Do Book Ratings Have Anything to Do with Critical Reading??: My Thoughts on Why I’ve Been Rating Books Highly Lately

I’ve been questioning everything about me being a “critical reader”.

For example, the other day* I said “cortical reader” instead of “critical reader” and I was thoroughly shocked. How could something like that possibly happen.

Okay but all jokes aside (apparently cortical has something to do with the brain??), I’ve really been having a small existential crisis over high book ratings and critical reading, until like two months ago when I figured it all out.

So today I’m here to discuss something that’s been plaguing me for quite a long time now: high book ratings, its connection to critical reading, and what it means for me!

And this post is going to be kind of weird because I couldn’t figure out how to organize it right but HOPEFULLY YOU GUYS GET IT??? Because this is something I’ve been wanting to talk about for a long time and I don’t think I’ll ever get my thoughts organized it but. I’m pretty proud of how this turned out.

*I’m lying, I wrote this draft in June but could never write it properly so it wasn’t actually the “other day” but BEAR WITH ME PLEASE I need some jokes.

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A LOOK AT MY RATINGS

According to Goodreads and my reading spreadsheets (and my calculator, because there is nothing in the world that will convince me to do math by hand), these are my average ratings for each month so far in 2018:

**WR means WITHOUT REREADS**

JAN: 3.57
FEB: 3.19 || 2.93 WR
MAR: 3.69 || 3.25 WR
APR: 3.88
MAY: 4.42 || 4.13 WR
JUNE: 4.22
JULY: 4.1 || 3.88 WR
AUGUST: 3.83
SEPTEMBER (SO FAR): 3.88 || 2.67 WR

 

according to Goodreads, this is my average for 2018 so far (not counting half-stars) and right now, it’s the same as 2017’s avg rating

And of course, here’s my super fun, completely necessary commentary on each month:

January: I still didn’t really know my tastes as well so I was trying new things and obviously… it didn’t turn out so good
February: 1-starred a book, read a book I knew I wasn’t going to like for school, and tried new books that I ended up disliking. STILL DIDN’T KNOW MY TASTES (but I did read Girl Made of Stars twice this month sooooo)
March: 1.5-starred two books, which dropped my average. thought I would like one, and I did not; thought I would hate the other, and I did :))
April: mostly 3.5/4-star books. no comment on this month. I truly have nothing to say. I love being an eloquent blog discussion writer
May: ALL 4+ STAR BOOKS but I was slumping and two out of six books were rereads :))
June: chose books (for Pride month) that I’d been meaning to read and was 99% certain I was going to love: PROOF I KNEW AND KNOW MY TASTES WELL
July: a well-rounded month in my opinion but the only reason this month sticks out to me is because it’s when I read the All For the Game trilogy aka became obsessed forever
August: 1.5-starred a book which dropped my average a lot :))
September: I’ve read 4 books so far, one of which was a 5-star reread, another of which was a 1 star trashfire, so between the rating including rereads and the rating without rereads… A DRASTIC DIFFERENCE

my conclusion, aka something completely unrelated:* MY RATINGS ARE DROPPING AGAIN WHY WHY WHY WHY THIS JUST COMPLETELY RUINS THE REST OF THIS DISCUSSION

*I love saying things that make myself laugh. (I’m pathetic.)

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EXISTENTIAL CRISES

For some reason, up until July, I had a problem with seeing more 4-5 star ratings each month—basically, I had a problem with seeing myself ENJOY MORE BOOKS.

Which is stupid. And dumb. And ridiculous. And yet I kept feeling weird about it.

The thing that made me think “NO I HAVE TO HAVE LOWER RATINGS” is that I thought ratings determined how critical you are as a reader, which is not true at all.

Until July, my thoughts about this were similar to:

Why am I rating books higher and higher each month?? Is something wrong with me? Am I not critical enough?? Am I being too lenient on books???

