What my GoodReads ratings mean
The conventional wisdom is that working (or aspiring) fiction writers should not rate books on GoodReads. I’ve rated and reviewed every book that I have read since signing up back in July 2007. I don’t intend to stop even now that I’m actively submitting work to the pro market. That may be a mistake.
I also write about work that I think are interesting and worthy of critical attention here on my blog. For the most part, the books I talk about are ones that I have positive things to say about. The only exception is works that I find interesting even when I think that they are flawed or that I don’t connect with them fully. That may also be a mistake.
But mistake or not, I find that I often want to write about what I read. Even as I ramp up the amount of writing time I devote to fiction, I can’t stop also writing criticism (even if it’s of a generally positive not super-academic sort).
Since this is the case, I thought I’d share a few things about my readerly/critical activity:
- There is a perception that anything less than a 4-star rating on GoodReads is bad. I disagree and take their ratings at face value. GoodReads prompts for stars say that 5 = “it was amazing”; 4 = “really liked it”; 3 = “liked it”; 2 = “it was ok”; 1 = “didn’t like it”. That’s exactly how I rate books. That means that most of the books I read get 3 or 4 stars.
- Since GoodReads is a social site, I also like to think of it this way: any book that I give 3, 4 or 5 stars to is one that you should read if it looks interesting to you. If I give it 2, that means you should still consider it if it looks super interesting or very much within your tastes. If I give it 1 or zero stars, then you might want to skip it. Which means that the vast majority of the books that I have rated over the years are books I recommend.
- I’ve sometimes thought about why the vast majority of the books I rate get 3 or 4 stars. Is it because I’m too soft? Perhaps. But I also am usually rather picky about the titles I pick up. Almost always, I’ve read several reviews or received recommendations from friends which means there’s a lot of screening that goes on (which means I never pick up many of the 2 and 1 star books). In fact, most of the 2- and 1-star books I’ve read are titles that I just grabbed from the library shelf because it kinda looked interesting. I also kind of think of it as 1-4 are the equivalent of letters grades D through A. And 5 is an A+. That explains why 5 star ratings are rare with me. This analogy breaks down, of course, because of the stupidity of grade inflation here in the U.S. But just as a C should be a good grade in college, a 3 is a good grade when I give it.
- The reviews I write on GoodReads are meant to be readerly — not critical — reactions. I try to write them within a day or two (or just a few hours) of finishing the book. I don’t attempt to capture everything I thought or felt about the book. Just a capsule. Or I’ll point out something specific I liked (or didn’t liked).
- On the other hand, when I post about a specific book here, I will almost always dive back into the text (even if it’s just to re-sample a few brief passages) to help me crystallize or confirm the points I make. This puts it slightly more in the realm of literary criticism.
- Although I always try to write a GoodReads review, I’m not able to write lit crit blog posts about all the books that I would like to. This means that I offer more readerly reactions than critical reactions. I wish I had more time to write in depth about some of the books I read.