Monday, 24 August 2015

How I rank my books

Almost a month ago I posted an update of my progress with the Popsugar Reading Challenge. That week, during my weekly phone call to my Mum we had a discussion about how I rank books and just what my star system means. I told her that I would write a blog post to try and explain myself, so here goes.

When I got my first Moleskine book journal, at the bottom of each page were five stars for you to rank your books. Before that I used to give them marks out of ten in a little spreadsheet on my computer, but when I switched to the book journal I switched to five stars (which is kind of the same as ten stars because I allow myself half stars). Even though I use my own pretty or plain notebooks as book journals now, I still use the five star system.

Five Stars are for books that I love. They're the ones that make your chest ache, that make you hold your breath as you get to the end, that make you read so quickly because you don't want to put them down until you near the end and then read so slowly because you don't want them to end. These are the books that are afforded the auspicious title of 'My Favourite Books'. They are the ones that I recommend to friends and family, or force on them if I think they're one of those books you should read before you die. Examples of Five Star books: The Other Side of Truth, The Ocean At The End Of The Lane, The Fault In Our Stars.

Four Stars are for books that I really like. They're the ones that you return to time after time because they're comfortable and familiar, which you know the characters as well as your own friends (sometimes even better), that might not be staggering examples of English literature but which are special in their own way. These are often books which I've read before and which may have started out as five stars on a previous read through but which seem slightly less shiny on a second or third go round, or which are almost a five star book but for a character I don't like, a plot point that annoyed me, or a writing style which just doesn't quite grab me. They are the ones which stay on my bookcase long after I've read them and will suggest to people who express an interest in similar books. Examples of Four Star books: And it's goodnight from him…, Johnny and the Bomb, She Who Remembers.

Three Stars are for books that I enjoy or are generally okay. They're the ones that you want to read most of the time because they don't require a huge amount of thought or concentration, that are just a good fun read or interesting, conversely they might be long and a little slow but are worthwhile reading just so you can say you have. These are also books that I occasionally return to, though maybe not quite so often as the four star ones. They quite often wind up being classics or books which are enjoyable though heavy-going or difficult in places. They are often the ones that I've received for free on my Kindle, or have picked up from charity shops second hand in which they may go back there when I'm finished with them. Examples of Three Star books: The Three Musketeers, The Adventures of Tom Bombadil, The Beekeeper's Apprentice.

Two Stars are for books that I feel are lacking something. They're the ones that are mostly good but are missing something that makes them a truly good book, that you might have picked up on a whim or to fulfil some target on a reading challenge, that I just picked up at the wrong time to fully appreciate. They are occasionally books that have been recommended to me by other which just don't grab me for whatever reason. Sometimes they're free ebooks which might have been better had they seen more of an editor. Examples of Two Star books: Secret Santa (A Bluegrass Series Novella), The First Christmas Tree A Story of the Forest, Christmas Eve.

One Star is for books that I really didn't enjoy. They're the ones that you finish because you hate to leave a book unfinished, that hopefully has at least one redeeming quality, that just didn't do it for you for whatever reason. They are almost always one of two books; ones which have been foisted on me by people who think I will like them, or free ebooks which just don't do it at all. These are the books that I am relieved to finish and have absolutely no intentions of going back and rereading. Luckily they are few and far between. Examples of One Star books: Filth (1.5 stars), The Guardian of Athmore (1.5 stars).

I use half stars when a book isn't quite entirely in one category or another. In the examples for my One Star books neither one was quite bad enough to be given a single star (in the last twenty months I've not given a single book just one star and those are the only two I've given one and a half to); but neither book was quite good enough to be a full two stars.

It's an entirely unscientific process as well. A book that I mark as three star book one week might have been a four star book had I read it a week earlier. Two star books may occasionally become a one star book on a reread (and vice versa, occasionally) and books can move between five and four, or four and three; I think it's pretty much unheard of for a reread to jump from a one to a three (mainly because I don't tend to reread one star books) or a two to a four.

So when I mark a book as being three stars, I'm not saying it's a bad book. It's a good book, it's just not a great or spectacular book.

How do you rank your books?


  1. Rating books is a subjective process. Opinions vary. Tastes vary. You system is similar to mine--5 stars I love, 4 stars I like, 3 stars is kinda meh, etc.

    1. Yeah, one person's three stars can mean something totally different to another person's three stars. In fact, sometimes it can depend on when I'm reading it, like there was a book I read when I was going through a rough time so I kept picking it up and putting it down. I gave it three stars because my heart wasn't in it at the time, but on a revisit it'd probably rank higher. So it's not just subjective between different people, but with the same person at different times.

  2. I think I use pretty much the same scale as you do. Two stars I give to books that I think have good merits and are well written, I just don't like. Or books which fall really flat. I have tp still see something in them.

    One stars i reserve for books that I would sooner see shredded then in books. They make me anmoyed just seeing them in bookshops.

    I don't really read a lot of one or two star books though, because I tend to put them down before getting to such a point.

    Three stars I give to books that I enjoyed enough to finish, but that didn't satisfy me.

    I find star ratings quite difficukt and try not to take them to seriously. The problem with them is that so many people have different ways of defining stars. So when looking at places like Goodreads, you can't alwaya makw judgements based on them.

    1. I know what you mean about people having different ways of defining stars. And sometimes I find it really hard to pick how many stars I should give a book. That's why I quite often use half stars, which Goodreads doesn't let me select, because I genuinely can't decide whether it should be three or four, it's both and neither.

      Ever since I started keeping a book journal I've made sure that I finish everything I start which means I probably have a lot more one and two star books than I'd have otherwise.


Let me know what you think. :-)