Scoring books, some musings on the subject

There are two definite camps in the book blogosphere: those who give/find useful star ratings, and those who don’t. I’ve always been in the former camp, but I do recognise that ratings are no more than a highly personal snapshot of opinion at time of publication.

I started out giving whole stars out of five, then had to give half stars to reflect in between scores, and my ratings thus became out of ten. Then I found that I wanted to finesse my scores a little further and started giving half marks again. I’ve since found that I give a lot of scores of 8.5/10.  On one occasion (see here) I went one step further giving a book 7.3/10! What was I on that day eh?)

In fact it is rare that I give scores of 6/10 or less, most books get between 7 and 9,  and around 10% in a year may get the full 10/10. That makes the majority of books I read better than average.  I like to think that’s because I mainly choose to read books that I expect or know will be good, (although it can be therapeutic to read a stinker just once in a while).

Back to the snapshot business for a moment. There are times when I’ve gushed about books and scored them highly, but with the benefit of hindsight can see that I overrated them. Death Comes to Pemberley by PD James was one such case. I was about the only blogger loving this book at the time of its publication. I later realised I was reading it with rose-tinted glasses adapting it for TV as I went with Colin Firth (natch) starring. Now, I can see that as a hybrid crime/classic pastiche it wasn’t entirely successful; I stand by my initial enjoyment of reading it though.

Then there are books that I’ve underrated.  One such came to mind as I was writing my post yesterday about Illumination by Matthew Plampin.  I was constantly thinking of and comparing it with Andrew Miller’s wonderful novel Pure. I did score Pure as 9/10 at the time but, going by the way this novel has stayed with me, and the number of times I recommend it to others, it should have been a five star book.

All this musing leads me to ask you, dear reader…
– Are you’re bothered by scores in a review? 
– If you do find them useful, is my fussing with halves out of ten taking it too far?

I do plan to keep scoring books for my own records (they’ll appear in my Reading lists), but other than highlighting 5 star books, or absolute stinkers, I’m thinking of dropping them from my main reviews, unless you want them that is!

Thank you for bearing with me…

0 thoughts on “Scoring books, some musings on the subject

  1. David Nolan (David73277) says:

    Scoring books is fine with me, so long as it is regarded as an indicator of personal taste and response rather than some kind of quasi-scientific exercise, desperately seeking conclusive objectivity. Every so often the educated elite (of which I am nominally a part), stares down it’s noses as those morons who know no better than to award 1/5 stars to an acknowledged classic of world literature. Ah, we say, here is proof that the elite knows better, that educational standards are inevitably falling (since it self-evidently peeked when we acquired our own qualifications), and, moreover, that rating systems represent crass commercialism and should be treated with disdain. Twaddle! (I hope the tongue in cheek nature of these comments is clear.)

    If readers are only permitted to recycle received opinions then there is little point saying or writing anything else about any book that has been around for a few years. If we get to know what a particular reader likes, as is possible when following a book blog, then star ratings – be they high, low or in between – become useful indicators of whether or not a particular book might be worth trying. On Good Reads I gave only one star to The Great Gatsby not because I think it is objectively a bad book, but because it is a book I did not enjoy. This might help those who loved a lot of books I dislike to conclude that they might like Gatsby. If, on the other hand, all I did was award it five because of its status, then I might as well not have bothered scoring it at all.

    • gaskella says:

      Thank you for your considered comment David, tongue in cheek noted (my own is also in place).

      What I was particularly concerned about above, but haven’t expressed very well, is that scoring the majority of books as better than average to excellent is probably not very meaningful to anyone other than me, so should I bother to publish these mid-range scores?

      I’ve been meaning to re-read Gatsby for forever it seems – your experience might just spur me on to doing it to see if I concur!

      • David Nolan (David73277) says:

        Whilst I fully understand why Victoria does not find mid-range scores very useful, I think you should still use them. Anyone who can rate a book 7.3 clearly needs the flexibility for very detailed levels of gradation.

  2. Guy Savage says:

    I don’t score on my blog, but I rate books on goodreads as the format on that site is more suitable I think. Amazon, of course, is heavy on the star rating system and I’ve noticed that the same book scores better on Amazon US than in the UK. I suspect that readers tend to note the stars first before anything else, so I suppose it’s critical–at least on a commercial site.

