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A Chair, A Fireplace & a Tea Cozy
Inside A Chair, A Fireplace & a Tea Cozy

To Star Or Not To Star

I have a GoodReads account that is sorely neglected.

It’s on my to-do list to make better use of it. Believe it or not, one of the reasons I’ve not used it as much is the pressure of the stars. You can rate books on one to five stars: didn’t like it (one), it was OK (two), liked it (three), really liked it (four) and it was amazing (five).


What if I think the structure is amazing but the characters average? In my review, I’ll talk about the plot mainly and not touch on the characters because it’s the plot that engages my interest. How does that fit with stars? What if I don’t think its amazing but I know other readers will –which, again, I can address in a review but not in stars.

And  yes, I know this is all internal, inside my head, issues with stars. It’s not anyone shoulding me about what to do or how to do it. But, to be honest, in reading up on stars like this, I have read some people react to three stars as if it’s not good. Since three is “liked it”, it just confused me all the more. And by “confused” means “takes up too much time to decide on a star.”

Of course, I since found out I didn’t have to use stars.

Here’s my questions, especially for GoodReads users:

Thoughts on the stars?

If I start taking my GoodReads account more seriously, what suggestions do you have for me? Repeat what I have here? Something shorter?

Links: Monica Edinger over at Educating Alice also posted in The Thing About Stars; and Teri Lesesne also did at Seeing Stars and Seeing Red.

About Elizabeth Burns

Looking for a place to talk about young adult books? Pull up a chair, have a cup of tea, and let's chat. I am a New Jersey librarian. My opinions do not reflect those of my employer, SLJ, YALSA, or anyone else. On Twitter I'm @LizB; my email is


  1. What I find lame on Goodreads is people who just assign stars to books and never say anything about them. I always try to give at least a one-sentence comment to what I read. I more interested in people’s comments about a book than the number of stars they assign.

  2. Melissa says:

    I use Goodreads mostly as a way to track what I’m reading and to keep inspired by the yearly reading challenge. This way, when it’s time for me to compile a booklist of recent reads, I can see what I’ve read and easily complete the task.

    I use the stars, but I don’t sweat it too much; I tend to be instinctual with it. I’m not really doing any reviews on Goodreads, because I’m just not interested in doing reviews right now.

  3. I have trouble with the stars, too, and often wish it were on a 10-point system. But if it were, I’m sure I still wouldn’t find it nuanced enough. Really, I wish I could give a special “six stars” (the equivalent of an “A+”) to the book that totally blows my mind, because that happens so rarely. Instead, I end up giving most things I really enjoy (the “A” books) four stars and feel bad that it isn’t higher.

    I don’t have the time to fully review books I read, and I feel that for most books, people have already done better than I have. So I’ll just write down a brief reaction to justify my rating. (Of course, I’m not someone who has a lot of followers, so I’m really just talking to my friends.) The exception is when I feel there’s a trend that needs to be argued against, in which case I’ll throw in a lot more than my two cents.

  4. I agonize about starring a LOT on Goodreads — since you’re right about how so many books have both merits and flaws and how can one easily show that in the STARS system (especially when it’s only 5 stars.. I have so many books that I’d give 3.5 that wind up only getting 3.) There is also the differences between one reader and the next: I noticed that I give out a lot more 3 stars than 5s because to me FIVE is near perfect and there are just not that many near perfect books out there — but many readers freely bestow five stars to indicate that “This is a GOOD book! Really GOOD.” (but probably not near perfect.)

    I do use the stars for myself — I sort them by my own preferences so when I compile a list for work or when I need to recommend something to someone and memory failed me, my own system really helps. I also semi-rely on the average star system to check on books I have not read or books I have but want to take a pulse of the general public. I like the rating distribution / percentage chart. It’s not a perfect reflection, but I think it is telling.

