NOTE: I have just begun to rate my reviews as of July 2009. Older reviews may have ratings added later, but only if I have the time and inclination.
THE RATING SCALE
After considering various possibilities for a rating system, I decided to go with a fairly standard 5-star system. Since this seems to be the most common type of book rating system around, it has the advantage of being easily understood and familiar to those who have seen 5-star ratings elsewhere. Of course, everyone has their own descriptions for the various levels, and here are mine:
1 STAR: Far below average. Perhaps not totally without merit — after all, I did finish it, didn’t I? But I had to force myself to do so. Not recommended. Consider this author’s other work with extreme caution.
2 STARS: Below average, but perhaps with a few interesting elements. Not a truly enjoyable experience; finishing this seemed like a real chore at times. Not recommended, unless the premise especially grabs you or you’re interested in some particular aspect of this book.
3 STARS: Average quality, or slightly above or below. Maybe everything about it is average; or maybe it has some real strengths mixed with some unfortunate weaknesses. Getting through this was easy enough, but I was looking forward to getting it over with and moving on to something better. Recommended to anyone with an interest in the book’s basic premise, the particular style or subgenre (e.g. space opera, time travel), or the author in general.
4 STARS: Above average in several (but maybe not all) ways. An excellent read that engages the intellect. A very enjoyable experience, inspiring me to seek out more by this author. Highly recommended to any fan of the genre.
5 STARS: Far above average — this book is one of the best, a shining star, a masterpiece! I got enormous satisfaction from reading it; I was really immersed in this author’s world, and felt a sense of regret that the experience had to end. I don’t just recommend this book, damn it — I insist you read it!! And I will definitely be checking out the author’s other work.
A WORD ON RATING DISTRIBUTIONS
I believe that literary quality, like many other complex phenomena, lends itself to being described by the “normal distribution” from statistics, represented graphically by a bell curve. Most books will cluster near the peak of the curve, near the average, with few books of very low or very high quality appearing out near the edges. And so I don’t see a rating scale as being linear, with equally sized categories. Generally, here’s the way I see the breakdown for the various categories:
1 Star : 5%
2 Stars: 20%
3 Stars: 50%
4 Stars: 20%
5 Stars: 5%
That sounds about right to me. That would make half the books I read average, while 1 in 20 would be a masterpiece, and 1 in 20 a time waster. In actual practice, I expect the distribution will be slanted a bit toward the upper end of the scale. I doubt you’ll see too many 1-star ratings, since there is a pre-screening effect with books: you can get an idea of a book’s quality before you read it, from inside the jacket, or from reviews, or by previous knowledge of the author, or whatever the case may be — and thus the worst books often don’t even get read (at least by me). But I imagine one will occasionally slip through.
Note: this does not mean I’ll be keeping track of every rating to make sure exactly 1 in every 20 is 5 stars, for example. It simply means that when I look back after rating a few hundred books, this is how I’d expect the percentages to turn out. It also means that 3 stars is a respectable rating, indeed almost a standard rating, since I’m putting forth the principle that about half of all books will fall into this category.