August 5, 2013

The Curious Reader - How trustworthy are 5-star-rating bloggers?

We all love books, but ultimately some readers are more enthusiastic about their books than others ...

How trustworthy are 5-star-rating bloggers?

Source
First things first. I don't trust people who are happy and smiling all the time. Equally I don't trust people who claim to love every single book they read and praise it to high heavens. I know, I might appear awfully prejudiced with that statement, but I'm fairly certain I'm not the only one who feels this way. Loving every book you read is like saying you love every food you eat. Even if you couldn't live without, say, yogurt don't tell me you never ate one that had some kind of funky aftertaste. Well, maybe you just gobbled faster to be done with it, but claiming it tasted fabulous afterwards is taking things a bit far. Same thing with books and ratings.

Just because there are 5 stars available, doesn't mean you need to use them all at once.

Once there was this blog (its name shall remain unmentioned) that I decided to follow, because it focused on one of my favorite genres. Half a dozen raving reviews later suspicion started nipping at my reading nerve and I browsed through said blogs archives to check whether my inkling had been right. In short, it was. I found an astounding pool of books that, apparently, all deserved a 5-star rating, with a select few 4-star ratings thrown in for good measure. And if you haven't guessed it by now, the text of those reviews

I don't mean to imply anything along the lines of a possible connection between receiving books for free and those over-the-top reviews ... all right, who am I kidding? It's either that or the blogger in question loves words so much that even the telephone book would receive a 5-star rating. It's just not natural (or plausible/believable/realistic/etc) that a person will practically love all that comes their way reading-wise.

If you're that lucky (in picking awesome books) you should buy a lottery ticket.

A while ago I made a comment about bloggers who only hand out 5-star ratings qualifying for the Not-Deemed-Trustworthy Club on my Facebook page. It goes without saying that this resulted in some folks heartily disagreeing. Replies went along the lines of "I'm an uber positive person and hate giving a bad review" and (my personal favorite) "I only pick up books I know I'll love". What the ...!?

Sure, I tend to pick up books hoping I'm going to enjoy and like them, but that's solely a wish and not a premise. After all, how could one know before even reading the first line? I mean, it's not as though I've never been convinced I would absolutely love a certain book only to end up throwing it into a corner because it sucked big time. Just because I love a particular author doesn't mean I hand out a few extra stars for duds - one additional star for liking all the other books and one more due to the fact that there haven't been any typos and yet another one for ... well, you get the general idea.

Rate a book for what it is and not what you wish it was.

What do you think about blogs that exclusively post reviews with 5-star ratings? Are you as suspicious about this as I am? Do you suppose that receiving books from publishers (for free) might have something to do with this? Don't be shy in case you happen to be a 5-star reviewer, and share your opinion too!

32 comments:

  1. Most of my ratings are around 3 stars and that is not a bad rating. When I rate a book 3 stars it's average but good! I save the five stars to books that are special and unique and basically life changing. Not all books one reads are that good it's just not possible!! I think it's highly suspicious! You just can't like all the books you read as much, there's bound to be rotten apples!

    On the other hand the five star reviewer might just review the books he/she likes very much.. But if it's every book he/she reads.. NOT POSSIBLE.

    If you give every book 5 stars the awesomeness of the better books of the bunch just drowns to the flood of all the five star books!

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    1. I'd say most of my ratings are 3 stars two and I agree that those are average aka good books, which really isn't a bad thing. And you're absolutely right, if you rate every book 5 stars those high ratings loose their significance.

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  2. I agree with you..most of the time those who give five stars easily tend to be satisfied with almost every book despite the fact that some of the books are pretty awful..I rarely read book based on the reviews by these people because unlike them I have a specific taste.. *excuse my rant*

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    1. That's exactly it, how can a reader be happy with every book they read? It really makes me question their taste in books and I would never take a reading recommendation from such bloggers either.