    The biggest pet peeve I have is seeing a book that’s STILL TO BE PUBLISHED receiving stars based on the anticipation/expectation of the fans. Unless they are all conscientiously changing their reviews/stars after actually reading the books, this can throw off the average quite a bit.

    Like Ed, I think if you do post your stars publicly so the others (including educators and authors/publishers/editors) can see — it is only fair that you give reasons to substantiate the rating.

  5. I’ll admit I star but I don’t always write a review, I do try to write at least one or two lines.

    I struggled with this too and came up with a “system”. Each star represents a different component: characters, plot, setting/accuracy, genre, that extra something.

    If I finish a book I figure it’s getting at least 1 star, anything that doesn’t get a star I didn’t finish reading for one reason or another.

  6. I gave up using stars. It’s too confusing when, like you say, 3 stars means “Liked it enough” to some people and “Eh, it’s okay” to others– or when I really love a book but would likely give it 4 stars just so I can save the 5s for the REALLY special once (Lisa above me’s “six stars”).

    Reviews really are much more helpful!

    The only downfall is that now Goodreads keeps trying to get me to rate more things so it can make more recommendations, and I don’t feel like it, and then their recommendations are off. But I don’t really need the recommendations anyway, the length of my to-read list…

    Yes, mostly I’m just on there to keep track of what I’ve read, too.

  7. I use GR more for tracking my Cybils reads than anything else.

    The thing about stars is that for me they were like multiple-choice (or, multiple guess, which was more what I did) questions on a test — I hated them, because NONE of the choices were ever quite entirely correct.

    I preferred short essay, where I could explain to the nth EXACTLY WHAT I MEANT.

    I started off using stars, but quit, because they’re not right. Half stars don’t exist. Quarter stars… please! And I can’t give more than five??? Plus, now I’m a GR Author… and I feel like I outed myself and my library card. I am sure no one is LOOKING particularly at what I read, but I’m uncomfortable with the whole thing, and I feel silly. I’m not sure I’m ready to be public about everything I read, so I’m limiting it, as I do with all social media.

  8. Yeah, I’m not really a star person myself. If there were about five decimal points, I’d like it better–I think there’s a huge difference between a 3.90046 book and a 4.00099 book. But it would probably take too much mental energy to figure it all out precisly for every book. So I only start the ones I’m really certain can justify five or four stars….and don’t always bother to write why, because they are generally books (like Code Name Verity or The Fault in Our Stars) where my opinion isn’t going to be a crucial influencing factor!

    But I am enjoying using Goodreads in 2012 to finally, for the first time ever, see how many books I read in a year! (kind of. I have a nasty feeling that I am not updating with enough precision…..)

  9. I don’t usually comment, but I wanted to respond to the several people who expressed indignation that people would dare to star a book and not give a review. The nerve of some people not constantly catering to the needs of others!

    I love to read. I read for fun and I read as a librarian. I star books on GoodReads (and like everyone else struggle with the star rating sometimes) partly because I didn’t realize you could turn the stars off, but largely because the stars mean something TO ME. Yes, GoodReads can be used as a social media outlet, and yes, many people enjoy it largely to build followers and/or to read what other people have to say. But it does not have to be used that way. Many, many people are using it to keep track of their own reading habits. Or use it because they enjoy the forums. Or for hundreds of other reasons. The idea that it is “only fair” to write a review of EVERY SINGLE BOOK YOU READ is ridiculous, especially when someone is using the site for their own purposes.

    I read a lot, as I said. If I write a review of a book, I want it to be a substantial review, which takes time. I have children, a full time job, numerous non-reading hobbies. I simply don’t have time to write a several paragraph nuanced essay about every book I read. That cuts into my extremely limited reading time. A one sentence review “This book was great!” or “I didn’t like this one because the characters were unrealistic” is essentially useless, both to me as an individual (I’m going to remember that I loved it – and that’s what stars are for) and to the general public. Was the book great because it featured demons and everything with demons is great in your opinion? Were the characters unrealistic or did you just have unrealistic expectations or they were part of a culture you don’t understand?