Then I convinced myself with words similar to this:

You’re fine. You still probably would hate a lot of books if you read them. But you’re being smart and choosing books you know you have a high chance of liking, because you know yourself and your tastes well. It’s not a matter of you being less critical, you just know what you will or won’t like!!!!!

me @ myself CONSTANTLY

And yet even though it was enough to persuade me that “it was okay to have high ratings” (why did that need persuasion?1!!?1), I still found myself “frowning” slightly at high ratings. I don’t know why, but I took a lot of offense at me telling myself “oh wow look at all those 4 and 5 star books you’re CLEARLY not critical anymore”.

It had gotten to the point of me considering reading books I thought I was going to hate, or at least not LOVE, just to have lower ratings. (And… to also roast the books, to be completely honest.)

But now!! I’ve actually realized a lot of things:

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DO CRITICAL READERS EXIST? AM I ONE?

I think that some people are actually critical readers, or at least they analyze a lot of the book. They might not enjoy many books, for whatever reasons, may it be high expectations or hype or finding lots of flaws. Or, maybe they find a lot of flaws, but they still enjoy the book, but it’s not enough to rate it super highly?? I DON’T KNOW.

But I think for a majority of people, we’re just readers. Some of us might want to try a book we’re not sure we’ll like or not and end up not liking it. Some of us get disappointed easily. Some of us have too high of expectations for books. Some of us take a little more to be “pleased”.

I’m one of those people. I’m not SUPER critical. I couldn’t really do that, because I truly do try to find positives in books that I read because I WANT to enjoy them (even though my brain seemed to be ANNOYED by that).

But I’m still critical of books and I still like to analyze them. Not enough to be what I personally consider to be a “critical reader” but enough that I feel confident in my book thoughts.

And I think the reason I was really insecure about this and what I thought it had to do with book ratings is because last year I wasn’t as critical on books as I am now. As book reviewers and bloggers, we all want our reviews and ratings to reflect our opinions as close as possible—we want credibility. And I was afraid that higher book ratings = less critical reading = less credibility. (WHICH IS OBVIOUSLY WRONG.)

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CRITICAL READING & KNOWING YOUR TASTE

But now, I KNOW my high ratings are not indicative of a lack of critical reading. I KNOW I’ve gotten more critical: There are so many books I rated super high in 2017 that I would now rate lower, like Warcross and Scythe (which I actually ended up lowering my rating for).

This year, I feel like I’ve really explored what books I think I will and won’t like, and found out what I actually do like and dislike. Sometimes it didn’t go so well, like with me trying out And I Darken and The City of Brass even though I knew I wasn’t going to like them… and ending up hating them both. (This is what happens when I listen to the hype and not my GUT!!!! [screams into my pillow])

Warcross by Marie Lu  Scythe by Neal Shusterman  And I Darken by Kiersten White  The City of Brass by S.A. Chakraborty  Beneath the Citadel by Destiny Soria  The Demon Race by Alexandria Warwick

But sometimes it went really well, like with Beneath the Citadel and The Demon Race, both books I thought I would give 3 stars or less to, but ended up rating 4.5 stars and enjoying a LOT.

I’ve become more analytical, but I know my likes and dislikes better now. My high ratings don’t show that I’ve become more critical, because in my increasing criticism of books, my ability to guess what books I’ll like/dislike has increased as well, and I choose to read the books I think I’ll like. And I end up liking (most of) them, just as predicted.

This isn’t to say that people with low ratings = people who don’t know their tastes well. Or that ALL people with high ratings know what books they will or won’t like. It’s just… some weird internalized thing I’ve been facing that I’ve finally figured out about myself??

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SO… MY CONCLUSIVE THOUGHTS?

This year, even though my ratings have gotten higher and my enjoyment of books has gone up, my level of criticism with books has STILL gone up. I used to think the opposite, that with higher ratings = less critical reading, but it’s not, at least for me. I’ve just really gotten to know my book tastes better and I LOVE that.

(God I’m such a nerd.)

I don’t really know where I’m going with this discussion. I just feel like a lot of people beat themselves up for having higher average ratings—I KNOW that, because I’ve talked to people who’ve thought that and heard from other people the same thing.