  3. Lee-Anne says:

    I don’t pay much attention to scores, because I do see them in the way you’ve explained that you use them (as a reflection of your experience at publication). I think many bloggers write reviews as a nmemonic device for themselves as for the benefit of others, and it is in that light that I regard scoring. I don’t use them because I feel it’s too concrete a measure for something so nebulous, but I see how others would definitely find it a useful shorthand.

  4. Victoria (Eve's Alexandria) says:

    I mostly ignore ratings, except when they are on either end of the extreme. A 1 star or a 10 star would get my attention. It seems to me that they are only most useful as indicators when they are unequivocal and tell me something immediate about love or hate.

    Scores in the middle range tend to pass me by. I think this is because I associate those scores with the ‘meh’ response to a book. Equivalent to a shrug. I know that’s probably very wrong of me and that’s why I don’t pay attention to them but much prefer to read a longer review which has more balance and nuance.

    I also distrust scores because people tend to score in the upper half of any scale, so it becomes very difficult to split the good from the bad. I rarely see scores of 3 or 4 in the blogosphere, even for books that the reader didn’t like. They get 6s or 7s, putting them next door to books that were admired an given an 8. Overall the psychology of scoring is too fraught for me!

  5. kaggsysbookishramblings says:

    I’m a non-scorer myself, and I don’t tend to honestly pay a lot of attention to scores on blogs I read. I’m more interested in reading what the blogger has to actually say about the book rather than numbers. And I would find it hard to say at what point on a scale I would put a book – I’d rather just say what it was I loved or hated, what I thought the book was saying, what it said to me etc. Maybe useful if you’re in a hurry, but I don’t think it’s for me.

  6. Sly Wit says:

    I would say I’m less inclined to consider “scores” on blogs because, as you say, often these will trend higher. And, personally, I know people who won’t post reviews for books they would not give four or five stars, in which case, what’s the point?

    Beyond 10 stars (or 5 stars with halves), I’m not sure they are useful, but I don’t have a problem with a more detailed system if you find that useful for your own categorization.

    Personally, I use the average ratings on Goodreads as a guide quite a bit when I create suggestion lists for my book salon. Of course, they are only helpful because I know the generally ranges for how YA, non-fiction, classics, etc. tend to score (for example, YA and non-fiction trend extremely high).

    When I rate books myself, I take Goodreads star descriptions quite literally, that is 2 means a book is “just okay.”

    For me.

    As such, I rate very little as either 1 or 5 stars and my average rating is something like 3.1- or 3.2. I would say that is the exception and most people hover around four. (Note: I would love half stars on Goodreads!)

    I’ve had people quibble with my ratings, and say I’m too hard on things, but I think the stars become meaningless if everything is 4 or 5. And, again, I think ratings should be personal. Like David (yay, someone else who doesn’t think Gatsby is God!), I don’t see why if I hated reading Catcher in the Rye, I would score it anything but 1 star.

  7. Marie says:

    This is a really interesting question. I use the Goodreads guidelines for star ratings and find that works quite well for me, but I frequently go back and change my ratings after having reflected on the book (maybe several months later) and this is why I don’t use a star rating on my blog. As for taking others’ ratings into account, I only tend to pay attention to them if it’s a blogger I have been reading for a while whose tastes I am very familiar with. In those cases, I don’t mind whether they rate out of 5/out of 10/half marks/whatever!

  8. heavenali says:

    I don’t tend to score books on my blog, though I often do on goodreads and librarything – not sure why I do that. I certainly don’t have a problem with other reviewers using a rating system, it can be helpful.

  9. Teresa says:

    I give a rating which in theory could be anything from 0.5 – 5 stars (I like my .5 options!) but the review itself is a better guide to my feelings about a book. Having said that, a book which got 4 stars soon after reading could make it into my top ten at the end of the year whilst some 5 stars might have been relegated as they haven’t “stayed” with me.

  10. gaskella says:

    Thank you everyone for your fascinating comments! Much appreciated. 😀

    I’m glad that people don’t seem to mind my scores, recognising them as my personal snapshot of how I felt at the time and they are useful to me when I look back at my reading. I also acknowledge the frustrations of too many upper mid-range ones, but given that I hope to choose my reading well, that is where they’ll concentrate.

    David – that 7.3 was a pure gut reaction to the particular book, I have no system other than that, and I can remember why that book couldn’t be a 7 or 7.5!