    If I truly love or hate a book, then it’s worth it to me to take the time to write a review. But most books do not inspire raptures or loathing. I dislike being made to feel lesser, inferior, or like I’m not doing my job because it is “only fair” to write long nuanced reviews and “lame” if I choose not to do so.

  10. I use Goodreads to keep track of my reading and as a readers’ advisory tool. When a kid comes in to the library and says “I want a really good, funny book” and I’m having trouble coming up with something they haven’t read before, I’ll pull up my Goodreads account and go into my funny category and sort by stars.

    I do struggle with the star ratings; two examples: Last year I read Jasper Jones by Craig Silvey and while I admired the craft and literary qualities, it just wasn’t my kind of book. I gave it three stars initially, but then discovered I kept thinking about it off and on for the rest of the year and pondering things, so I went back and changed it to four stars. Second example: I just finished listening to the audio version of Rotters by Daniel Kraus this morning and have no idea what I’m going to rate it. The narration and production qualities were excellent. However, the story was so very emphatically not my thing and I definitely didn’t enjoy it – at times it felt like I was slogging through mud filled with garbage. Partly I think the story had pacing problems, but like I said before – it just wasn’t my kind of book. It will probably end up getting 3 or 4 stars (which is where the majority of my stars fall – I have to pretty actively dislike a book or feel it isn’t well crafted at all for it to get one or two stars – although I do think I treat the adult books that I read just for me differently than the kids stuff that I may end up recommending.)

    I find the recommendations function essentially useless for me; I already have lists and lists of books that I want to read and there’s no way I’ll ever get through them all. I also only friend people I actually know, either in person or online, at this point. I have a few friends from early on in my Goodreads life that are random people, but now that they’ve added the follow function, I feel like that makes more sense. I feel like I get a fair amount of friend requests from authors looking to build a readership and decline the majority of those.

    I also don’t participate in any of the groups or forums, but there’s obviously a large contingent of people who do. I think part of that is I work in a library, so I already have a built in community of people who are interested in talking about books offline. I also far prefer blogs like this for my online interactions that fill holes that my offline community people aren’t interested in – there’s a far lower incidence of crazies and the immature in the comments.

  11. Ed, thanks for the recommendation to put at least something down, and the reminder that it doesn’t have to be long.

    Melissa, most of my tracking is with journals (very old fashioned, I know). But a good idea — thinking how I can tweak it, with perhaps GR being more personal reading than the blog reading.

    Lisa, thanks! Is five stars nuanced enough? Maybe that is part of my problem. And for the books I don’t like, they tend to be DNFs, which is a whole other story.

    fairrosa, that’s a good reason (the tracking etc) to do this virtual rather than my current paper & pen (or, rather, in addition to). And a second recommendation to have at least something to back up my stars.

    Amelia, interesting point, using the no stars for DNFs.

    rockinlibrarian, so a vote for not needing the stars, more needing the reviews/feedback.

    tanita, multiple choice v essay: now I understand why it bothers me! THIS. Exactly.

  12. Charlotte, another good idea — in terms of time management, writing things up more for the books that don’t have as much feedback (or, also, where my feedback significantly differs).

    Alys, a good reminder that bottom line is we do this for ourselves and what works best for us.

    Jen B, another vote for GR more for the ability to track reading. Interesting observation about Jasper Jones (and other books): yes, there are some titles were an opinion changes.

  13. KT Horning says:

    I’ve been active on GoodReads for a few years, and I use it mainly to keep track of what I want to read and what I’ve read. I like seeing what my friends are reading and recommending, and often add books to my To Read list based on their recommendations. There are some GoodReads friends I have never net in person but I have come to know them through their reading and recommendations, and find I have similar tastes.

