The Danger of Threes

I’ve recently been going through a lot of my old reviews, and I’ve noticed one issue that kind of bothers me: I rate a lot of books 3/5.

I’m not saying it’s a bad thing or that I’m going to avoid using this rating, but I feel like it’s kind of vague. To me 3/5 kind of means one big “meh” to the book, and that doesn’t really help other people understand what I liked or disliked about the book. (And yes, I try to explain that in my actual writing portion of the blog post, but I know people skip down to the end to get to the rating. I would know…I do it sometimes too.)

But really, what does a 3/5 really mean? It’s “good.” It was “okay.” And yes, I think that’s a valid answer to whether or not you liked the book. But at the same time I struggle with it. I feel like it’s not really an answer at all, because it doesn’t really tell you anything. It’s like the definition of indecision. I didn’t like it, I didn’t hate it. I’ll put the n/a answer on the rating scale.

And that bothers me.

So I want to go over some of my other ratings to see if we can determine what the 3 really means.

Rating: 5 / 5 – “Really Liked It”

This is the easiest rating for me to talk about, because these are books that blow me away. These are the books that are so wonderfully fantastic that I don’t even realize I’ve gotten to the end of the book until there’s suddenly no more pages left to read. These are the books that leave me emotionally distraught. The books I need to pick up and re-read immediately, because I need to experience it again. The books that when there’s a sequel I need to get my hands on it right now because I need to know what happens.

Most importantly, these are books that even if there’s a certain part I didn’t like, it doesn’t matter because the rest of the book more than makes up for it.

Rating: 4 / 5 – “Liked It”

So this is one step down from the 5/5. What stops a book from reaching that next level is one part that I don’t like. This could be the love story, the pacing, the way the author deals with certain subject matter, or even if I strongly dislike a particular character. This is where that one issue really sticks out, but the rest of the book does not make up for that issue. These are books that are so good, and yet there is something major that I trip over when I’m reading it.

A 4/5 can also cover books that don’t necessarily have a specific issue, and yet they somehow lack something. It’s probably an issue that I can’t identify, but it’s when I read a book and I’m just not 100% satisfied at the end of it. I’ve really enjoyed it and liked it, but it needed an extra edge to really get me into that 5/5 range.

Rating: 1 / 5 – “Hated It”

Skipping down to the bottom of the rate scale, the 1/5 is kind of a scary number. I don’t use 0/5, so a 1/5 is literally the bottom line for me. I’ve only used this for one book (a series ender that didn’t resolve any issues at all) so that shows you how little I use this number. It’s because this is for a book that I absolutely hate. These books have absolutely no redeeming qualities, and are a hot mess from beginning to end. I think it’s actually pretty hard to have a book where I hate absolutely every aspect about it, so I reserve this number for really disastrous reads.

Rating: 2 / 5 – “Disliked It”

For these books, a 2/5 rating generally means that I didn’t enjoy the book. This could be for a variety of reasons, including the writing, not liking the characters, the narrative being really slow, boring, or jumpy. However, this book is better than a 1/5 because there’s something about it that I genuinely liked. It could be that I really liked the overall concept, even if I didn’t like how that concept was used. Or I could really like the character, but I don’t like the story that surrounds him/her. Often it’s the use of mythology, historical or fictional references that I really appreciate in the book, even if I don’t like the actual story or characters. These are books where I like one aspect, but dislike everything else.

And finally, the obnoxious, totally annoying and confusing Rating: 3 / 5 – “It Was Okay / Meh”

This rating obviously sits in the middle of the pack, and I think I can see why I use it so often. These are the books where I like more than one aspect of the book (making it higher than 2/5) but I also have problems with multiple aspects (and lower than a 4/5). There are good things and bad things and some iffy things that I’m just not sure about. I’m confused and muddled because while some things are so good I really enjoyed them, other things were terrible and just corrupt the book as a whole.

For example, if a book has amazing ideas, but I feel those ideas have been executed badly, it may receive this rating. Or if I like the story but have trouble liking the characters and the dialogue. Or if I like the characters, but hate the situations they have to go through.

The thing about reading a novel is that there are so many variables that exist within the pages. Writing, characters, dialogue, setting, world creation, pace, narration, concept, etc etc. Yet we’re expected to give one rating on the overall work. When it comes to a more complex story, I don’t know if a single rating is really fair to the author or the reader.


I think what I would like to start doing is break down my rating system to better explain my reaction. I’ll still give an overall rating, but when I feel there are particular variables that need to be pulled out and showcased, I’ll rate those individual variables as well.

I will probably try to highlight one or two aspects that were really good and one or two that were really bad to explain why I felt the book was a middle ground read, and why I couldn’t commit to one side of the scale over the other. That way, if people want to skip to the bottom to see the rating, they’ll see which specific aspects I liked and disliked.

I’m sure there will still be books where I’m muddled and I’m not sure why I liked/disliked certain aspects, but I think I’ll try this method out for a bit and see how it goes. :)


2 comments on “The Danger of Threes

  1. Clean says:

    I think it’s a great idea to break down your ratings. You could have three ratings in total (or however many you feel necessary). One could be for overall enjoyability, one for characters and all things related to the character development and integration, and one for plot development and pacing. My only advice would be to not break down your ratings too much. By having one or two sub ratings you can clarify any questions invoked by a 3/5 rating, but you keep it simple enough to satisfy most readers need for an overall rating.

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