    Victoria – I acknowledge the frustrations of too many upper mid-range scores, but given that I hope to choose my reading well, that is where they’ll naturally concentrate, but I should be braver and score those books I didn’t enjoy so much lower. However, enjoyment/engagement versus recognising quality is another whole ballgame.

    Teresa – Good point about books that stay with you. Totes agreeamundo (as Tilly might say in Miranda).

  11. Teresa says:

    I’ve never used scores on my blog, but I do use them sometimes on Goodreads and LibraryThing for my own sorting purposes. Even there, however, I end up waffling a lot and sometimes not bothering to give a score. Because I rarely finish books I’m not enjoying, my average rating skews high, with everything clustering around a 4, and it just doesn’t seem that useful. If I had unlimited time, I’d go through a recalibrate to fit the actual star rating descriptions.

    On others’ blogs, I don’t really pay attention to scores. So I don’t mind if people use them but I don’t find them especially useful unless perhaps someone is reviewing a book I’m already curious about, and I don’t have time to read the review.

  12. Col says:

    I’d give scoring a score of 7.326543871 out of 10! I don’t do it myself though – so I might have over-scored my score for scoring! In all honesty the only scores I’m really focused on are Man Utd’s! Having said that I like reading the scores on your posts so I hope they’ll stay! After Man Utd’s they’re my second favourite scores!

  13. winstonsdad says:

    i don’t score I add mark on goodreads but on whole it is either 4 or 5 stars and five means I really like it and four means I like it ,I just don’t like scoring books down barrinng a couple I really hate ,all the best stu

  14. Karen says:

    I don’t use scores myself and don’t usually pay attention to them on other people’s blogs because an overall score could be influenced by many different factors. They could rate the plot highly but rate the writing style low. So the average doesn’t tell me much.
    Hooray for other non Gatsby fans here read that darn book three times in my life now and every time I think “is that it”

  15. Tom Cunliffe says:

    Perhaps we should score of books 6 months after we’ve read them. I don’t score them on my blog because I only review books I like so they’d all be 4 or 5 and it would get a bit pointless. I do a lot of Amazon reviews though and am much more variable there

  16. Alex in Leeds says:

    I use scores but they go at the end of the review, along with links to other reviews/further reading. I use my own 0-10 scale that’s linked to on each review so for anyone who wants to know the difference between 7/10 and 8/10 the info’s there. I use them mostly because I read so widely but have themes to my reading, I might have space to compare Book X to a couple of titles but the rating is there to compare it to other books of its kind/genre and give a mini-overview.

  17. Charleen says:

    I use the GR system; I think it works well. I like that 3 stars is “I liked it” as opposed to “meh” simply because it’s in the middle, and therefore I have a greater range of numbers to use for the books I actually liked to varying degrees, with 2 as the “meh” rating, and 1 reserved for books I truly didn’t enjoy. And while there are occasional instances when I long for half-stars, on the whole I am content without them. Ratings are so nebulous anyway that to me it seems more accurate the vaguer they are (if that makes any sense at all). So, obviously not all 4-star books are alike, but I don’t see the need to break it down farther. Otherwise, where does it stop? I like being able to take a step back and figure out which vague statement best fits (I liked it, I really liked it, I loved it), instead of feeling like I’m going for an eye exam (“okay, here’s Book A, and Book B… better, worse, or about the same?”) which is how it starts to feel if I have too many options.

    As for others’ rating systems… I say, do what works for you. As long as they’re clear and consistent, any rating system will work just fine. The important stuff will be in the review anyway.

    (Man, this is way longer than I meant it to be.)

    • gaskella says:

      Again, thank you everyone for the continuing comments! Everyone seems to have an opinion and a slightly different way of dealing with ratings… however, as Charleen says, ‘as long as they’re clear and consistent, any rating system will work just fine.’ and that thought encapsulates the discussion for me. 🙂

      I do fully explain my ratings system on my Info and Stuff tab, and I shall keep to that – still undecided whether to put ratings on all my posts. .

  18. anokatony says:

    I know that the Complete Review has a comprehensive grading system, and I am much more likely to read a book rated A at that site than one that is rated A-. Anything below an A, forget it.
    I’m on the fence as far as ratings go and have been tempted to start using them, but haven’t so far. They could be used as a means of the the reader to avoid reading the articles, as if there wasn’t enough reasons to avoid reading them anyway.

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