    After I’ve read a book, I like seeing how my friends rated it and what they had to say about it. For me it’s just another form of book discussion, and reading the comments often helps me appreciate a book more or perhaps to see something that really didn’t work that hadn’t stood out to me when I read it. I am a person who doesn’t like reading a review before I read a book because I want to come to the book with a completely clean slate and no preconceived notions, so I try not to read the GoodReads reviews first.

    The whole concept of starring is a shorthand, from my perspective. If I see that a few of my GoodReads friends have all given five stars to a book in Recent Updates, I am more likely to move it to the top of my own To Read list. Conversely, if they give a book only three stars, I may move it down on the list. And afterwards, when I have read the book myself, I like to go back to their reviews and comment, especially if I don’t agree with their assessments. I really enjoy discussing books with people with whom I don’t agree — call it a quirk.

    What I don’t like about GoodReads is the whole “GoodReads Author” part of it. I wish authors would stay out of GoodReads all together. Yes, I know many of them are there as readers, and that’s fine, but it’s what they do to some other readers that I don’t like. There seem to be many immature or shallow readers out there who are only posting to stroke — or deflate — an author’s ego. Ignoring them, and the authors, is the only way GoodReads continues to work for me.

    I guess I am an old-fashioned reader — I don’t want to think about the author at all when I read a book, and don’t feel a particular need to connect with an author, either in person or online. For me the book is the only connection I need or want. If I like it, great. If I don’t, no big deal — I’ll just move on to the next book on my To Read pile. And the stars really have no meaning or power at all unless you give it to them.

  14. I use GR for a few different things – keeping track of what I’ve read and what I want to read is probably number one (I also use my library catalog’s “my list” feature for this, but GR is perfect for books that aren’t out yet and not in the catalog). I also keep a paper list just in case.

    I started using it while I was in library school, and I’m so glad because it comes in handy for giving recommendations, remembering titles, and creating booklists for the library. I use a lot of different shelves to help me sort titles easily, and using star ratings comes in handy here, too, even if the star system is far from ideal. If a friend asks for a YA recommendation for her adult book group, I go to my YA shelf and sort by stars, and that way I’m looking at my favorites first. I find the cover images helpful to trigger my memory of a title.

    For a while, I obsessively wrote SOMETHING about every book I finished. It got to be exhausting, and I would leave a book as “currently reading” until I got around to it, so I couldn’t really get a sense of how much I’d been reading, and then months would go by and I’d have forgotten my initial impressions. This year I gave myself permission to slack off and instead just write when I really have something to say. I think a balance between writing about everything and never writing reviews will be right for me (and the amount of time I want to devote to reviewing).

  15. I mostly use GoodReads to keep track of what I’ve read and to see what my friends are reading/enjoying. I only star things when I want to give it 5 stars — like a starred review. I have them same issues with starring on GR, Library Thing, etc., so I figure my system gives me an easy way to look back and see what books I really loved this year without having to agonize over whether it was a 3 or a 4. If I love, love, loved it, it’s a 5; if not, I’ll leave it unstarred.

  16. I wholeheartedly wish GoodReads would allow people to do half-stars, because there are certainly 3.5-star and 4.5-star books for me. I use GoodReads to keep track of books I enjoyed and would recommend, so I only note the books I’ve read that are 3-5 stars. Every once in awhile, I’ll skim through my star reviews and tweak them, since time can sometimes alter my impression of a book. I’ve debated removing stars altogether, but since I’m using GR to recommend worthy books, I feel that the stars are helpful with this, but I include reviews whenever possible.

  17. I honestly do not see the complication with the stars. If three stars means “liked it,” and I “liked the book,” but no more, it gets the three stars, and I move on. If people interpret it in some other way, that’s their problem (i.e. read the directions kind of thing). However, I do try to write at least some small review when I read and add something, often qualifying my star rating a bit if I feel it is needed (i.e. yes, I liked the book, but there is this or that issue other readers may dislike for example).

    Overall, I use GR mostly to keep track of the stuff I read. For my end of year reading list and reflection that I do on my blog, GR makes the task much easier. I do keep track of some groups, but I don’t really participate. I just can’t really handle long strings of comments that vary in degrees from intelligent to inane.

