Rebecca Behrens books
Rebecca Behrens books
Rebecca Behrens books

Confession: I’ve resisted joining Goodreads for the longest time. While I’ve long used–and appreciated!–the site to get information about books and read non-editorial reviews, I didn’t want an author account.* The main reason why? The stars. 

To clarify, I don’t think there is anything wrong with rating and reviewing books, and I certainly don’t judge anyone who does. Ratings can be a very useful tool for readers, and even authors! My problem is that I personally can’t figure out a way to use the stars that seems fair to me as a reader as well as fair to the rest of the people on the site.
The thing is, the star rating system (on Goodreads, Amazon, or any site that encourages quantitative ratings of books) doesn’t use a standardized metric. Each individual on the site has to come up with their own, unique rating system–and they might vary their method depending on the book, their mood, or changing tastes. That’s how you get one-star reviews of Jane Eyre and five-star reviews of critically-trashed commercial fiction. Some people rate based on personal opinion. Some based on quality of the writing, despite whether or not they enjoyed the work. Others rate on whether their expectations (based on category, genre, etc.) were met. (To be honest, that’s probably the method that makes the most sense to me. Otherwise I would feel weird about giving five stars to both a lauded classic and a beach read, you know? They weren’t intended to be the same type of work or reading experience–and that’s okay.)
If a reader wants an apple but gets an orange, is that 1 star for not being the desired apple? Or however many stars the book deserves as an orange? Because that orange book was never intended to satisfy apple cravings, anyway.

(Now I want some fruit.)

A solution, of course, is writing a review that explains the rationale behind the stars. But some people–like me–don’t want to review. And for that reason, I’m shelving books aplenty on Goodreads, but I won’t be rating them. It doesn’t seem fair to assign a quantitative measure without explaining how I got there. I really value Goodreads as a reference and a community, and I’m excited to become more active there, but for now I think I’ll keep a blank slate of stars.
Are you on Goodreads? How do you approach reviews and stars?

*But now I have one. Let’s be friends!