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Quarterly Rhapsody: Rating Books

Quarterly RhapsodyWe love reading books. Unfortunately, we don’t love all the books that we read.

Every book is obviously different, catering to various people with various tastes. People’s taste on books depends on a lot of factors, which would take more discussions than I have in mind. They also have different sets of criteria in judging books.

When I say judging books, I merely mean rating them. Giving them the number of stars you think it deserves is an act of judging, which may or may not affect other readers. One may give a high rating to a certain book just because he loves the genre it falls under. Another may do the same just because he adores the author. And so on.

So how do I rate my books?

I loosely base my system on rating books from the descriptive text that Goodreads.com has on its rating system. For those of you who are not familiar with the site, I am strongly suggesting you to create an account to expand your reading horizon. Anyway, to make things easier, here is the five-star rating system of Goodreads.com:

  • 1 star – didn’t like it
  • 2 stars – it was ok
  • 3 stars – liked it
  • 4 stars – really liked it
  • 5 stars – it was amazing

Aside from that, I also have things in mind to make my judging more objective. Come to think of it, it is impossible to judge objectively because judging is essentially subjective. Anyway, here are the five factors that I use in rating my books:

  • Style, Technique, Tone, Mood, Overall Writing – If I understand the narrative without referring too much to a dictionary, if the literary technicalities fit my taste, add one star.
  • Plot Development, Ability to Sustain Interest, Pace – If it can make me read all night, if it makes me lose my sense of time, add one star.
  • Emotional Attachment – If I care about certain characters, if I love particular scenes so much, add one star.
  • Themes, Messages, Meanings – If I agree with what it seems to be telling me, if the book feels like it has an all-encompassing theme, add one star.
  • The “Umph!” Factor – If it makes me laugh or cry or rant and rave about it, if I think and wonder about it long after reading it, add one or two stars.

Whenever I start reading a book, I begin with three stars. The easiest star that a book can gain from me is my first criterion. Usually, if a book fails at this, it ends up getting one star. How can you love a book if you could not understand the printed text? All else follows because of comprehension, or lack thereof.

It’s not enough that I understand the words. I demand from a book to keep me engaged. If I feel that a book is dragging me, it would fail this criterion. Again, it would hard for me to attach myself to the book if I am just forced to read it.

And then there are my emotions. I love reading because I like experiencing a life outside my own. New experiences involve a jolt in your emotions. I usually detect this jolt when I close a book at mid sentence, close my eyes, and breathe. An obvious one would be a laughter or a tear.

And then there are the themes. Does the book have a lasting message? Is it only a cheap thrill? Is it a must-read for everyone? Is it a smart book?

The third and fourth criteria can stand alone. There are books that I like just because they were able to tap my emotions. These can be called emotional roller coasters. There are books that I like just because they are smart reads without having to be fun reads. These can be called mental exercises.

The last and the most important factor is what I call the “Umph!” Factor. Anyone can call it anything; it may be the usual X-Factor that we hear about anywhere. This is much like an aftertaste. If I can’t help thinking about the book, if it sticks to me so bad that I want to have a reading hiatus, if I often come back to my copy and flip the pages to catch a glimpse of some passages, a huge bonus. I can even give two additional stars just because of this factor, which could make a book reach six stars.

I even go back from time to time to the ratings that I gave the books that I read so that I could make adjustments because of the “Umph!” Factor. That’s why I write about the books that I read long after reading them to test that “Umph!”


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