Posted by: Mish | June 21, 2010

Ratings, Reviews, Relativity

Reading, seeing a play, or taking in any kind of art form isn’t an exact science. Because they’re expressive of one’s thoughts and reactions, ratings are subjective. While many reviewers utilize a point system, Matt rates books as Read, Skim, or Toss, and Buy or Borrow. It works for them. I prefer using verbal ratings from “absolutely fabulous” to “horrible”, usually in a review’s closing, so that my rhyme and reason is (hopefully) understood. Someone may like something for reasons I didn’t or vice versa. Inspired by Confucius, A Different View is about my favourite painting in an art show for an artist whose works I know extensively. Those who weren’t as familiar with them or didn’t like abstract art reacted differently. Whether rating within genres or against someone’s other works, it’s all relative.

“Everything has its beauty but not everyone sees it.” ~Confucius

One of the most stressful times for a theatre company is knowing a reviewer is in the house and having to wait to see how many stars and how worthy the reviewer deemed a production. That association is part of why I only use the 5-point system for book sites like Goodreads where it’s basically standard and my brief reviews of short stories, which are most often read within an anthology I’m reviewing as a whole. I keep a spreadsheet of shorts I’ve read so the points provide an at-a-glance summation of thoughts in regard to construction and plot. If I puzzle over why I rated a story two instead of five I’ll read the review.

Thoughts and feelings about anything can change through time. One may not have liked broccoli as a child but love it as an adult. Tastes change, it’s part of life. Both the initial reaction and the opinion formed years later are equally legitimate. I occasionally change my ratings on Goodreads, but leave my reviews alone because I like seeing my thoughts at that time. If applicable, Amanda adds an editor’s note to a past review. I may adopt that idea. Blogging is akin to keeping a journal and I agree with Iris that it’s a growing experience. Most importantly, it’s supposed to be enjoyable and fun.

What do you think about ratings and reviews? If you have a system, what is it?



  1. That is a great quote by Confucius. I am going to make note of it.

    Rating and reviews for me have been a growing experience for sure. Reviews is a word I use but really it is me writing down my thoughts about a book, and because, for me, I do look at my blogging as a journal of sorts, I have decided to drop ratings on my posts, but I do rate on my bookmark. Why on my bookmark? Because that is where I list every book I read or attempted therefore the rating gives me a quick indication if I liked the book or not…from there I could re-read my review for a refresher if I choose to do so. It is also for me only to see, so I understand that the number I give is truly a ballpark of good, like, outstanding…

    So, while I did use ratings on my “reviews” at one point, I realized; ratings are very subjective to how I felt about the book at the time of the read. Writing my thoughts down should give me (in the future when I re-read my “reviews”) and my readers a clearer idea of how I felt about the book than any rating could give and as long as I accomplished that then I am good to go. Besides, many times I felt wishy-washy about 4, 4.5, 5…too much effort needed to discern accurately. It wasn’t like comparing apples to apples, so that makes it difficult as well.

    One online caveat, I do rate on Goodreads because that is how it works there, but I find it hard to do so unless I am real clear in my head that a book is a 3, 4 or 5. Over there, most of my books, it seems, wind up being a 4. I am picky about giving a book a 5…too high of standards?? Maybe and that is another reason why I dropped ratings on my posts.

  2. Ratings are very subjective, as you both point out, and I personally am generally only writing a review based on my experience with the story at the moment. My 5 star rating system then reflects the exact same thing. Opinions definitely do change over time and on occasion I’ve gone back and done an editorial note if I’ve re-read the book or had some profound shift in feeling about it, but that is extremely rare.

    I have a love-hate relationship with my rating system. I have people who like to see the number right away, because as they get to know me they know right away what that number means in terms of where they should rank the book as a possible TBR for them. Others have pointed out the very true fact that the majority of books I read sit in the 4-5 star, out of 5, range and so the numbers can be kind of pointless. This is especially true because I tend to be very good about selecting books that I am going to like and so it is rare that I have a negative experience with a book. It is rare that I even have a blah experience because generally, if something isn’t lighting my fire right away, I quit reading it, thus no review.

    I am seriously considering ditching the number system, but we’ll see. I’ve went back and forth with the idea of using some word system or what have you and sometimes feel that becomes too much of a gimmick as well.

    I just don’t know.

  3. Another reason why I ditched my ratings was because very few books were rated under 4, and I decided to no longer review those books that I did not like which wiped out most chances of a book being rated below 4.

    I try to write an ending sentence that quickly states what I think of the book, but even those are starting to become rote. I guess that is what happens though when one likes the books one reviews. (shrug) (is there a smiley for a shrugging motion?)

  4. Ibeeeg: I love quotes. I like the quote you have on your page about 4 things that don’t come back.

    The bookmark’s a neat idea. I agree, sometimes a half or full point differentiation seems too difficult. Nothing wrong with high standards. If I see a book you rated a 5, I’d know it met X, Y, Z criteria to get that and may be something I really want to look into, versus a 3 which I might look into. May I add you to my Goodreads buddy list?

    Taking into consideration language, which can have its limitations, and the amount of books reviewed, it’s unsurprising if endings and even reviews seem or become repetitive and routine. It’s more preferable than constant numbers. If it were 1984 we’d be using good and ungood, but we wouldn’t be sharing thoughts about books.

    I think there’s a shrug smiley but I don’t know it off hand.

  5. Carl: Most of what I read equates to fours and fives with a handful of threes, and a few ones and twos. I have a pretty solid idea of what suits my tastes.

    I rarely pay attention to people’s numbers, but I prefer reading about thoughts anyway. Basically any rating system is going to be gimmicky and rote after awhile.

  6. You know my thoughts on rating. I think your system of “verbal ratings” works very well.

  7. Thank you. The theme stirred up some good conversation all around.

  8. Although I admit to taking an extremely high or low star book/film review in consideration, I do not base my decision to go read/see it myself on that. I like subjective thoughts on it best, provided that the writer explains her-/himself (of course it depends who wrote the review too). So your way is my way 😉 I do not use a rating system either but try to put my thoughts and feelings into words.

    I would like to add that I prefer a short impression of your (or anyone’s) thoughts at the beginning of a post, seducing (or even urging) me to read on — or not. There is little time, and lots to read so one has to screen quickly 😉 Explanation and elaboration can follow.

    Of course Matt’s system is very clever 🙂

  9. That’s a good point about short intro impressions. I do it sometimes, but could do it more often.

    I didn’t say this before, but I saw a few of your comments while going through older posts and thought I’d re-visit your blog.

  10. Yes Mish, you may add me to your Goodreads friends list. I must warn you though, my books read and to-read lists are in sore need of updating. That is one of my goals for next week.

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