If you use Goodreads at all, you’ve likely noticed that the platform allows you to “rate” your “reads” using “stars” (those are scare quotes). If you use Goodreads regularly, you probably know that the ratings system is, in a word, fucked. Why does literally every Colleen Hoover book have over four stars? Why do all my favorite no-thoughts-just-vibes books struggle to hold onto 3 stars? What! Does! It! All! Mean!
What it means is that you’re lucky you have me, the Goodreads prophet, a person who has spent several hours of my one and only life thinking about how Goodreads ratings work. Woe unto you if you ignore my wisdom. Let’s get into it.
4-4+ stars: This is a book that everyone in America owns. It’s probably been on the bestseller list since it came out. Maybe your mom’s friend gave you a copy for your birthday. It’s not automatically bad, and it might even be really good, but it’s definitely in the category of “things that make you go hmm.” If it’s a classic or was nominated for a big literary award, it’s probably good. If it’s on a bunch of celebrity book club lists, it’s probably more of a Fun book than a Good book (but Fun books are important too!). A book I love with 4+ stars: Ruth Ozeki, A Tale for the Time Being
3.7 – 3.9 stars: Genuinely a good book. I would be surprised to find a book in this range that I didn’t enjoy on some level. There’s always outliers, but I think these are mostly books where people read them and went, “Wow, I didn’t expect to love that as much as I did!” A book I love with 3.7 – 3.9 stars: Zen Cho, Black Water Sister
3.5 – 3.6 stars: This book is, for whatever reason, not giving readers what they expect. It’s probably the kind of book that doesn’t fit neatly into a certain genre. I don’t think it’s a bad thing for a book to subvert your expectations. I think people need to get better at changing their expectations of a book as they read, instead of expecting the book to change for them (books don’t do that). Plenty of good books are hanging out in this range. A book I love with 3.5 – 3.6 stars: Blair Braverman, Small Game (Also my own book, Goblin Mode)
3.0 – 3.4 stars: Absolute bangers. The coolest book you will ever read. Vibey, complex, original. Unfortunately, these incredible books were written by women. So sad when that happens. Literally all the books in this range are great books written by women (or at least not men, but in my experience it does tend to be women specifically). It’s so consistent that when I see a book with 3.3 stars on Goodreads, I know for certain that I’m going to love it. Most of my favorite books live in this range. A book I love with 3.0 – 3.4 stars: Rebecca Dinerstein Knight, Hex
Below 3 stars: This place is a message… and part of a system of messages… pay attention to it! Sending this message was important to us. We considered ourselves to be a powerful culture. This place is not a place of honor… no highly esteemed deed is commemorated here… nothing valued is here. What is here was dangerous and repulsive to us. This message is a warning about danger. The danger is in a particular location… it increases towards a center… the center of danger is here… of a particular size and shape, and below us. The danger is still present, in your time, as it was in ours. The danger is to the body, and it can kill. The form of the danger is an emanation of energy. The danger is unleashed only if you substantially disturb this place physically. This place is best shunned and left uninhabited.