In 2017, I thought about starting a book blog. However, I wasn’t sure of the best way to go about it. I bought a cute notebook to draft my reviews in and to brainstorm ways to structure the blog.
My plan was to have set criteria that I would evaluate each book on: enjoyment, characters, style, is it re-readable, can I relate on a personal level, is it relevant to the present day, is it corny, and did it make me think. These were just going to be the basics, in addition to an overall rating, and then I was going to do more per genre and per book. And I was going to rank each of these sections on a 5-star scale.
Yeah, it was a bit much.
It sounded daunting and I was worried that I would have to examine books in ways that weren’t particularly productive. That I would have to stretch my examples to make them fit into the parameters I had set, instead of celebrating the books and sharing my enjoyment and opinions of them. I wanted there to be a consistent evaluation of specific aspects of the books so that they could be easily, and fairly, compared to other books. In the end, all I accomplished was that I took my love of books out of my reviews.
I never published any of those reviews, the few that there were. They took a long time to write and I didn’t like the tone or the substance of them. It wasn’t blog content that I would want to read, and it was even less content that I wanted to write.
For this blog, I’m approaching the reviews more as recommendations that I would make to a friend. Less structured. There are bits that I will likely talk about regularly, such as style or character-building, but I won’t necessarily discuss these topics in every review. I love craft and technical aspects of writing, which I’ll incorporate when I can, but that might not be the thing that I’m most excited about for some books. And I want to share what excites me, why I love a particular book or, if I don’t love it, why I don’t. So I’m not going to have a strict set of sections that I talk about. I’ll talk about aspects of a book that seem relevant or catch my interest, but it isn’t going to be uniform between each recommendation. I can talk about books for ages, so I also don’t want the posts to be too long and rambling, which is always a worry!
Star ratings serve a useful purpose, but they are ultimately opinions. They’re subjective. The star rating evaluation scale gives a false impression of objectivity. I leave star ratings on Goodreads and Kindle, but they usually take me a while to decide on and then I think about the rating I’ve left for ages afterwards, wondering if it was an accurate star rating or not. There are books from years ago that I still wonder whether I’ve given the correct star rating for. And there are books that I have re-read and have changed my mind from how I wanted to rate them the first time. My opinions on books are not set in stone, and I’d rather talk about a book as a story without the pressure of having to rate it on such a restrictive scale.
On Goodreads and Kindle, I use star ratings to help me make decisions on books that I want to read. If it has a higher ranking, then that should mean that the book is good, right? And while I do think that they can give a good indication that books with high ratings are more likely to appeal to a vast majority of people and will be enjoyable, they can be incredibly restrictive. Star ratings can be useful if you’re trying to find a book quickly or if you are familiar with a specific person’s review (especially if they’ve left comments in their review, explaining their rating). However, I haven’t enjoyed every book I’ve read, even if they had high star ratings.
Books are diverse in content and the authors who write them have different strengths. It can be useful to know about those strengths and to be able to recognise them, but just because I believe that an author is weak in one area, doesn’t use many literary devices or is too wordy, for example, it doesn’t mean that they can’t write a good book. And that doesn’t mean that they’re not a good author! It could be as simple as their writing style just doesn’t appeal to me. But it likely will to somebody else. If I don’t like a book then I’ll explain my reasoning, which will give you, my readers, the opportunity to make up your own minds on whether you agree with me or not. And if you don’t then great! Let’s talk about it!
One of the things I love most about books is how they can bring people together. Reading is a primarily solo endeavour and I enjoy that aspect of it, getting to know the characters and living in their world. It’s also exciting to catch on to something clever the author has written. But there’s nothing quite like getting to talk about the books that I’ve read with friends, or listening to them talk about the books that they’ve read, and feeling the shared excitement or annoyance about the books. It’s a lot of fun and a wonderful bonding experience. That’s mostly what I’m hoping to achieve in my reviews, that they are more like recommendations from a friend as opposed to a university essay.
Some of my best reads have been recommendations by friends, and it would be wonderful to recommend books to people who would enjoy them.
For my blog, I am going to focus each review with: would I recommend it to a friend? And: Would I recommend it to everyone or someone in particular?
For example, my mom reads very different books from some of my friends, which is great, but it just means that I usually wouldn’t recommend the same book to both groups. If I gave my mom a fantasy book with a high star rating she likely wouldn’t be impressed with that book. But if I gave her a mystery or thriller she would be, well, thrilled! Different people like different books, which is great. Star ratings have their uses but are impersonal, and so I am not going to be using them for my reviews.
This blog gives me the platform and the freedom to suggest to whom particular books might appeal to in terms of other books they are similar to or to aspects of the book I found interesting. I also really enjoy talking about books, so this gives me the space to get to talk about things that interest me about specific books.
As for ratings, I’m just going to leave the stars in the sky.