But there is no shame in enjoying books. And yeah, maybe you’re known for the “hard-to-please reader”, or the “reader who hates everything”, or the “super critical analytical reader”. (I can think of a few people who truly fit these.)

But it’s dumb to say that I should enjoy less books to be “more critical” because 1) enjoying more books does NOT equal being less critical!! and 2) if I didn’t enjoy reading, why would I be doing it???

I would leave it at that SUPER PHILOSOPHICAL QUESTIONING-OF-LIFE sentence but one day I’ll look back at this post and laugh at that last line and at myself for being pathetic so [insert witty ending here]*.

*As if this is a better ending but okay.


shall we chat

this was a weirdly written discussion but hopefully some of it made sense? do you think yourself a critical reader? do you know your book tastes well? do you tend to rate books higher or lower? why do you think that is??? (I’M A NERD I’M SORRY)

p.s. I’d love to hear feedback on what you guys thought of this discussion! as in, not your thoughts on the topic, but your thoughts on if you liked it or not? because I actually liked it, even though it’s kind of messy, but I don’t know if it was just TOO all over the place or what

blog signoff

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39 thoughts on “Do Book Ratings Have Anything to Do with Critical Reading??: My Thoughts on Why I’ve Been Rating Books Highly Lately

  1. Oh my gosh, I can relate to this A LOT. I rate a lot of books pretty high. And while I really need to go back and change some old ratings, for the most part I just… genuinely enjoy most of the books I read. Because I know what I like, and tend to avoid the books I don’t think I’ll like. So therefore almost all my ratings are high.

    But I sort of feel like it takes away my credibility… Even though it probably doesn’t (At least not much). But my brain is convinced that I should dislike more books, which is ridiculous, and I know it, but… I still feel sort of weird about it.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I completely feel you!! Some of my old ratings I’m like “mmm you DEFINITELY wouldn’t be so high if I read now” but at the time I read them, I liked them?? But yeah, I’ve gotten so much better at detecting whether or not I’ll like a book, so I’m proud of that!

      And yeah, I agree! I honestly don’t think it takes away from credibility (at least for me, since I tend to get analytical about everything lmao) but my brain DEFINITELY tells me I need to hate more books which is dumb

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Ohhh this post means so much to me! My current average rating is 4.38 stars. No joke. I used to be very self conscious about it and think that people with much lower average ratings are way cooler, but then I look at the fact that I DO give low ratings to books I hated, and I DO always try to review critically even when I’ve enjoyed a book and given it 5 stars (which might sometimes mean 4.5, but we know how goodreads is). The thing is, I have good judgement skills when it comes to the book I’m going to read, and I got better at only requesting ARCs I truly think I’ll enjoy (I still have my moments in which I request whatever book I can find and then regret it). I also know my moods and which type of book to start when I’m sad/happy/hungry/etc. AND, I read a lot of books??? I’ve given a lot of 2 and 1 stars if you look at it, but I still read enough books that the average stays high. I also know I’d rate a lot of books differently if I read them now but I don’t believe in changing ratings unless I reread (with a few exceptions).
    That is to say, we should be happy we’re enjoying books and we (and dare I say, our readers/followers) know that we review critically.
    I love you and your posts!!!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Aww, Sil this makes me so happy!! A 4.38 average rating is AMAZING and I’m proud of you (but yeah, when I had a higher avg rating, I felt embarrassed of it too?? which is dumb). And yeah! I’ve gotten more critical with what I’ll give 5 stars and a lot of books that I enjoy end up being the default 4 stars… whereas last year they got 5 lmao

      And I’m so glad you’ve gotten better at judging what books you’ll like or not!! I think that’s such a great point to be at because then you can truly pick books you’ll enjoy. (And also yes I love knowing what books I’m in the mood to read when I’m feeling a certain way!! Even the mood reading can be tough sometimes lmao)

