My brother rated one of my favorite books three stars

And it’s bugging me.

We don’t all like the same books, and that’s okay

I’ve gotten used to friends and family not obsessing over the same stories I do. I’ve seen them peruse the books at home and openly ask why I wanted to read this or that one, and I’ve seen them look at the shelf and quietly show their disinterest. I heard one of my friends warn another about me: you have to be careful when she talks excitedly about a book she’s reading, just because she finds something to highlight about it, doesn’t mean she liked it or would recommend it. My friend is not wrong. The best way I can find to explain it is that I read books both as a reader and as a writer.

As a reader, I read to enjoy it: to engage with the story, to feel for the characters, to be surprised as the plot develops, twists and turns, and to hopefully like how it all ties up in the end. As a writer, I observe different uses of language and study how the dialogue is presented. I pick the literary devices and hold them up to the light to see how they came about. I might think the plot needs tightening, but fall in love with the character development, or think the plot is fine, but the dialogue is unrealistic. I might be on the fence the entire novel and then discover a perfect last line and excitedly tell you about that.

I’ve learned to add a fair share of disclaimers before talking about books, and a long list of questions before recommending books. I understand that we don’t all like the same things, but this was one of my favorite novels, and my brother’s poor rating of it still irked me, and I’ve been trying to figure out why.

Why did the low book rating bother me?

My reader side wanted to know more. When I questioned him about it, he said something along the lines of it being good, but not that good. Say more words! What wasn’t so good? The writing style? The character development? Was he unimpressed by the ending?

Since I started buying books online, spending so much of my salary on BookDepository that you’d think I had stock in the company, I started reading reviews before making the purchase. If I was going to be sitting, waiting, wishing today was the day the book arrived I wanted to raise the odds of me falling in love with it.

(My writer side also wanted to know more as I often ask him to be a beta reader for my writing, but for the sake of this post, let’s not go down that rabbit hole.)

Ratings vs Reviews

I don’t focus so much on the ratings as I do on the reviews now. Firstly because I’ve read plenty of highly rated books I didn’t like, and secondly because, as we say in Spanish, sobre gustos, no hay nada escrito. I think the English version of this is “There’s no accounting for taste”.

So rather than focus on rankings and ratings, I dive into the reviews. There, you can see if it’s a matter of the reader not being a fan of the genre (a lot of times they saw the book in a ranking and read it even though they hate romance) or if it was something specific that might annoy you as well.

There was a book I didn’t buy because the majority of the reviews said the character development was really basic. There was a book I did buy because even though it had a three-star rating, most of the reviews complained about it being different from the author’s other books. They had gone in expecting a certain story and found something else (I actually loved it). I’ve read reviews saying the narrator was unbearable, that the writing was complex, or that it was hard to keep the story straight because there were so many different narrators. These reviews can make me reconsider. Reviews saying the short stories in a short story collection are too short or complaining that a romantic comedy had too obvious a plot, or that a YA Fantasy novel was a bit childish… well, if I liked the blurb, I’ll probably get it anyway.

Ratings take specific individual tastes and pour them into a generic standard format. It’s a measure of popularity, but just because a lot of people like it doesn’t mean you will. I loved The Great Gatsby, it has 3.9 stars on Good Reads. I did not like 1984, it has 4.19 stars on Good Reads (yes, I know my opinion is controversial, and while I understand why it’s a classic and how conceptually it’s a pretty impressive book, I did not enjoy reading it). That said, a one or two-star rating will probably make me tread more lightly.

How do you populate your TBR?

Do you feed off recommendations? Rankings? Covers? (We’re not supposed to judge books by their covers but raise your hand if you ever fell prey to gorgeous cover art 🙋‍♀️).

Keen to hear from other readers; let me know in the comments!



Short book reviews, lists of bests, and other book-related musings.

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Slow runner, fast walker. I have dreamed in different languages. I read a lot. Yes, my curls are real.