Twenty-Fifteen: I’m doing something I’ve been putting off for far too long. I’m getting serious about reading, again. I’ve dusted off my paperbacks and charged up my Kindle. It’s time to take the time to feed my poor television-adled brain with a selection of healthy, nourishing fiction. So, read on, little brain. Read on. We’re going Book to the Future!
Having just a few minutes ago finished reading “Shades of Grey” and the eighth book in my twenty-five novel annual goal-slash-challenge, and while I sit here contemplating (a) what to say about that particular read and (b) what to read next, I realize I’m entering the second-third of this effort. As much, it might be time for a brief interlude to explain my cryptic rating system.
Thus far, if you’ve been reading along you may have already noticed that I’ve been giving all my final verdicts a completely subjective grade out of five stars.
This is not meant to be critical, per se. I’m not trying to bash a book or crumble the like-ability of any particular novel. Some may be critical of my ratings because I always seem to give everything a four or a five star. This is partly because I’m not a naysayer, by nature, but also because I’ve done a bit of research on a book before I read it and I don’t tend to read duds. Also, I usually find something worthwhile in anything I get my hands on.
Thus, an explanation of how I rate:
Anything I give one star (though this has yet to happen) would need to be virtually unreadable. It would need to be something I picked up, started, got far enough into that I was struck by the frustrating clarity of dislike that made me understand that I could neither ever relate to the story nor possibly find a redeeming quality within. To give you an idea, I recently (as in fifteen minutes ago) finished reading “Shades of Grey” by Jasper Fforde. I enjoyed it and (spoiler alert) will probably rate it about a four stars on this scale. On the other hand, I once tried to read a very similarly titled “Fifty Shades of Grey” due to some mass popularity and some idle time in a bookstore. I read a couple chapters and realized that I am definitely not among the target audience. Personally and were I writing about it, I would have given that a one star rating. I get that some people dig this stuff, but anything with a one-star rating is nothing I’d personally recommend… or even use to prop up a wobbly table.
To rate a two star review a book would need to be pretty bad, but not bad enough for me to give up on. It would need to be something where I pushed through to the end because there was something inside that compelled me forward, stubbornly to the last page, but that I left feeling as if I’d wasted my time or money on the book. I’ve come across a few of these in my career, but not many. Usually, I get into a book far enough to call it a three, or just dump it as a one. In other words, it’s unlikely I’ll ever use this rating — or at least not very often. If I eve give something a two, it’s likely not a recommended read.
Something that ranks a three stars review is usually a decent book that is riding the fringes of meh-ness. Maybe its something popular that “everyone is reading” but I couldn’t get into: a solid book with a good story, but not among the types of compelling and personally relate-able fiction I usually spend time on. It’s a book that didn’t really do it for me. Perhaps it’s just an okay book –average, and this is where the ratings get a little fuzzy– and I gladly acknowledge that lots of other people may like or love this book… just not me. So I tend to give three stars to fiction where I can see the appeal, understand the popularity, or respect the value of the work… just not for me personally. As for recommendations? Yeah… sure.
This is my go-to rating. If I’ve picked a book that fits in my wheelhouse of personal interest, and it meets the basic criteria of holding my interest to the end while simultaneously giving me a few minutes of enjoyment… four stars. This is one of those books that I’d recommend to anyone who likes what I like. I liked it. It was solid and interesting and made me curious about a sequel (or at least invested in the characters enough that I made up my own sequel in my head) and I’ll add it to that list of books that I’ll happily keep handy for when someone asks me “hey, do you know any good books…?”
This is the rare. This is the awesome. A book that I give five stars needs to surprise me or wow me or want to go back and read it eleven more times to soak in the nuance of it all. If a book cracks out a five star I tell people something along the lines of “it’s in my top ten” and it gets there by evoking a suite of emotions and inspirations that leave me thinking about it for weeks and years. And of course all this is subjective, internal, and circumstantial. In fact, as far as recommendations go, a book I’ve rated five stars may fall off the other side of that chart: I may not recommend it because it’s probably just a book that plucked me on the exact right heart-string or wormed into my brain and latched onto just the perfect chain of neurons and the awe I felt is unique and personal to me that my abundant recommendation would be met by another’s three-star review. Or maybe everyone would love it… who can say?
Ultimately, the point of this is that in my subjective scale of book-rating-randomness, I’m not doing much more than adding a completely personal thumbs up or thumbs down to a book… and I’m really far more likely to to give almost anything a thumbs up: I need to really despise something to pan it.