I read a LOT of books. I rate and review a LOT of books on Goodreads. I also spend a lot of time reading other reviews of the books I read, sometimes before and sometimes after I read a book – usually all of the professional reviews and a large number on Goodreads and Instagram. Here’s what I have found…………
One book can inspire an infinite number of opinions and feelings from its collective readers.
Haven’t you ever read a review of a book you just finished and thought that the reviewer must have been reading a completely different book than you read? Sometimes a review will make me go back and reread and examine my own initial opinions, and realize that I had missed a lot of nuance. Sometimes a review will make me shake my head and think that OBVIOUSLY that person has never read XYZ by ABC, because if they had, there is NO WAY they would have given this book 5 stars.
So here’s the thing: take my ratings and reviews for what they are worth – they are only as important to your reading experience and enjoyment of a book as my opinions are. And my opinions and ratings are simply a reflection of my emotions and collective knowledge of every book I have read before. You might hate a book I love and love a book I hate. That’s cool. You might agree with me completely. That’s cool too. Your opinions of a book are a reflection of YOUR emotions and collective knowledge of every book you have read before. Yours and mine don’t always converge, and that’s okay. If you only ever read steampunk, my review of quirky literary fiction might help you not at all, because you would DIE before picking up that book – my 5 star rating is worthless to you! And my one star for your five star steampunk is also worthless to you, right?
I rate and review based on so many things, here are some of them. Of course there are no hard and fast rules, though – my opinion of a book is a tricky, tricky thing!
- Emotion. If a book makes me laugh out loud or cry, it’s almost guaranteed a high rating.
- Originality. I want every book I read to feel new to me. I certainly read formulaic genre books, but they are very unlikely to get a 5 star rating from me. BUT, sometimes they do for nostalgia’s sake. I reserve the right to do that! In general, though, quirky is good.
- Societal importance. Certain themes like gender, sexuality, race and politics in fiction that can be applied to our real world or make me rethink the world usually get upstarred.
- Feminism. Yes, I read with a feminist lens. That means that if I read books with body, weight and slut shaming that are not intended to be satirical, I will give them a 1 or 2 star and slam them in a review. I have my personal soapbox on this, and I refuse to let authors make women (or men!) think it is acceptable for bodies to be judged on size or shape. Commenting on a woman being promiscuous is one thing, but having other characters calling her a slut for doing so in a way that is not a literary device is not okay.
- Perpetuating stereotypes is a guaranteed 1 star for me. If a book is written about a marginalized population by a person not of that marginalized population and is written poorly with blatant stereotypes, it is rare that I will even finish the book. But if I have to for review purposes, it won’t be pretty.
- Random things like a well-written book with a librarian main character will probably be a higher rating for me than a similar book with a real estate agent main character. I can do that! Librarians need more representation!
- Books set in Wisconsin might get rated higher than a similar book set in South Dakota. I can do that! Home state pride!
- My connection with an author. I won’t lie – if I have connected with an author and know their impetus for writing a book and know how they interact with their readers and such, I might be inclined to bump a book up from a 2 to a 3. Reviewing is hard work, and it is very difficult to not be influenced by a connection with the creator of the story.
- Series loyalty. If I have read every book in a series and there are 19 books in the series, even if they aren’t high fiction they will get rated at least a 3. How can I justify reading 19 books if I don’t like them? There’s something to be said for a dependable series that you know you’ll get a new installment of every year.
- The mood I am in when writing a review, the weather, my outfit of the day, my coffee being hot or cold and other completely random things. I often go back and read and revise my ratings and reviews based on the fact that I know that I let my detest for wearing pants with waistbands ruin entire days, and it’s not fair for a book to be rated with that influence.
I realize that this list does NOT really help you know what kind of book I like (except that I will hate one with lots of fat- and slut-shaming characters), but my Goodreads “Read” shelf will give you some trends for sure.
Reading is personal and I reserve the right to love the books I love and hate the books I hate. I try so hard to never slam a book in my reviews because I respect the work of the author SO much (with the exception of fat- and slut-shaming and blatant racism or homophobia of course), so there’s always a does of sugar in with my low-rated reviews.
I read with heart. I review with heart. Reading is personal.
Oh, and just so you know, all of the above does NOT apply to my School Library Journal reviews. Those are written by the rubrics from SLJ and are in a completely different and objective category.