I’ve been thinking recently about the way I rate books and how my expectations differ depending on the genre/mood/time. I recently read a YA Fantasy novel which I gave only 1 star too because it had far too much romance and very little plot for my liking. I then read a YA romance/comedy story the next day and gave it 3 stars, even though it also had a few issues with character development and plot. This made me wonder about the star rating system. I can say with confidence that all of the ratings I give are based on my feelings about a book at the time in which I read it- but I can’t say that it means anything more than that.
I think I judge funny or light-hearted stories much less harshly than I do literary fiction or fantasy novels. I suppose when we read different genres we are looking for different things, and for me, all a light-hearted book needs is to make me feel happy when I read it. A great fantasy novel has to have excellent world-building and believable characters- even if there are plot holes. A crime novel has to have a solid plot, and if it can surprise me with its twists and turns, it will be rated highly even if the characters weren’t too fleshed out. Comparing a 5-star fantasy story with a 5 star crime novel then, isn’t really possible for me. I sometimes think this makes the star rating system essentially meaningless.
Having said that, I think it’s useful for remembering how I felt about that particular book when I read it. 1 star means I really didn’t enjoy it, 5 stars means I would probably read it again/ will not forget about it in a hurry. The things I find most difficult to give ratings to are Poetry and Short story collections. Poetry is so difficult to rate as often I will completely not connect with a poem on one day, and then when I am in a different mood re-read it and think it is wonderful. I also tend to dip into collections every so often rather than reading them cover to cover, sometimes only reading one poem and then nothing else from the book for a few weeks. This means that quite often I won’t bother with rating a whole collection of poems at all! Similarly, when I read short story collections, I feel like I need to rate each story individually as some of them will really stay with me, and others are utterly forgettable. The other reason I sometimes won’t give a rating to a short story collection, is because I worry that my feelings about the last story in the collection, being freshest in my mind, will unduly influence how I rate the rest of the book.
At the end of the day, these things don’t particularly matter. I will continue to read as much of every genre as I can get my hands on, and looking for those 5 star in the moment highs. I think there is even a certain kind of enjoyment in thinking/ranting about a 1 star book!
How do you rate books? Do you think of the meanings of the number of stars as differing between genres? I would love to know!