Discussion: Half Stars

Posted 20 August, 2018 by Nikki in General / 8 Comments

It’s come up a couple of times lately when I’ve rated a book — I experience a fleeting wish for half stars. I used to be pretty active in the Goodreads Feedback Group, and that was perennial plea: give us half stars! And I don’t really actually get it, most of the time, if I’m honest. I mean, the Goodreads rating system goes like this:

5 stars: it was amazing
4 stars: I really liked it
3 stars: I liked it
2 stars: it was OK
1 star: terrible

I can’t remember if that’s the exact wording or not, but you get the gist. Now I don’t really see how that leaves room for intermediates (unless you’re just not using the scale at all, but then you can do whatever you like anyway and state that you’re awarding half stars in your review). Making it more granular makes it harder to decide, for me at least — and yet the cry was always, “well, I need half stars because I can’t decide between four and five!” To me, I don’t see how that helps: now you have more stars and they have ambiguous meanings (“I half really liked it!”) and surely that could lead to infinite regression. Quarter stars, eighth stars, sixteenth stars…

Nah, I’ll stick to full stars. If I was rating something to suggest whether a publisher should pick it up, maybe there’d be more need for precision. But it’s not like the ratings are actually precise anyway: how many times can you say you liked two books exactly the same?

I just don’t get it, I guess. A simple five star scale is enough for me in terms of giving a sense of where I am on the continuum — and having the stars weighted towards the positive end makes sense, too, because it’s not as important to know how much someone disliked a book as how much someone liked a book.

Probably this is all just me, but hey, now you know why I don’t use half-stars and rarely talk about wanting to use them: if I do, I really am on the fence, and usually it’s because I think a book deserves a higher score for technical merit, but I didn’t like it. (And all my star ratings are based on liking, so giving some things four stars is just lying, no matter how technically brilliant I think they are.)

So how do you rate books? Do you have a system, or do you go with your gut?

And hey, happy birthday to me!

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8 Responses to “Discussion: Half Stars”

  1. Interesting. A few thoughts:

    1. LibraryThing allows half stars, doesn’t it. But then I think, why not go for a ten-star system then? It’s easy enough to think decimal, and that allows for more subtlety than a five-star system.

    2. But star ratings are a bit like emojis, aren’t they, all those permutations of smiley faces shading to anger or misery, amusement or query. And I can never quite find the one that’s subtle enough for how I feel at any one point in time.

    3. On Goodreads and LibraryThing I generally give four stars to most things I’ve read, meaning it’s got lots of good points but it’s not perfect, that I have the odd caveat against it. Five stars is rare, reserved not just for the perfect book but one I’d definitely keep / read again / place in a Hall of Fame or whatever. I occasionally give *** for so-so reads, tend to skip ** and go for * for the most execrable works, their only virtue being that they’ve the appearance of a published book. (There’s an argument too, isn’t there, for only four options, to get the assessor off the fence, but maybe I won’t go there just now!)

    4. On my blog I never use a ranking system, preferring to let my words do the assessment, allowing for nuance, allowing me too to change my opinion if argument or time persuades me otherwise.

    5. And, as I like balance, here’s my fifth point, even though I’ve nothing to say!

    • Re #1: Yeah. If you want precision, I don’t see why stars at all — I use them as a broad-brush thing, while people should read the review as a whole to really get a feel for the subtleties of how I felt about it. I didn’t originally use ratings on here, but people convinced me that they found my reviews too difficult to parse as positive or negative if I did that! 3 stars is kind of my default ‘I enjoyed it, but’, while 4 is ‘not perfect but pretty close’ and 5 is ‘zomg everybody should read this’. But… yeah, reviews!

  2. I use half stars on my blog all the time but only between 2 and 3, and 3 and 4 stars. For me 1 is dreadful, 2 is not great/very average and 3 is like. But 2.5 conveys that it wasn’t bad enough for not great but not enough to truly like and read again. I find it very useful! ‘Like’ covers so many books for me that I have different opinions on, some of which I wouldn’t read again (3 star) and some I would read again (3.5). I hate having to either round up or round down on my reviews so I do find half stars useful. I never use them between 1 and 2, or 4 and 5 as these categories are easy enough to seperate books into!
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  3. Before I started reading as much as I do now, I was okay with just using full stars. But I find now with the volume of books I’ve read in the last few years, the extra half comes in handy. One reason I think is because I give 1 stars and 5 stars so rarely, so with most of my books falling in that 3 to 4 star range, being able to make that distinction between 3, 3.5, 4, 4.5 really helps 😀
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    • Hmm. Even when I was at 500+ books a year, I still preferred to rate with a broad brush and do the subtle bits in my reviews. (Which are nonetheless rather short and sweet.) I guess that’s just my way!

  4. Happy Birthday!! Sometimes I am tempted to use half starts but like you said it would make things more complicated and I don’t want to open that can of worms! I am a gut rater haha I just go with what I feel like and don’t follow any system, tho following the one you listed would probably be smart!
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    • Thanks, belatedly! 🙂 And hey, if you go with your gut, it’s consistent enough to my mind — you’ll have an instinctive feel for it, I guess.

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