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  3. I'd be very suspicious! I'd give a max of about 4-5 , 5 star reviews a year. A YEAR! I'd also count myself lucky to find that many books in one year that deserve 5 stars. Some years I'd only have 1 or 2.

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    1. I used to feel strange for giving 5 star ratings so sparingly, but then again, 5 stars mean that a book has been outstanding and I'd devalue the true gems if I threw 5 stars around like confetti.

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  4. I give maybe 2-3 five stars a year. The majority of what I rate falls between 3 and 4 stars. It takes a lot for me to go below that and a lot for me to go above that. But I know I'm wishy-washy when it comes to ratings which is why I only started them on goodreads hoping to get better suggested books and that didn't work out to well.

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    1. Same here. Most of my ratings are either 3 or 4 stars and looking back on last year I'd say I give 5 stars to roughly 10% of the books I read. Oh and don't get me started on those book suggestions. I am also on LibraryThing and they have this "Will I like the book?" thing and it never pans out for me - sometimes it claims I am going to love a book and then I end up disliking it and vice versa.

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  5. I don't think I've ever noticed anyone whose ever given just five stars. Personally, I'm pretty good at picking out books I'm going to like, however, if I don't like a book I usually don't even bother to finish it and move on. So I can't really say whether or not I would be suspicious if all the books they read were the same rating.

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    1. Having a lucky hand in picking books to read is not unheard of, yet loving every single one of them is what gets me thinking. Of course, not finishing horrible books, thus not reviewing them is a whole different thing. I used to plow through even the worst books and review them, but I've reached an age ;-) where it seems a big waste to spend my time on something I don't really enjoy.

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  6. I read your entire article because this is one of my biggest gripes. And your first paragraph is great; it sounds just like me.

    There's a certain blog I'm thinking of that is guilty of this more than any other book blog I've read. She writes long and detailed reviews, spoiling the story, in my opinion. (Most book bloggers are guilty of this.) And her final paragraph or paragraphs almost always say she read it in one sitting. (If she did, she doesn't eat, sleep, or clean her house.) She has talked about her high ratings of every book on her site; she says it's because she doesn't review books unless she loves them.

    But I've read several of the books she gave high ratings; they were either not good or only OK. So I don't trust her ratings at all.

    Book bloggers like this do a disservice to their readers. People who read book blogs are the people who depend on honest reviews.

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    1. I hate it when people spoil things by revealing too much in their review. Of course I generally don't appreciate reviews that are a mile long; I like mine short and succinct and usually don't bother with those that meander endlessly.

      Ha, the one-sitting-scenario makes me roll my eyes too. Granted, I've read small volumes (say, a 200 page book) in an afternoon too, but I do get up every now and then to get something to drink or maybe visit the toilet. If that blogger manages to get through a 800 pages tome without a break I would seriously worry about her kidneys. ;-)

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  7. Yeah, I'd start to think twice about a blog that gave all the books 5 star ratings as well.

    "...the blogger in question loves words so much that even the telephone book would receive a 5-star rating" Hahaha, love that line!

    I also pick up books I know I'll love. However, I start reading them and discover that while they seemed like a book I love, I don't actually love it all. It happens sometimes. It's super unnatural to love every single book you pick up!

    Fantastic post!

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    1. Sometimes I wonder if certain bloggers simply don't want to admit that a book they thought they'd love doesn't quite live up their expectations and still give 5 stars. Obviously that's not a fair and unbiased rating then.

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  8. With a 3.36 average on stars in Goodreads I am for sure not a person who gives 5 stars to a book easily. If a blog only posts raving reviews with 5 stars for every book they read I have a hard time taking them serious. I honestly do not believe there are people out there who are able to judge a book by blurb and cover and never being disappointed in it. And indeed if please learn me this trick because it will save me a lot of time while I go trough my "this is ok but nothing special but I will finish you anyway" books

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    1. My average on Goodreads is 3.33 which I don't think is such a bad thing either. And only picking books I'd love? Now if this is a trick that can be learned I'd want to know it too.

