Three Stars is Not a Bad Review ...

I'll tell you a secret.

As a reader, I devour three star reviews. (As an author, I find them moderately less easy to digest, but I still enjoy the taste.) Why? Because three star reviews are generally honest. A reviewer who gives a book three stars is likely to be able to see both the good bits and the limitations within the novel.

Three star reviews have a bad reputation. I was surprised recently when someone approached me on amazon and wanted to know why I had rated a book three stars, when I had written so many nice things about it. Consequently, I felt that it was something that needs to be addressed.

First and foremost, this blog has no star rating system--I usually just talk about what within the book works for me, what may not work so well, whether or not I would recommend it to others or if it is better suited to a niche audience. I find this works rather well and fits in with the artsy feel of this blog. When I move on to sites such as Goodreads, Amazon and the Reading Room, I usually add my star rating there, as it forms an important part of the set up of the site. (Although, it is not compulsory for users to leave star ratings on Goodreads or The Reading Room, I realise that it is helpful to do so.) The vast majority of reviews I leave there are three, four and five stars. This is generally because I do not bother to review books that I do not enjoy very often. 

To me, three stars usually mean that the book meets my expectations. It was a good, well-written book. I enjoyed it. The author passed the test and their book is something that I would recommend to anyone who enjoys books in that genre. A three star book may, however, lack something that would make it a favourite book or it may not have writing or themes that caused it to linger on in my mind after I put the book down. One book I gave a three star rating to recently was Hopeless by Colleen Hoover. I felt that hopeless was a decent book, though a few things did not match my personal expectations. I was also aware that some of the things that I did not like about the book were highly subjective. It was clear that I am a bit outside of the intended YA/NA audience. But none of that means that Hopeless is a bad book. Quite the contrary. Hopeless is a good book. It just may not be the perfect book for me.

What is more bothersome and is, in my opinion, a debate worth having, is the relevance of certain one star reviews. Now don't get me wrong here. Everyone has a right to an opinion and so long as people abide by the Terms of Service on the site where they choose to post those reviews, they should be able to express that opinion how they see fit. The nature of the internet means that expressing that opinion whilst using an avatar and a pseudonym means that the reviewer is free (should they wish,) to use a bunch of vehement, hyperbolic statements (i.e. I nearly vomited all over my keyboard), gifs to emphasise their point (cue repetitive loop of an actor or actress vomiting in a scene from a teen movie,) and some possible misunderstandings about themes or the purpose of the book (i.e. I'm giving Watership Down by Richard Adams one star because I hate books about rabbits.) And sometimes the review is filled with spelling, grammatical and punctuation errors. Now, again, people have the right to hold those views and to express them. But the big question is why would anyone take a review like that seriously? Why would you let someone who comes across as semi-literate and bitchy influence your reading choices?

Or do you? Let me know. Do you take negative reviews seriously? In which ways are they helpful and which ways are they not?


Andrew Leon said…
In those instances, it's not the actual review that matters. People first look at the quantity of the ratings, so the point of that is not the review but to get to leave the rating (and on Amazon, you have to review to rate).

The only issue with the 3-star rating, itself, is that the meaning of the ratings is dependent upon where you are, so, on Amazon, a 3-star is "it was okay" (a very neutral rating), but on goodreads a 3-star is (I think) "I liked it." Basically, you have to tailor the rating to the site you're leaving it on.
Kathryn White said…
I have to admit, I'd never thought about three stars meaning different things on different sites. Some good points here, Andrew.
On my own blog, 3 stars means it's good, that I liked it. I do adjust my star ratings on other sites according to their scales but sometimes I round up or down as it suits
Kathryn White said…
Three stars is a good rating. I guess I need to look a bit more closely at the sites I leave reviews on and take into account their scaling system before posting my reviews there--I don't want to give potential readers (or the author,) misleading information.

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