      I LOVE YOU AND I’M SO GLAD YOU RELATED TO THIS POST!!! ❤

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Now I’m like: I never even THOUGHT about this. I just write my review, then pick the rating that matches my opinion and I think the book deserves and there’s THAT. I just.. don’t overanalyze my rating-habits? Does this make me weird?
    NOW I’M FEELING LIKE I’M NOT CRITICAL OF MYSELF. My lord – you’re giving me an existential crisis with this post.. :’)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh, it’s so great that you don’t think this!! Please don’t feel bad! — I’m just an overthinker and I overanalyze way too many things 😂🙈 I’m hoping one day I’ll be like you and not wonder if I’m being too critical / not critical enough when I rate books!

      Like

  4. I love this post!
    I’ve never thought about book ratings much!! I read the book, and if I like it I usually give it a mental five and if I hate it and can barely get to the next chapter without hating it for sure, then it’s a one or a zero.
    I guess I’m a critical reviewer???!? I’ve never noticed it much but I don’t give much 2-4’s as votes because I don’t think deeply for the reviews, rather than I just go straight to the point.
    Great post, it really made me think! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Great and super thought-provoking stuff discussion! I do not even know my personal average rating on Goodreads. But I think of myself as quite critical when reading and rating a book, and when I have a problem or dislike a book, I just give the most appropriate amount of stars I think they deserve. I think also that’s why it’s nice to read people’s reviews to see the aspects that made them rate that book that amount of ratings.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh, it’s great that you don’t even know your avg rating on Goodreads! (I think about it way too much haha) And oh I tend to overthink my ratings (usually with the lower ones) and feel like I’m being too critical / not being critical enough, but I’m glad you don’t experience that! And yes, reading others’ reviews to see their opinions is something I love to do as well!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I used to worry because I never really hated books? Except ones I ranted about? Maybe because I pick books I know I’m going to LOVE, except for ARC reads. Now, I don’t fret over constantly reading 5 star reads, because reading books ins’t about being a snobby rater, it’s about doing what I love – reading.

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  7. youre such a nerd omg (but like a cute one, so its okay) but MAY SOMETIMES I THINK “i have too many high rated books in a row, whats going on with me” and then feel the need to roast some favs. why are we so mean is the better question

    i also kindy envy people with very high ratings, its like they know their taste enough that they dont have to deal with flaming trash books that slowly wear down their sanity. but your stats!!! theyre so cute 😭😭

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  8. I love this discussion, and I think you made some great points! It makes sense that you’re rating books higher because you’re learning about your tastes. ❤ Also, never feel bad about rating something highly if you enjoy it. I struggle with that a lot…I think I’m TOO critical of a reader sometimes. I hardly ever give out 5 stars (though I also hardly ever give out 1 stars), but when I think I’ve enjoyed a book enough for it to be 5 stars, I also stop and ask myself, “Was it well-written though?” and I’m not sure that’s always fair. High ratings help authors. High ratings can help books that otherwise might not get the exposure to the public that they deserve, even if they aren’t perfectly written. But on the other hand, I want people to trust my ratings. I want my 5-star ratings to carry weight. So I don’t know, I see both sides of the issue.

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  9. YES. “There is no shame in enjoying books.” YES. People often confuse the ability to hate something with a more refined palette. Instead, I agree with you. Completely. And, I also believe that when we don’t like the books that we are “supposed” to like we feel like we are missing something that everyone else understood. This is a fabulous discussion that really has my wheels spinning!

    Like

  10. I think high ratings are often a sign someone is good at picking out books they would like, so it confuses me when people get kind of skeptical like “Why does that person always rate high? They must be lying.” It seems like a weird conclusion to jump to.

    But I also think ratings can be random and subjective, and I didn’t include them on my blog for a long time because it can be hard to say what they really mean. Am I rating my personal reaction? Taking into account more objective factors? (Like maybe I really hated the protagonist but the book was actually well-written? Do I give it 3 stars? 4?)

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  11. I totally understand why this post was so difficult for you to piece together, but you did a good job because I totally got where you’re coming from.