    Best, and keep on blogging.

  18. KT, thanks! I also avoid most reviews once I know I’ll be reading a book. And I’m not familiar enough with the GoodReads author part of it.

    Jess, I guess I need to do what I’ve donw with other things — put aside defined time to play with it to see which way works best for me.

    Laura, thanks!

    Donna, and a good reminder nothing is set in stone. I can always change/removed.

    Angel, it seems that tracking of books is the most recommended way to use GR — I’m going to start playing with it that way. Thanks!

  19. I’ve only been on Goodreads for a few months. If I’m rating a book that I did a reader response to at my blog, I’ll quote a sentence or two and link to the blog post. I don’t worry a lot about the stars.

    It’s been many, many years since I’ve been able to be part of a book group, and I don’t have many opportunities to talk about my reading with live people. So I’ve been using Goodreads to try to create the illusion for myself that I’m part of a reading community, though I haven’t seen much interaction there. When I go over there, I do check out what “friends” have been reading. I’ve tried one Goodreads recommendation, which worked out pretty well, and will try more at some point.

  20. I star on GR but no one pays any attention to my account. I usually add one sentence but for GR I star just on entertainment merit and my general feeling upon finishing the book.

  21. Gail, good idea to link to my review. And it is good to have a reading community! One of my favorite things about the Internet is that sense of community ig vies us.

    Pam, ha! So much to think about in terms of what I want to do with GR.

  22. Totally late to the party, but I’m throwing in my two cents.

    I used to keep track of what I read in a little notebook, but I didn’t always have it handy when I needed it for recommendations and the like. A couple years ago I figured I might as well join the 21st century, so I started a LibraryThing account. At that time, LT won out over GR because as a service it got better reviews from my peers – librarians. I didn’t use it, though, and didn’t want to go to the effort of setting up shop with Good Reads. This year, lightning struck. I am a very visual person, and I really need to see covers in order to remember books – enter Pinterest! It’s just for me; I don’t care if no one ever looks at my boards; I don’t need stars; I write something if I want, or don’t if I don’t want.

    We’ll see how it goes in another year or so, but a few months in I’m still really loving it.

  23. I use Goodreads to keep a record for myself. I used to use a notebook. This is easier and accessible to me at work (I’m an elem school librarian) for reader’s advisory or other things. I usually use stars, but they are really for my own reference. I know what I meant by the stars, but they may not always be helpful to other people. Sometimes I explain the stars like say that I gave it 3 stars for me, but I think middle grade boys would LOVE it or something like that. Also, I usually only write something when the book has touched me, annoyed me or stood out exceedingly. I do NOT have time to fully review every single thing I read (I’ve read almost 500 books so far this year) when I work full-time, have a family, exercise, and still want to have time to read. If I review something for my blog, I may just copy and paste it in both places. I may just put in the link to the longer review on the blog or on GR.

    I look at it as a resource for myself first and if someone else benefits, that is great, but I am not doing it for others so I worry more about my own convenience. I have loved having one place with all of my reading information.

  24. Lisa, for personal use, I do love my paper journals for my notes about books read. I like having that paper and pen, the informal notes, and, honestly, the time off a computer. I’ve also been enjoying Pinterest, for keeping lists of what i’ve blogged about.

    Crystal, the problem with my beloved journals is that they don’t work for a RA tool and there is no indexing etc, for even my personal use of looking things up days/months/years later. Thanks for the tips, and that it’s perfectly fine to cut & paste or link to my blog.


  1. […] A Chair, a Fireplace, and a Tea Cozy, Liz has a great post up about star-rated reviews, like the ones on GoodReads. Liz feels a lot of pressure when it comes to assigning a star rating […]

  2. […] At School Library Journal – A Fire, A Fireplace & a Tea Cozy examines “To Star or Not to Star“; […]