I recently joined Goodreads, and I’ve been finding it a really valuable tool for remembering what I’ve read and thinking about what has and hasn’t worked for me as a reader. When you have a memory like mine, anything that helps you with this stuff is gold.
I’ve settled into the habit of writing a very brief review whenever I finish a book. These aren’t comprehensive reviews; nor are they particularly well written, but they serve their purpose: they help me with my own thought process and record-keeping. The one thing I’m really struggling with is the starring system: I find assigning an appropriate number of stars monumentally difficult.
Goodreads makes it relatively easy, because each star comes with a label: didn’t like it, it was OK, liked it, really liked it, and it was amazing. Without the labels, I’d be at a total loss. The problem is, the stars seem very close together. I gave, for example, The Tiger’s Wife by Téa Obreht two stars. I appreciated a lot of the writing, and thought it was a well-plotted and ambitious book. It was far from a favourite of mine though and I found it too emotionally distant to be properly engaging. Shortly after I reviewed it, I gave One Day by David Nicholls one star. I did not respect this book at all; I thought it was easy, manipulative and unimaginatively written: a much worse book that The Tiger’s Wife. So it seemed unfair that they were so closely star-rated. They were not at all in the same category.
At school, we use a ‘three stars and a wish’ system for helping the children to edit each other’s work. The children have to come up with three things they really like about their peer’s writing, and one thing they think could be improved. It’s good for encouraging critical thinking without being too negative, and gives them a big boost when they look back at their own three stars.
I think of ‘three stars and a wish’ when I visit Goodreads to write my reviews. Sometimes I want to rate with three stars (I liked it) but add a note to say ‘but I wish you’d done this differently’ or ‘but I wish this element had been explored more’. The Tiger’s Wife, for example, wasn’t a bad book; it just left me a little cold.
Perhaps I’ve spent too much time analysing children’s writing with other children. Equally assigning the same number of stars to everything clearly wouldn’t be a helpful rating system. But I certainly find categorising something with a number of stars limiting and a tiny bit stressful. Perhaps I’m just seriously averse to confrontation!
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