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  9. I don't think it's that most of those kinds of raters love every book they read... it's that they don't review those that they don't like. It probably has got a lot to do with getting free stuff, but there's a chance that it's because they're writers themselves and are terrified of receiving a negative review themselves, so they won't rate others low because of the guilt. It's silly reasoning, but I understand it, given that I'm an aspiring author myself.

    I've noticed a lot of people in the comments are saying that they don't rate 5 stars very often. I'm the opposite. I give a lot of 5 star ratings, but that's because I genuinely love every single book that I think deserves those 5 stars. I'll always mention in the review something that gripes at me - and I'm not scared of giving 2 or 3 stars - but for the most part, those 5 stars are well and truly deserved in my opinion.

    Anyway, I still agree with you about most of the things in this post, and I won't follow anyone who doesn't have diverse ratings in their archive. I want to know what people think about books, not how much they love them.

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    1. That's one thing I noticed with 5 star reviewers, they all seem to have received the books for free. I understand people who doubt that such reviews can be truly honest. Of course I received lots of books for free over the years too and in the beginning I felt bad if a book dipped below the 3 stars line, but then again, it's just my personal opinion and I am doing readers a disservice if I'm not being honest about why I didn't like a certain book (after all, others might love it).

      BTW I don't mind finding lots of 5 star ratings if there are other ratings too. It's the 5 star monopole on some blogs which bugs me.

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  10. I agree that someone who only gives 5 stars is probably not a reliable source of valuable judgement about books. I do think the purpose of the blog should be taken into account. Some book blogs are pretty clear up front that they are written by someone who just loves books and thinks they are all fabulous. (I feel like these are often blogs heavy on the teen lit, but don't have numbers to back that up). This is a valid reason to write a book blog and I wouldn't judge them harshly for it. I wouldn't bother to follow their blog either.
    I understand the guilt thing though. I feel bad when I give a poor review to a book, esp. a contemporary one. Someone has created that book and whatever its failings I feel like they should get props for the effort. However, I so rarely give a book 5 stars that when I do it often generates a flurry of email from friends and family who are shocked that I gave 5 stars.
    This is an interesting question. Thanks for the thought-provoking post.

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    1. You are making an interesting point about blogs that focus on books for teens. The blog that made me write this blog post happened to be one for adults though, specialized in a particular genre. So I guess, you can find 5-star rating bloggers all over the blogosphere.

      I always say, every author deserves 1 star just for the effort of having written a book. Luckily most really put themselves into the writing process and deserve a lot more stars on top of that. ;-)

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  11. I am in complete agreement with you. You cannot love every single book you read. Not possible. If you claim you do, you are either a liar or you simply have no taste. Not saying that you have bad taste, but no taste - as per your example with the yoghurt: if you know no difference between flavours there's something wrong with you.

    Review copies tend to get high ratings, I've noticed, and I think that's because they don't want to hurt a person they know will be reading the review. Which, to me, is effing ridiculous. Out of 76 reviews so far this year, I've handed out 11 5s (4 of which are re-reads), and I'm ok with that. I want at least 60% of what I read to be rated at least 4, but I am not afraid to rate books at 1 if I don't like them.

    I've also noticed that reviews depend on why people book blog and what type of literature they enjoy and how they actually read. Some read for the sheer pleasure and rate based on storyline alone, while others rate based on writing technique, composition, social/political relevance and write in depth analysis of books. I do think it's harder to give 5 stars when you read in depth because you focus on so much more than whether or not you liked the story. Some stories I like, but hate the writing and vice versa - and it's only when everything comes together that I give a 5.

    Sorry for the long rant, as per usual.
    *hangs head in shame*

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    1. I wonder which is worse - being a liar or having no taste. I'd almost say the latter.

