Why I Don’t Give Many 5-Star Ratings

August 15, 2013 — 6 Comments


Earlier in the week, I thought now would be a good time to explain why I don’t rate more books 5-stars. I mean read a lot. And because I track my reading with Goodreads, 1 almost every book I complete gets a 1-5 star rating.

Then, just earlier today, I found out that a publisher I work with was only going to offer books through NetGalley from now on, and so I was going to rant about how awful and useless NetGalley is for actually reviewing books. But when I declined to review any further books from this publisher, I was offered an ePub when available. That’s actually do-able for reviews (though definitely not preferable in my book) and so my rage against NetGalley subsided briefly. 2

So, back to my original post idea, which I think you’ll find helpful.

You may or may not have wondered why I often will give a book 4 stars that everyone else seems to be giving 5 stars. Recently, I was having a conversation over Chipotle with a friend of mine, and we concluded a 10-star rating system would actually be better. Many times, a book that I give 4-stars to would really be a 9 on a 10 scale system. Occasionally, a book that I give a 5 to would also probably only be a 9, but I have to decide whether to round up or down. In both cases, having a 10 star system would help gauge things better, I think. But we’re stuck with 1-5 stars, so here’s how I deal with that.

In general, I don’t give many books 5 stars (though I’ve done it twice this week and it’s not even the weekend yet), and here’s why:

Most books don’t deserve it.

I realize that’s not a satisfactory answer since most people will concede that most books are not in fact 5-star quality. If you were curious about this at all, you were probably curious why I don’t give many 5-star ratings, not why there aren’t more books out that deserve 5 stars.

So, here’s the deal. 3

According to Amazon, if you like a book, it should be 4 stars. Since I like most of the books I read (and I generally know I’ll probably like it before I read it), my usual rating is 4 stars. To me, 4 stars is a winner. That’s me saying, “this is a quality book and I’m glad I spent the time reading it.”

3-stars means “it’s ok,” which in terms of book evaluation means, either “I liked this book, but it has significant shortcomings,” or “I didn’t really like this book, but there’s nothing particularly wrong with it.”

2-stars means “I don’t like it,” and 1-star means, “I hate it.” 4 I don’t read a lot of books that get 1 or 2 stars because I can usually tell that might get that rating before I waste the time reading them. Or, in some cases, I am blown away with the awfulness of a book I expected more from. If I disliked reading a book and it had shortcomings, I give it 2 stars. If I simply loathed it (probably because it was riddled with shortcomings), it gets a 1 star. 5

That still leaves 5-stars, which again, according to Amazon, means “I love it.”

So, how does a book move from “like” to “love” in my book?

Usually it’s one of two things:

  • It met the requirements of a 4-star and it was significantly well-written such that it was a joy to read
  • It was mind-blowing in some kind of significant way

The more I read, the more I’m finding that that latter reason is harder to come by. For instance, one of the books I finished this week that I gave 5-stars to, In the Beginning…We Misunderstood: Interpreting Genesis 1 in Its Original Context, was more for retroactive reasons. Most of the material in it I had presented to me during my Hebrews classes and at the time, it was mind-blowing. Since this book collected many of those insights into a handy, under-200pgs format designed for a popular audience, I felt like it deserved 5 stars.

The other book was Jared Wilson’s The Pastor’s Justification: Applying The Life and Work of Christ in Your Life and Ministry. For me, it was soul-nourishing, but also, and if you’ve read Wilson’s other books you know this, his turn of the phrase makes his writing a joy to read. So it while it wasn’t revolutionary, it was very enjoyable, very helpful, and very timely.

Basically, I will give a book 5 stars if I can’t put it down and/or it totally re-frames the way I think about something (or many things). If it doesn’t do that, it’s just a 4-star book, but that still is a quality rating in my book. If you give everything 5-stars, then 5 stars really doesn’t mean anything (also, I think you’re either new to the subject you’re reading, or just not good at evaluation). I try to use it sparingly so that when I do actually give a book 5 stars, you can know that it means I think that particular book is excellent. Since I tend to give most books I review a positive review (because I kind of knew I’d recommend it before I read it), this is a way you can tell which of those books are really good.

Luckily, there is not a rating system on blog posts, so I’m just going to assume you felt like this was at least a 4 star explanation. I’m gonna get back to reading a couple of 4’s and a potential 5, and leave you to scroll through my Goodreads rating history to figure out which books to now add to your library.


  1. Though useful, I actually don’t really like Goodreads as a reading tool. I’ll have to explain this in another post
  2. Just kidding, there was no actually rage. If you’ve met me in real life, you’ll understand there is no possible way I was raging against NetGalley.
  3. As in, this is how I do things, not necessarily how I’ve always done things. There are books on Amazon I’ve rated 5 stars that don’t deserve it because they don’t meet my current criteria. But, at least there aren’t any travesties. Like once upon a time I liked Joel Osteen or something like that.
  4. NetGalley gets 1 star
  5. The only book I’ve reviewed that I gave 1 star to was The Shack and you can read my abrasive review by clicking the link, and also free free to read why (I think) people like awful Christian books.


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I’m an avid reader, musician, and high school Bible teacher living in central Florida. I have many paperback books and our house smells of rich glade air freshners. If you want to know more, then let’s connect!

6 responses to Why I Don’t Give Many 5-Star Ratings

  1. NetGalley needs to die…..and fast. Very bad for reviewing. I don’t even like using ePub books for reviewing.

    • Same here. I’d rather review a print copy, but I do like being able to copy block quotes from a Kindle version and putting them in the review.

  2. I agree with your formula. The problem is that if you’re an author, you need 5-star reviews to balance out the 1-star reviews. The 1-stars often come from people who haven’t read the book and just have some kind of personal vendetta. But most potential purchasers do not actually read the reviews–they simply check the stars. This is especially the case on Amazon, but applicable elsewhere as well.

    • I’ve thought about that issue, especially as I’ve read and reviewed books in the midst of blog tours and book launches. How would you suggest modifying my approach to accommodate this aspect of book rating?

      Also, sometimes (to be tongue in cheek) a 1 star is as good as five star. The formula is bad review + stupid reviewer = double negative = helpful review (though obviously not as helpful as someone who knows what they are talking about)

  3. “I don’t read a lot of books that get 1 or 2 stars because I can usually tell that might get that rating before I waste the time reading them.” You judge a book by its cover??? 😮

    • To some extent yes, but most of the books I read I’ve pre-researched and checked out extensively before committing to read them.

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