    As with most things, the closer you look into something, the more complicated it gets. At the same time, the more you step back and look at the bigger picture, the less complicated it gets. I think the same goes for this topic. For me? I don’t want to spend my time reading books I won’t like, therefore, I only choose to read books that I know I’ll like (or books that I’m very curious about). Like you, I’ve gotten better at figuring out, just from a synopsis, whether I’ll like a book or not. Therefore, I have a high average rating.

    At the end of the day, I don’t really care what other people think about all of my high ratings because I’m incredibly selfish and reading (and blogging) is 100% a fun non-work-related activity for me, so I want to enjoy the books I do read. That doesn’t mean I don’t come across books I dislike, and I have been known to throw 2 and 3 stars in with my 4s and 5s, but I don’t go searching out books I know I’ll hate just so that I can write a negative review. (I actually kind of strongly dislike when people do that, but I know there are some that enjoy reading highly critical reviews – to each their own.)

    Anyway, I agree with you. I think you can be a critical reader and still rate books highly simply because you know how to choose books you like.

    Great, entertaining post my friend!

    Like

  12. This is a great post May, I loved seeing how your average ratings changed improve each month (and OK drop a little in more recent months) and it was really interesting reading your thoughts on this topic. 🙂 At the end of the day I think I’ve become a more critical reader thanks to blogging. Granted a lot of my books still have high ratings (I’m not sure what my average would be each month but overall I think it’s over 4 stars) but I feel like I’m able to pick up things I don’t enjoy that I may have been willing to look past previously you know? Overall I just know what books I like to read and I rarely branch out from my comfort zone. I think it’s great you’ve read book you weren’t sure about (like And I Darken and The City of Brad’s) even though you didn’t end up enjoying them at least you can say you tried them which is more than what I can say sticking firming with my comfort genres. 😀
    Again great post. 🙂 ❤️

    Liked by 1 person

  13. This is such an interesting post. I used to – and sometimes, still – feel like I wasn’t critical enough…. I find myself reading 4 – 5 stars way more often than not, and sometimes I have 3 stars, but rarely less. It’s been a while since I rated a book less than 3 stars and I feel like I am not being critical enough, but… then, I think that I know my bookish taste pretty well by now and, what if I like everything that I read? I’m in it because I love it, so I guess in the end that’s all that matters?! But I do overthink about this A LOT hahaha.
    Wonderful post! ❤

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Yes absolutely! I rate a lot of books highly and there’s some part of me that feels bad about this like I should be more critical like other bloggers, but on the other hand, if I like a book why should I rate it lower just to meet some arbitrary expectation of critical-ness?? It’s so weird to me that bloggers are expected to be so critical… Isn’t the whole point that we ENJOY reading and want to find books that we love?? Doing this would be so much harder if I was constantly reading books I didn’t enjoy!
    Anyway, I really related to your post and enjoyed reading your thoughts!

    Liked by 1 person

  15. I’ve worried about this in the past, because I rate a lot of books highly. Eventually I realized though that it isn’t because i’m not critical at all, I just really do know my own tastes and I don’t read books I think i’ll hate. Why would I read books I don’t think i’ll like when I read for pleasure and fun? I get everyone’s different, this is just my own feelings. I so relate. Why should we feel bad for enjoying reading, our hobby? Isn’t reading supposed to be fun?

    I love to annotate and sometimes I wish I could turn the part of my brain that is critical off, but I can’t. So I can be critical sure, but my main reason for reading is to have fun so I pick up books that I think i’ll like, and i’m usually right. No shame in knowing my own tastes and enjoying reading! 🙂

    Like

  16. oh my god looking at your averages for each month and your commentary on them brought me so much joy. DO MORE ANALYSIS, PLEASE. thank u.

    also, i LOVE THIS POST. i had this same existential crisis toward the end of last year. my reading in 2017 was DISMAL. i hated so many books and my average for the year was like 2.7??? and i was like cool, now i seem critical and edgy or whatever (and u know how i love to seem edgy) but what is the point? it literally just means i’m pushing myself through books i hate for no reason, and seemingly that i have no awareness of my own tastes or interests. and my ratings are still low, but i’m trying to get them higher, rather than keep them low, and it makes reading so much more fun!! (even though i still f*ck up sometimes. like when i force myself to read a john green book for the clout and end up in a reading slump.)

    anyway, conclusion of this super long comment: i love you and your mind and your blog and this post!

