Criteria I Consider When Reviewing A Book
Goodreads makes me feel easy—is what I originally wanted to title this post but I thought better of it as it might be too much of a sexual innuendo, and that is not what my blog is about—generally speaking...just kidding.
I was inspired to write this post given that in the beginning of the year my average rating on Goodreads was around 4.0, now, as of 5/17/16, it stands at 4.13 out of 5.0. I have identified 116 books as having read and finished in my lifetime, there may be more but I just can’t remember them all (not that it would make my reading resume that much more impressive as many of them were read during my early years on earth), of these I’ve reviewed 63. Please note that my reviews are quite short and purposefully ambiguous. I write what I think is important in tracking my reading journey and to help those that may share a similar approach to books as I—I want to know as little as possible about the events that make up the book and am more interested in the feelings provoked by the story.
After browsing through the list of books I had read and rated in early January, I started asking myself if I still thought these deserved the ratings I had originally assigned, and for the most part my opinion was steadfast. I then embarked on a soul-searching journey as I could not for the life of me identify how it is that I rate books I read. I have rated Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn a 2/5, which has an average rating of 4/5, and Little Dog, Lost by Marion Dane Bauer 5/5 stars, when it’s average rating is 3.85/5. This insight then brought about the following question—what is wrong with me?! My conclusion is that nothing is wrong with me. Nothing at all. The thing is, my approach to rating books is a bit unconventional. I have determined that I primarily take into account my emotional connection to a book, then my overall enjoyment of it and finally the technical competency of the book.
Developing an emotional connection to a story is a top priority for me. This may mean that I seek it out instead of objectively taking in the story and as a result I’m quite successful at developing this connection to most books. With that said, I tend to immediately give a book three stars if I am quite moved by it—sometimes four stars. It just depends on how engrossing, fun or romantic I found the journey.
In making this proclamation, I confess that I tend to not be very critical about the technical aspects of the story. I wouldn’t even know where to start as I read for pleasure and have not studied literature or creative writing past the general courses mandated to all college students, nor is this exercise a favorite pastime of mine. I read for the sole purpose of escapism. This world is harsh enough as it is; to sit down and pick apart a story like a jigsaw puzzle sounds absolutely exhausting hence I just don’t do it. (This may be why my video reviews are sort of all over the place…generally…)
This criterion might seem redundant at first, but the truth is that while a book may be emotionally driven it is not always enjoyable; such was the case with Ruby by Cynthia Bond for me. This story was absolute heart wrenching and powerful. It started off by breaking my heart and slowly it squeezed and reamed it dry until there was no other choice except to bawling my eyes out and fall into a bit of a depression that lasted well beyond the morsel I read, which was about 113 pages worth of story. This story was inspired by true stories of horrible events that happened to real women. It is gritty and vivid and the idea of finishing it and continuing on with the series would be torturous for me. I prefer to be swept away by a romantic story with a bit of humor and magic, instead of grit and realism; for such grit and disenchantment, I turn to nonfiction.
As you might expect, if I find a story enjoyable then it gets another star—which then makes it a four star worthy book or a five star worthy book. To my delight I was on a bit of a role the beginning of this year as I read a great variety of four star worthy books. These included Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt, Normal Gets You Nowhere by Kelly Cutrone, Thanks for the Memories by Cecelia Ahern and Return to Longbourn by Shannon Winslow among others.
Notably, I listen to a lot of books via Audible and have found that a good narrator definitely adds to my enjoyment of a story, and on the contrary, a bad narrator can definitely ruin a story. It’s generally not my preferred format of experiencing a book but given my lifestyle it’s become a constant, and it also helps me get through what I consider books well beyond my reading comprehension—those pesky yet magical classics.
Some of my favorite narrators include Jennifer Ikeda, Kate Rudd, Arielle DeLisle, Fiona Hardingham, Katherine Kellgren, Dan O’Grady and Jonathan Keeble. A book I highly recommend listening to is Dracula as multiple narrators take part in the presentation without including too many sound effects. These tend to be a bit distracting, or at least I thought so while going through The Chronicles of Narnia. Do you have any recommendations for good narrators? I get on audible at least once a day because 1) they offer daily deals on interesting books for under $5 and 2) because I love discovering new narrators. I tend to gravitate towards those that provide distinctive voices to the cast of characters and to female narrators. They are much more soothing to listen to during heavy traffic on my way to and from work—very important to Penny’s and to my safety.
Finally, if a book hasn’t already reached a 5 star rating given the criteria noted above, I consider grammatical errors, the plot, the tone and the structure of the book. As I mentioned before, I’m not a trained critic but if a book has too many grammatical errors, my enjoyment of the book is greatly diminished (same rule applies to anything I read really) and the rating stays as it was before considering this criterion. If there are too many grammatical errors I do not finish it, such was the case with the first ARC I ever attempted reading. (I have since developed a great appreciation for the publishing process and don’t really read ARC’s unless I am thoroughly intrigued by the storyline.) In the case of that ARC, I didn’t rate it as I couldn’t really say anything positive.
I have a great deal of respect for authors, actually for creatives in general. I genuinely believe that if you don’t have anything nice to say, you shouldn’t say anything at all unless you can make a difference in the final product (and even then I tread lightly). The fact that someone has sat down and worked on something they believed in is amazing. If my negative opinion deters them from working on future projects I would never forgive myself…weak? Maybe so but this is what I believe hence I will continue approach book reviews as I do and Goodreads will continue to, sort of, make me feel easy.
What do you take into consideration when you rate a book?