      You brought up an interesting point regarding the depth of ratings. Of course there is nothing wrong with only reading for sheer pleasure, but I for one do like to digest books that could be considered as food for thought too. Only rating the storyline? *rolls eyes* I've read too many a book that had a great plot idea and was killed off by its characters or the author's narrative voice. 'nuff said.

      P.S.: I thoroughly enjoy your long rants, as per usual (too).

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  12. At the least, a blog that gives all five star ratings might as well get rid of their ratings because that's just not helpful! Personally, I think of myself as a very positive person and I generally read reviews before picking out books so I am quite likely to enjoy the books I read. Even with all of that, I only have a 4 star average rating on goodreads so an average close to 5 would be very surprising to me.

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    1. Seeing how ratings can be misleading sometimes (some consider 3 stars a good book while for others it's 4 stars, etc) I really don't mind reviews that come without a star rating. Of course, if such reviews all read basically the same, gushing and raving and best-book-ever statements (which kind of loose credibility if written in each review anyway), we're right at the beginning of the initial question on trustworthiness.

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  13. I can think of a few reasons for this disagreeable phenomenon:

    - people working on commission won't dare to say anything unpleasant about their product for fear of impacting sales figures

    - I happened across claims that 'if you are nasty in your reviews, you'll never make it in the publishing industry'. If a blogger is also an aspiring writer who believes or cares for such things, being sugary all the way is an obvious thing to do

    - finally, the 'positive terrorism' applies to more than books. People are trained - expected - forced to focus on the positive, especially in some societies. You don't feel like smiles all round? There must be something wrong with you. You gotta be nice, or else people won't like you and your life will suck. Personally I find this whole attitude nauseating but obviously others don't.

    I don't use star rating system on my blog but I enjoy finding something not-exactly-perfect even in books I rave about, for balance's sake. If a book turns out to be a dud, I'm usually polite but frank about it, although sometimes venom happens. I still haven't figured out whether I should be ashamed or proud about it :) I love a good rant but on the other hand, I did have authors leaving comments on my blog after I reviewed them and it's always a relief to find that I had not trashed them too cruelly...

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    1. You make some valid points there. I especially find your comment about the "positive terrorism" interesting as I never considered this psychological approach regarding reviews. Of course I always focus on the good things I see in a book too, but I also mention what I disliked. After all, nothing's perfect, but that doesn't mean one cannot thoroughly enjoy a book despite some minor flaws.

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  14. I'm very good at picking books I think I will love. Most of the time I'm right, sometimes I'm not. I don't think it's possible to love every book you read, even if you are easy when it comes to rating. Perhaps those blogs only choose to review books they loved?

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    1. Good question! Of course they might just review books they loved, but when it seems as if they really love each and every book they read I do get suspicious, because this is just highly unlikely.

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  15. I rate many books 4, 4.5, and 5 stars and yes, I know how to pick a good book! But I do get it wrong, and when I get it wrong, I usually get it badly wrong, in which case I don't finish the book and still review it. Probably all wrong in your eyes.

    But seriously, I'm pretty good at judging whether I'll enjoy a book. Since I have 100 unread books in my bookcase I'm not going to accept any books that "look OK". They have to "look really very good" or even fantastic for me to accept them. :-)

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    1. I know your criteria for picking up books and most importantly you do mention when a book did not work for you, thus you didn't finish it. I appreciate this kind of honesty, because I know that yes, you really love a great many books, BUT there are also duds that didn't get past your personal quality control. That makes a huge difference compared to rave-only bloggers!

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  16. I'm with you!
    In my opinion a 3 star book is a solid book, a 4 star book is great and a 5 star book is special, wonderful, it knocks me off my feet. It takes a lot for me to give a book a 5 star rating. So I don't trust people who rate most of their books five stars.

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    1. I see things the exact same way - 5 star books have that very special something extra and only few books really have what it takes. Besides, there's nothing wrong with 3 or 4 stars - these are still good or great books which isn't a bad thing.

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