Five-Star Ratings: What do they mean?

I am a big fan of ratings. Reviews. Grading systems. Rankings.

My entire life, I have taken great pride in the grades I was given by those in authority: teachers, employers, group leaders, etc. I saved my medals and my gold stars in shoe boxes under my bed– I probably still have most of them somewhere.

It brings me great peace to look at a list of things and be able to say, “These are the best and these are the worst, and these are all the reasons why.” I like to order things. This is probably rooted in the same place as my compulsion for alphabetizing and closet categorization.

Because of this, I keep fastidious track of my reading record on Goodreads. I know that some people have qualms with Goodreads (because it’s owned by Amazon, and Amazon is taking over the world and yada yada; also because they think Goodreads makes reading a competition– I like competition), but this is the system that works the best for me. For the sake of my collective reading memory, I LOVE GOODREADS.

I also thought that maybe my (few) followers would benefit from an entry describing what my ratings mean. Without further ado:

The Lowrey Library Rating System

Five Stars— How does a book earn five stars? If I give a book five stars, that basically means one of four things:

  • It made me feel all the emotions: There are possibilities for a book to receive 5 stars even if I didn’t LOVE the book. If it evokes strong emotion from me (which is rare; I don’t emote well) I will likely give the book 5 stars. For example: I just finished reading There There by Tommy Orange last week. It wasn’t a fun book to read by any means, but it felt really important. It was simultaneously heart-wrenching and deprecatingly funny;
  • The writing is, in my opinion, extraordinarily well done: Even if I didn’t love the book, I might give it five stars if the writing is of a caliber that I admire. There are often times when I read something and, based on, my enjoyment of the text, I would give it four stars; however, I respect the author and what they have accomplished so much that I bump the rating up to 5 stars because I feel they deserve it.
  • I loved reading this book: A book may not meet the above requirements based on quality, per se, but I LOVED it. It was fun and heartfelt, I loved the voice/narrative style, I love the author and their personality, I felt genuine joy as I read. There are many books that I don’t necessarily believe merit five stars based on the writing, but I loved the story so much that for me, it remains true that it is a five star book.
  • That old minx, nostalgia: I don’t often reread books. It’s just not who I am as a reader. I wish I were, but I’m not a rereader! There have been a few times, though when I revisited a book I’ve raved about for years (often books from my childhood and adolescence) to find that they are actually…not great. It’s a bummer, and at that point I may reconsider my rating. The truth still stands, however, that books I read many years ago may last in my ratings system as a 5-star book, until I read it again and don’t have that strong affinity to it.

Four Stars— How does a book earn four stars? If I give a book four stars, that basically means one of two things:

  • I really enjoyed the reading experience, but there was just something missing: My most common rating is 4 stars. I generally like most of the books that I read! This is my default rating, I guess. If I give a book four stars, that means there was just some small thing holding me back from absolutely loving it. This happens a lot with cult favorites and bestsellers; I recognize that this book is great, that it has appeal for a lot of people, that it’s a good book to recommend, that I actually liked it, but some unidentifiable element is missing for me to have made that connection.
  • I love the author, but I didn’t love the book: There are several authors that I really love, authors to which I pledge my undying devotion. If I read a book by one of those authors that doesn’t necessarily strike my fancy, I will likely still give it four stars. That may not be fair, but that’s the way it is! It physically pains me (and that’s not an exaggeration) to give a bad rating to a favorite author

Three Stars— How does a book earn three stars? If I give a book three stars, that basically means:

  • I liked this book: By all accounts, a three-star rating means that I liked the book. I didn’t love it, I didn’t hate it; it was fine! It’s probably not a book I will recommend to a ton of people (unless I know your taste and can basically confirm that this is your type of book). I also will almost definitely donate this book– it’s not one I stand a chance of rereading in the future.

Two Stars— How does a book earn two stars? If I give a book two stars, that basically means:

  • I did not like this book: A two-star rating from me is RARE. I am not someone who holds the capacity to label books as dnf and move on. I finish every book I start. I know some people think that this is a waste of time, but I disagree. Even if I dislike a book, that book still gave me something; it made me feel things, gave me opinions, added to collective literary knowledge. For this reason I often have a seething hatred or begrudging respect for the piece as I conclude my reading experience. I have to respect the work that an author put in to create this book, so if I don’t like it, it still gets two stars.

One Star— How does a book earn one star? IT DOESN’T. I don’t give one-star ratings. It is simply, in my opinion, too cruel.

So there you have it…

The Lowrey Library Rating System broken down into understandable bits. I hope this helps you navigate my recommendation system, but if it doesn’t, I’m glad it made me think about and justify the way I rate my reads.

Until next time, happy reading!

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