I normally don’t rate what I purchase. It doesn’t matter if it’s a product, an app, a service, or an experience; it’s just not something I do. I think it comes down to convenience. When an app asks me to rate it, it does so by interrupting what I’ve opened the app to do. If I buy a product online, it doesn’t make sense to rate it until I’ve had a chance to used it and determine it’s value. By then it’s inconvenient to stop what I’m doing, go to my computer, visit the website, find the product, and then leave a rating. I don’t care enough, even when it’s an utterly horrible or fantastic product.

So why do I rate books? Because it’s integrated into my reading process.

I read a lot (depending on your perspective), and I use goodreads to keep track of the books I’ve read or want to read, and I also participate in their annual reading challenge. When I finish reading a book, I mark it as read and at the same time provide a rating, because those functions occur at roughly the same time. Rating a book is just part of the process of marking it read.

Goodreads flow

I question whether I should rate books, or anything really. After all, if I give a book a negative rating it hurts the author’s income. At the same time, it keeps others from wasting their time and money on the book. Which to choose?

In the end, the masses win out, which is fortunate because providing ratings also helps provide me with better recommendations, (questionable since goodreads has recommended some seriously rubbish books based on my ratings).

Therefore, since I’ve decided to rate books, it only makes sense to have a system by which I can provide consistent ratings. Thinking through this, there were five areas by which I determine a book’s rating:

  • Enjoyment: Did I enjoy reading the book. How much or how little?
  • Recommendation: Would I recommend it to others or would I advise them against it?
  • Re-Readability: Would I read the book again?
  • Style: Is the author a good writer or did his/her writing get in the way of reading.
  • Internal Response: How did this book affect me? Did I have an emotional response? Did it challenge or even change the way I think about things or view the world? Did it give me new insight into my world?

Of course, all five items don’t need to be maxed out to be a five-star book, nor will one-star books be bottom of the barrel in every category. For instance, I may give a book five stars because there is a sentimental connection. Likewise, I may give a book one star, because the content is objectionable. It’s a system, not a legal obligation.

5 Stars

In spite of the ratings on Amazon, the vast majority of, well anything, doesn’t rate five stars. Five stars represent something truly exceptional; something on the far right of the bell curve. I don’t give out many five star ratings.

  • Enjoyment: I really enjoyed the book and very likely sacrificed other areas of my life in order to read it. I have an awesome wife, and she has on multiple occasions let me plow through a book solely to get me back to a usable state.
  • Recommendation: Not only will I happily recommend the book to others, but I will likely evangelize it. “Yes, I know your political and religious beliefs are diametrically opposed to the content of the book, but you really gotta read it.”
  • Re-Readability: Will very likely read the book again. Not always, though. There are plenty of five-star books I have no intention of reading again.
  • Style: Five-star books usually have several of the following qualities: a high density of thought, a beauty and elegance in the prose, a deep research and understanding (includes both fiction and non-fiction), and an ability to guide the reader along a path rather than forcing them down it.
  • Internal Response: Most often the internal response to five star books is learning something new, but there are those rare occasions where an author can present an idea which shakes you to the core of your being, or, more frequently, give expression to an internal belief you were unable to articulate.

4 Stars

  • Enjoyment: Like a 5-star book, a 4-star book is really enjoyable and I’ve been known to plow through one in spite of other responsibilities. It’s not always the case, but at the very least it’s a book I look forward to opening when I get the time.
  • Recommendation: This is a book I’ll recommend to people for whom I think it’s a good fit.
  • Re-Readability: Maybe. Very maybe. More likely, I’ll think, “Y’know, I should read x again.” But as the opportunity presents itself, I’ll invariably find something else to do instead.
  • Style: 4-star books are above average in their writing. These books usually don’t have the same depth and insight as a 5-star book.
  • Internal Response: While 4-star books are not without their insights and revelations, the insights they do have are even less common than that of a 5-star book. Most of my emotional response will just be my enjoyment of the book.

3 Stars

Let’s be honest; the vast majority of books are 3-star. This isn’t a bad thing, it’s just a matter of percentages. That’s how a bell curve works.

  • Enjoyment: I enjoyed it enough to finish the book
  • Recommendation: I will likely not recommend this book unless specifically asked about it, and even then only if the questioner seems interested already.
  • Re-Readability: I probably will not read the book again unless it’s for reference.
  • Style: The writing, depth of research, and understanding are all just average. There’s unlikely to be any new insights or compelling ideas in a 3-star book.
  • Internal Response: Ambivalence.

2 Stars

2-star books are hard to rate and are, surprisingly, the impetus for this article. I wanted to articulate specifically how to determine if and why a book is worth 2 stars.

  • Enjoyment: I did not enjoy the book, but it didn’t evoke the visceral reaction that a 1-star book does. Probably only finished it to mark it off on my goodreads annual challenge.
  • Recommendation: No. I’m not going to recommend this book. Ever. I probably won’t, however, discourage others from reading it.
  • Re-Readability: Seriously?
  • Style: Believe it or not, I can see high quality writing in 1- and 2-star books. The problem usually arises from the content (moralizing) or the characters (I dislike them).
  • Internal Response: Irritated that I read the book. Will likely not give the author another chance. (Yes, I keep a list of authors I will not read again).

1 Star

The easiest way to get a 1-star review from me is to take a nihilistic, despairing view of humanity, present yourself as my moral superior and write to me as such, or devoting any amount of writing detailing rape scenes or child porn. With those latter two, it’s an immediate DNF (did not finish) and a 1-star rating; I might even write a comment.

  • Enjoyment: No, I didn’t enjoy it. In all likelihood I didn’t even finish it. If I did finish it, it’s because I had hopes the author would pull the plummeting story out of the nosedive only to be disappointed in the end.
  • Recommendation: No, I won’t recommend a 1-star book. I will, however, recommend people not read it.
  • Re-Readability: Not without a fight.
  • Style: I was probably too angry to pay attention.
  • Internal Response: Mostly anger. Not only anger at the book, but very likely the book’s author as well. I will also be angry at myself for continuing to read the book knowing full well how much I wasn’t enjoying it.

Adapting This System to Rating Non-book Things

With a little tweaking this system can be easily adapted to rating things other than books. Here’s how I would break it down:

  • Functionality: Did the manufacturer or service provider exceed your expectations or fail to meet them?
  • Recommendation: Would you recommend the product or service to others?
  • Re-purchasability: Would you purchase the product or service again given the opportunity or necessity?
  • Quality: Is it a quality product or service?
  • Internal Response: Do you have buyer’s remorse?