? Or does anyone else find themselves rating their books as they read them? Let me know!