Rate Hate: Why I’m giving up on giving stars

I recently updated the site with a new addition – a review policy page.

On there you’ll find the usual bits and pieces – what I like to read, what formats I prefer, all that – but you’ll also see that I’ve decided to shift away from rating books out of five.

Let me tell you why.

The truth of the matter is that I find the rating system a little limiting. I’m all for setting my own rating standards (five stars for a book I’m willing to buy multiple copies off just to hurl them at my friends in the hope one of them will read it, one star to something I’d rather gouge my eyes out than ever read again), but I struggle to find a balance between the personal and the academic when it comes to those marks out of five.

It’s usually quite clear from my review whether or not I’ve enjoyed a book – and even if I haven’t, I’ll find something good in there. Tony Park’s Captive, for example – I disliked the story and the characters, but his action sequences and his landscapes were just wonderful. I can get all of that across without the 2/5 – a 2/5 that makes the reviewing process so difficult for me.

When I’m using my words, I can back up my opinions. “I didn’t like this because…” or “This worked well because…” My points are contextualised and explored. But it’s so easy for someone to scroll straight to the numbers at the end, and not explore the nuances of how I got to that decision. And I’m as guilty of it as anyone!

We write reviews to share and to influence, that much is true, but without the accompanying review the ratings are, by and large, meaningless. The real meat of our opinion is in the words – a book isn’t just a cover, and a review isn’t just the stars on the end. Am I saying I’m skipping over the ratings to make you all read my blog more? Hell yes, I am.

But there’s more to it than that.

Since reevaluating my relationship with Goodreads, I’m very aware of how I try to placate writers and publishers with my ratings. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gone in and added an extra half mark, or changed a 2 to a 3, just because I’m worried I’ll be called out because I didn’t “get” the book, or because I’ve missed the point. Because I’m worried that somehow my opinion is wrong. I’m consciously disregarding the fact that it’s entirely possible I just didn’t like the book, or that it simply wasn’t very good.

When it comes to something like a Tony Park book, written by a popular and prolific (and usually male) author, I shouldn’t have to mince my words when it comes to the final rating – especially if I haven’t done so in the review! I’m entitled to my opinion, I’m entitled to share it, and I won’t feel cowed into changing it because I’m worried about what someone might think.

It should be said that I am absolutely in favour of someone calling my opinions into question when the book tackles experiences I couldn’t possibly understand. Not all books were written with a white audience in mind – far too many, but not all. If I didn’t understand the nuances of a book, I want to learn why that is. I want to examine my privileges and my prejudices. And sticking a star rating on the end of a review isn’t doing that. If anything, it’s closing the subject off to further exploration.

This year I want to be reading critically, uncomfortably, with one eye on the text as I see it, and the other on what it means outside of me. If that means removing the rating stopper, then so be it. My words are not the be all and end all, so let’s talk about the book. Let’s engage. Let’s disagree.

Ratings be damned, kids. Let’s just fucking READ.

You know, seems like this month has become a month of saying no – no to Goodreads, no to number/star ratings. So much is put on the power of saying “YES!” that it’s oddly refreshing to be refusing to do things instead.

Is there anything you’re planning on changing up? Are you reevaluating how you review or where you do it? Sound off below, I’d be keen to hear your thoughts!

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