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  17. I feel this on a deep level! I’ve gotten a lot better at knowing what I will and won’t like and usually being far more critical on the ones I don’t like because WHY DID YOU WASTE MY TIME UGH.

    I find myself keeping an eye on my average rating and then have to remind myself that it doesn’t matter and it shouldn’t matter. I’m a big proponent of LET PEOPLE ENJOY THINGS and sometimes I have to turn that around on myself.

    The only area I’m not confident in when picking the right books for me is whenever I’m on Netgalley, it’s like all the knowledge I have accumulated about my reading tastes just leave my brain and laugh as they go because HA you’re gonna request so many books and all of the ones you’ll get accepted for are ones you’re gonna hate! Have fun with that!

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  18. Love this discussion, May! 💗 I’ve worried about this a lot, because my average rating is pretty high (above 4) and that makes me think that I’m not a good reviewer or critical reader. 😅 But then I’ve realized that I always try my best to read books that I’m pretty sure I’ll enjoy (based on blogger/friend recommendations and goodreads reviews), and so, most of the books I read are four- or five-star reads. I’m not as worried about this anymore, because I like to be happy with the books I read (since I love reading); I don’t want to force myself to read books that I don’t think I’d enjoy just to be seen as a “critical reader.” I’m glad that you’ve gotten to know your book tastes better too, because it’s definitely important to enjoy reading! Great post as always. ☺️❤️

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  19. I love this discussion May and I think it’s organized really well ❤ I always rate books based on my enjoyment first, then analyse the rest later. I think some people are critical readers, but personally I am not one, and I have no shame in that! If I enjoy the book I will give it a high ratings, and if I don't… well then I don't xD I experience the similar ~rating curve~ as you and for me, I think it correlates with my busy-ness? In Jan-April I am a) adjusting to the new term b) adjusting my reading taste and in Sept-Dec I'm a) adjusting to a new school year and b) generally freaking out after 3 months of doing nothing. But in June-Aug I enjoyed more books since I have a lot of more free time to enjoy them rather than stressing about uni and reading. Technically, I also have more time to ~analyse~ the books I read during the holidays, but I didn't either…

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  20. I used to feel like I wasn’t much of a critical reader but I think I’ve gotten better at it over the years. I was looking over the books I’ve read this year and I’ve given most of them four or five star ratings but those are the books I finished. I think the reason I tend to rate books higher is because I usually DNF a book if I’m not enjoying it and that includes books I might give a 3 star rating. So this results in overall high ratings. And I agree with you that there’s nothing wrong with rating books higher because you enjoyed them! I don’t think my high ratings have anything to do with me getting better at predicting what books I’ll like because I left my comfort zone a lot this year by trying out SFF books that seemed a bit weird..but I ended up liking them a lot! I didn’t anticipate that haha. Anyway, this was a fun post to read!

    Like

  21. this was such a good discussion!! i exclusively read books that i’m fairly certain i’ll love before starting, and so i have a super super high goodreads average rating (as in the vast majority of y books read are 4 stars) and this has bothered me for a while because there’s so many people who say that reviewers “aren’t trustworthy” if they don’t post negative reviews also. This is especially true because almost every single ARC / free book i get is a 5 star, but that’s because i ONLY REQUEST BOOKS I’M EXCITED FOR. sometimes I worry that people will think my reviews are biased/not critical, but in reality i think i just know my own preferences really well, and can say with relative assuredness that i’m going to love a book before going in, or i won’t read it.
    basically i’m just trying to say that i love this post.

    Liked by 1 person

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