Reviewing and rating books: A deeply personal act

The following Tweet popped up in my Twitter feed the other day and it got me thinking…

There are a couple of issues within this tweet, including the concept of authors trying to influence reviews/ratings of their books, but the one I want to focus on is the act of rating and reviewing books, and why three stars is not a bad rating for a book at all!

Reading and rating a book is a highly personal act

Firstly, I think it’s important for us to acknowledge that reading, reviewing and rating books is a highly personal act. We each review and rate differently and none of us should have to explain why we’ve rated a book the way we have. There are those people who rate unfairly, such as a rating based on their love or hate of an author rather than the quality of the book itself or even rating a book before it’s even released (the number of reviews I’ve seen on popular books that say something like “I haven’t read this yet but I’m so excited and I know it’ll be good!” Is ridiculous) means that it does inflate the average rating of the book but I’ve never understood this. As far as I’m aware, the rating of a book on Goodreads or other platforms doesn’t influence book buyers or stockers – they rely more on presale orders and track record of purchases than star ratings on Goodreads. So, there really isn’t any point to these ratings… Anyway, I digress!

Personal experiences

When we read for pleasure, we have selected the book ourselves because it has interested us. I’m even tempted to say that it has called out to us… We then bring something of our experiences to the book and therefore each of us will have a different reaction to the book. It’s why I love the concept of aesthetic reading (Rosenblatt, 1970), which is founded on the idea of bringing our personal experiences, emotions, and perceptions to our reading, therefore influencing the way we react to a story. As an example:

A person who has recently been diagnosed with a mental health condition, such as anxiety and/or depression, might find themselves empathising more with a main character who has also had a recent, similar diagnosis, and is working through this.

While it’s entirely possible that a reader who hasn’t had this diagnosis may empathise with the main character who has, it’s more likely that a reader who has had this diagnosis will see themselves more in this story than the reader who hasn’t, and may feel a deeper connection to the story, therefore potentially enjoying the story more.

So, the reader who shares a similar diagnosis to the main character might therefore connect more emotionally to the story than the reader who doesn’t have a similar diagnosis. This would then influence their rating!

Just a quick note on an author’s personal experience too. I am not an author in the sense of writing fiction books, but my writing is often critiqued and given constructive feedback. Sharing my writing publicly either in the form of this blog or in journal articles, presentations, or my thesis is something that I am still learning to deal with. It’s a deeply vulnerable experience and getting feedback is terrifying. My reach from my writing is tiny compared to fiction writers. Authors of books often write from personal experiences and aim to connect with their readers through these experiences. I am in awe of authors who manage to tell stories that I connect with so deeply but just because I love them, doesn’t mean that the next person will. I can only imagine what authors must think/feel when reading their reviews or ratings, but I hope they know that while their book may not be for some people, that it is absolutely for others!

The right time

The other thing to consider is that we read books at different times of our lives. At this point you’re possibly thinking “well, duh…” because we can’t time travel and are therefore always reading books at a different time but if I can borrow from Taylor Swift a little here, what I mean is that we are all in different stages or eras of our lives. For example:

I am a 30 something year old academic who works from home, has anxiety and depression, owns a small business and generally loves reading. At this time in my life, I am thoroughly enjoying reading romance novels or crime fiction. A few years ago, all I wanted to read was fantasy and young adult (YA) fiction. When I do read YA or fantasy books at the moment I’m not sure I enjoy them as much as I would have in the past because I’m not in that stage of my life, that era and so it’s possible that my ratings are lower.

What I am trying to say here is that a book we absolutely loved in the moment of reading, reviewing and rating, is not necessarily a book that we would have loved months before or after reading it. Our lives, circumstances and experiences change, and so does our reaction to books!

I have often looked back at books and thought “was it really a 5 star read? Perhaps I should change it…” I never do though as that rating was true for me in the moment of reading, reviewing and rating, and that’s how it will stay (unless I reread it – then I’ll make a change if the rating needs to).


I think the best thing we can do once we’ve finished a book is to review it. By reviewing books, we’re able to formalise our thoughts and feelings about a book better. This means that we’re able to explain our rating of the book. I always try to jot down at least a sentence that explains my initial reaction to the book so that when I look back at the review in the future, I have a bit of an idea of why I rated it the way I did. I tend to include my emotional reaction in my reviews so that I can understand my state of mind/emotions when I finished reading as that always gives me a better understanding of my rating than anything else.

