Raina’s Fantastic Ramblings: Why I Don’t Rate Books I Read

I don’t rate my reviews. At first, all I knew about why I decided not to rate my reviews, and to (with occasional exceptions) only post reviews to my blog (which I can do whatever I want with) and to sites that don’t require ratings, was that I could never decide what I wanted to rate a book. And that’s pretty close to being true without exception. Stars, back when I was reviewing on B&N and Kobo, I’d sometimes not be able to decide whether a book was three stars or five!

Why? Just write a method of what number of stars means what, and sure, sometimes things will fall on the border and you’ll have to round up or down, but it should be pretty easy, right?

All I knew was that didn’t work for me. There are so many different kinds of labels and categories that I struggle with.

But then eventually I got to articulating at least a little of why I have this trouble – if it is trouble – a little better.

Some people read primarily for entertainment. What they find entertaining varies a great deal, and this is of course overly simplistic, since when are words anything but overly simplistic? So – was it entertaining? Did it hold my attention throughout? Where there any places where it was slow and I got bored, or where it was too tense? Did it make me feel what I want to feel? Was it easy to read or was the prose clunky? And so forth.

And you should be able too ask all those questions, see how well a book performed, and then combine that performance and rate it accordingly, right? Well, even if that was what it was all about, it wouldn’t be so easy for me, but it’s not.

I love entertainment as much as the next guy. It’s fun when a book makes me laugh a lot. I like entertaining world-building, vibrant characters, and smooth, flowing prose that matches the mood of the book … don’t get me wrong. I like entertainment, too, and I will occasionally read primarily for entertainment.

But …

Yes, but.

I like to explore. To interface with new ideas. I like to see ideas like mine, of course, but I want to see other people’s real, genuine ideas. Does this mean I like – or want to – read every book out there? No! Some kinds of ideas – I’m just not in a place where I can handle them very often (if ever). Other times, I’ve seen it so many times, and unless you present it to me in a way that’s new or compelling … if it’s just the same old thing without context or depth, an exploration of what it is or means that somehow gets to me … I’m frankly a little bored.

Now, of course, this can be terribly unfair to books, right? Because the first book that shows me a new idea, or one I rarely see, will be like, “Yeah! Exciting!” But I might come across one several years later that has the same idea, but doesn’t flesh it out in a way that resonates with me or prompt me to explore it from a new angle, and I’m like, “Nice, but …” It doesn’t get anywhere near the same reaction. And this reaction can get so complicated if there was potentially more depth in the second one, but not that much more, and yeah …

And then some books explore ideas that, for whatever reason, I never tire of exploring. They’re close enough to me, a lot of stories that interface with them can prompt an exploration I … want to have.

There are some I really, really like, some I might not like in the same way but they provide something to think about … and, of course, just entertainment, too. How does this turn into anything like an ability to rate a book? If I “Five Star” it, it might mean, “This is the first book I ran across this really interesting idea (to me) in, but that doesn’t mean it’s exceptional or very good, or even a great representation of this idea,” or it might mean, “When I read this one, I was in a mood where I really like characters who have to deal with these kinds of issues.” And how do I even tell whether the book was exceptional, or it was the mental state I was in when I read the book?

To some degree, I can tell. To a pretty large degree, I can tell, most of the time. But it’s nothing like a solid absolute I can measure.

And how do I even measure the newness of the idea, or how interesting it was, or anything?

This is also why it usually takes me weeks, or even months, to write reviews. I’ll be thinking about (many of) the books I read for the rest of my life, in one or another. And I certainly don’t just decide what I think about a new idea, or a new angle on a human experience, or – whatever it is – in a day or two! Do I like a book that resonates with my beliefs and experience, or that forces me to examine new things? One that I mostly agree with, or one that I have some disagreements about?

For that matter, what does it even mean to agree with or disagree with a story? Sometimes, you do of course, and stories have their own ways to be “true”, but other times it’s not something to be disagreed with or agreed with. You can agree or disagree about an answer, or about whether a road is one you want to travel, or where a path leads, but how do you disagree with a question? Or an injunction to “Take a look over there.” Maybe over there is interesting. Maybe it isn’t. To me, at this moment, but it might be different later. I might have looked over there before, and this isn’t a place that’s far enough different – on a day with new lighting conditions – for me to see “over there” any better or in a new way.

And maybe I don’t even know how interesting it is. I took a look over there, and I don’t know what it means yet, or how to fit it into everything else.

And this is one reason why I don’t rate my reads.

Some things can’t be measured. Trying to measure them is to lose them, slipping through your fingers.

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