Newsletter 1

What Does A Goodreads Three Star Rating Mean to You?

Tiffani Willis

Staff Writer

Tiffani C. Willis spends as much as time as she is able to traveling the universe by book and sometimes by, plane, train, boat, or car. When she’s not off on an adventure in a faraway land or trying to solve a mystery like a detective, Tiffani uses her powers as an academic librarian to help students survive school as they learn how to do research and write research papers. She spends her spare time rambling, raving, and ranting about books on her blog Passport Books, camping out in bookstores, and obsessively watching HGTV, usually with a cup of coffee or a glass of wine nearby. Twitter: @PassportBooks

I am an avid user of Goodreads, including its rating system. Between friends, podcasts, Book Riot’s Goodreads page, bookstagram, Litsy, and other bookish outlets, I am rarely short of suggestions for new books read. The hard part is deciding which of the suggestions to add to my TBR. To help I turn to Goodreads, skimming the reviews and the star ratings. A book with a three star rating out of five stars is one I would consider adding to my TBR. However, it turns out not everyone thinks three stars is good enough.

Not too long ago I was a listening to a podcast during which two friends discussed books they had recently read. One of the hosts of the podcast gave a book that she said she liked three out of five Goodreads stars. The second host said it didn’t sound like a good book if her co-host was only giving it 3 stars. To the second host three stars signaled a bad book and she would be disinclined to read it. While the title of the book the hosts were discussing has escaped my memory, the comment about three stars stayed with me. I started wondering about not only how and why people rate books the way they do but also how people interpret those ratings.

To me a three-star rating signifies a good, solid book. In fact, three stars are my default rating. Most of the books I read are threes, which feels right statistically speaking. Not every book can be the best book ever. If it did, the word “best” wouldn’t mean much. For the same reason, every book can’t be the worst either. A three is middle ground. Three stars mean it wasn’t spectacular but it was good. It might have even been pretty good, but Goodreads doesn’t allow half stars so at a minimum it was good.  The book was very much worth my time and I am glad to have read it. It is a book that I would feel confident recommending to others.

Books that come into my home go through a sort of assembly line. First, a book goes into the unread pile. After reading it, either a book finds a home on my bookshelf or it ends up in the donation pile. A three-star book usually finds a home on my bookshelf.

One star ratings are rare. Only books I truly did not like receive such a rating. They make rare appearances in my reading life because I’m pretty good at knowing what I don’t like. While plenty of books have disappointed me, it is rare that I pick up a book that I dislike so much as to give it one star. A book that disappoints is more likely to get two stars. Two stars mean I had major problems with the book but it had some merit. I will not reread a two-star book or recommend it. Nor will I keep it. Two-star and one-star rated books go straight into the donation pile. (Maybe in someone else’s eyes it will be a four-star book.)

Four stars mean a book was spectacular and I enjoyed it immensely. Maybe it was the writing style or the careful plotting. Or perhaps the characters were written so well they seemed like people I knew. Whatever it was, four stars signals that a book was substantially better than average. If I had to translate stars to a grade, four stars would equal an A- (or maybe a B+ if Goodreads allowed half stars).

The difference between four and five stars is completely subjective. Of course, it is all subjective but fives are especially subjective in that only favorite books receive five stars. Five-star books affected me deeply and changed me in a profound way. They showed me something new or showed me something old but made it feel new and different. Five-star books feel as if the author wrote them especially for me. A four-star book may be a great book but a five-star book is a book that will never leave me. A five-star book is a book I will read again and again. A five-star book is not just a book I enjoyed; it is a book I treasure and adore.

Star ratings are not the only factor in my decision as to whether to add a book to my TBR. I also read the reviews people write. The reviews are one of my favorite parts of Goodreads. Still, how and why readers rate and interpret ratings intrigues me.

Do you consider three stars a good rating or do you skip past any book with less than four stars? What do three stars mean to you? Let me know in the comments.