Decoding the Stars: How I Determine My Book Ratings
I plan on writing reviews more so I can remember the content of the books I read and how I feel about them, but perhaps my reviews will prove useful to other people as well. In order for my review to be of any service, though, I feel it necessary to provide some standard by which I am measuring the books, even if that standard is mostly based on subjective factors.
The first area of critique is word choice. A one-star rating suggests the author exhibits extremely poor word choice while a five-star rating suggests phenomenal word choice. Authors of lower scoring books tend to make simple and/or repetitive word choices. Most books, however, tend to fall into the three-star category, meaning I didn’t take particular notice of the novel’s vocabulary. The words in a three-star book are fairly average and easy to read, but probably aren’t the most interesting.
Next comes “intrigue,” another category based entirely on personal preference. Books with intrigue are, if you’ll pardon my cliché, page-turners. I grant five-stars to the most addicting books and one-star to the books I finished merely because I decided I would. Three-star books are books that I wanted to put down but were just good enough to keep me reading. Two-star books are books I mostly detested while four-star books are books I mostly loved.
The last two categories, “plot” and “ideas”, relate to fiction and nonfiction books respectively; it doesn’t make sense to rate a book on the reproductive activity of snakes on plot, nor does it make sense to rate Harry Potter on ideas (actually, that’s debatable, because fiction tends use figurative language to convey an underlying message, but because the perceived message is not concrete, I will refrain from rating it. I may, however, comment on those ideas). In order to rate these categories, I ask myself a few questions:
Is it interesting? Is it predictable? Plots I can see through to the end obviously get low ratings while surprise endings get higher ratings.
Is the argument clear? Does it make sense? Is it well supported? With nonfiction books I’ve found that I can like the information and hate the opinion, making this a difficult category to score. I try to rate based solely on the quality of the information. If I strongly agree/disagree with the author’s opinion, I make a note of it but keep it out of the rating.
With a rubric sketched out (I was going to say “fleshed out” but in reality this is just a rudimentary list of criterion to get me started; I might add more later), I should be able to understand ratings I give from this point forward. The next step now is to write the reviews. I’ve gotten into the habit of writing short reviews on Goodreads that capture my feelings immediately after having finished a book, but I’d like the reviews on my blog to be a bit more in-depth. I don’t want them to turn into dissertations, though. The issue with writing a review for the blog is that I have to sit down and find the time to write. Poems come easily, I usually write them in a notebook when inspiration hits and transcribe them. Writing a book reviews, by comparison, seems like a daunting task. Still, I’ll work out a system and get the reviews rolling (insha’Allah).