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.
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**
FEB: 3.19 || 2.93 WR
MAR: 3.69 || 3.25 WR
MAY: 4.42 || 4.13 WR
JULY: 4.1 || 3.88 WR
SEPTEMBER (SO FAR): 3.88 || 2.67 WR
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.)
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!!!!!
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:
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.)
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])
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??
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.
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