It should be noted that some readers have a set of criteria that they measure each book against. These criteria often include measuring the literary quality (writing), themes, characters, setting, plot devices… and while that works for some, it’s definitely not how I review or rate books; I’m all about the emotional response! To each their own. There is no right way to respond to a work of art.


So, hopefully that’s given you some food for thought on the emotional aspect of reviewing a book and how it can all influence your ratings. Let’s get down to the numbers of rating.

Goodreads is my reading tracking app of choice. I know that there are many other options but the constant is the 5 star rating practice. For me, I use the following system for rating books:

1 star = terrible; didn’t want to finish the book; hated it; wish I never read it; won’t ever read it again; probably won’t read anything more from this author.

It’s rare for me to have a 1 star rated book. If I really don’t like it that much, I won’t finish it and it’ll end up on my did not finish (dnf) shelf rather than in my 1 star rated books. However, there are a couple of books I’ve had to read for a book club that I’ve rated as 1 star. Let’s just say that I let rip in book club as to why it was 1 star…

2 stars = it was ok; didn’t like but didn’t hate; ok enough to finish it; would read something else from this author; not fussed but not offended.

I have a few 2 star rated books and have found myself rating books as 2 stars more and more as I read romance books. I think this is because some romance books are ok but I want to finish because I know there is a happy ending and I need that joy in my life. This does not mean that I think the romance novel genre is bad! I have read many 5 star romance novels! I guess I’m just more likely to finish a 2 star romance novel because it’s redeemable in my eyes because of the happy ending.

3 stars = it was good; I liked it; would read more from this author; enjoyable; left me feeling happy.

I think a 3 star rating is the most common for me. I think this is because there are a plethora of good books out there. Also, there is nothing wrong with good! Good is good. Good is what most of life is; there are moments of terrible (1 star) and moments of excellence (5 star) but the majority of our life is good and it saddens me that good isn’t enough.

As seen in the Tweet by Indie Book Spotlight that inspired this post, there is sometimes rebellion against 3 star reviews from some authors. It’s got me thinking about customer service ratings and how they are used to performance manage employees; how anything less than full marks (either 5/5 or 10/10 depending on the rating scale) is deemed a failure. This is very different, I think, to rating something based on emotions (reading) and therefore think that a 3 star rating is a completely valid rating for a book! Also, if you go by the Goodreads rating system, 3 stars is what you are supposed to rate for a book that you liked!

4 stars= loved it; didn’t want to put it down; will definitely read more from this author; gets excited thinking about this book; wants to talk to someone about it.

This is where we start to move into the loved range of emotions. I have a few 4 star books in my reading history and I would say that I loved most of them. 4 stars to me means that I didn’t want to put the book down and felt a significant emotional response. I have described 4 star books as being near perfect – might seem harsh to some but that’s how I roll!

5 stars = obsessed; couldn’t put it down; will tell anyone and everyone about it; needs to read more by this author; strong emotional response; story/characters live rent-free in brain for days/weeks.

I have a select number of 5 star reads. Some are literary works of quality, others are beautiful stories. Some just made me feel something so strongly that my heart ached or I got that giddy, happy feeling. I think the 5 star rating beautifully demonstrates just how much I rely on my emotions to rate books.

So, that’s how I rate books! I think the main takeaway from all of this is that writing, reading, reviewing and rating books are deeply personal acts and that we should all be free to do as what we feel (within reason, of course). What do you think? Do you rate similarly or is your rating system far more structured than mine? I’d love to hear about it!


Rosenblatt, L. M. (1970). Literature as exploration. Heinemann.

3 Comments Add yours

  1. Nic says:

    I agree with you that we bring our experience into a book and this can influence our reception of it. One notable example was a book club read that so many in the group loved – me, I hated it. I finished it, but it put me off ever trying that author again. Many of the points I criticised had others say “oh, but that’s because she had the abusive background”, to which my response was “no, I was that teenager, and no that is not the default behaviour – the author just can’t write teenage girls”.
    On the rating system – I’ve stumbled across some saying that 3 is bad. One author said that according to Amazon 3 is bad. Me.. I still use star ratings but while I started using them on my blog, now I’m mostly just sharing my thoughts and keeping my ratings for my reading journal. The scale only means something for me, but hopefully anyone reading my review will get a full understanding of my feelings towards a book by reading what I wrote.


    1. Excellent point about the scale meaning more to you than anyone else. I think that speaks to the nature of reviewing and reading books as being very personal. I didn’t know that about the Amazon ratings; although I guess it makes sense, because Amazon, at least in my mind, has a focus more on the commercial aspect of books. Thank you for sharing your practice!

      Liked by 1 person

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