Grading: The Method to Our Madness

Sarah: After several RITA Reader Challenges and after a few years of editing all y’all’s reviews, I’ve been pondering a post that explains with greater detail what our grades mean, aka our rubric. What is an “A” book for you? Or a B? What does a C mean? When do you give a D and why?

For example, sometimes I grade by comparing the book I’m trying to evaluate against a book I adored or really freaking hated: “Well, it was better than X, so it’s not an F,” or “It’s not quite as good as that book, so more of a B-range than an A.”

But I also notice that there are some authors who have their own rubrics in your minds – Tessa Dare, Courtney Milan, for example – they write good books at a minimum, and so there’s a different evaluation for you.

Elyse: For me, A means it worked on every level. I loved it. I read in one sitting.

B is a good book but there were some issues.

C is meh. It’s average. I enjoyed it but it didn’t blow me away and I probably wouldn’t recommend buying it.

Carrie: The truth is, I HATE assigning grades and I’m often at a total loss.

A+ means there was nothing wrong with it and it worked on a technical and personal level, I swooned, and it had an influence on how I think – it made some kind of difference for me, it didn’t just entertain me for an afternoon.

Redheadedgirl: A for me is good book noise and the compulsion to throw the book at people’s head while I yell, “READ THIS RIGHT NOW”

Carrie: DNF means I obviously didn’t finish it. Everything else – ugh, ugh ugh I struggle.

Redheadedgirl: A- to B+, the throwing compulsion isn’t there.

C – “Well, that was a book. It had words”

Sarah: “Meh” is always the hardest review to write.

CarrieMeh is usually a C.

Sarah: What kind of issues keep a book from being a B or an A for you?

Carrie: Parts were awful and parts were great, or it was messy but at least it tried something new… those are also usually a C.

Or if it doesn’t keep me very engaged, it has technical problems, or it’s inconsistent in quality.

Redheadedgirl: And there is that weird place of “I didn’t like this, but it wasn’t bad, and it’s probably good for people who would like this.”

Please see You Will Know Me.

Sarah: “I finished this book because I wanted to know what happened, but not because I actively cared,” usually gets a C from me. Along with, “Eh. it was there.”

Oh yes, grading a book that’s all, “This wasn’t for me but I can think of 4 people who will LOVE this book,” is very difficult.

Carrie: That kind of issue (there’s nothing wrong with it but I’m not the right audience) is, for me, usually a B.

Sarah: Like me and South Pacific – I’m unqualified to grade it because musicals baffle me every time. WHY ARE YOU SINGING.

Redheadedgirl: That’s why I was really glad Elyse and I did that You Will Know Me together.

And I just said, Elyse, you grade this.

Carrie: But I love musicals and South Pacific is, at this time, all the fuck over the place quality wise.

And SP is so tough to grade that I still wasn’t happy with a C – my problem was I couldn’t figure out any other grade for it.

Sarah: There’s also the weird grading moment of, “I know everyone liked this, but oh my gosh, I REALLY didn’t like it.” See 50SoG, and Kill & Tell by Linda Howard.

Redheadedgirl: And there’s the issue of grading something that is out of its time: I almost think that grading it based on modern tastes and mores isn’t fair.

Sarah: I’ve had to explain that a few times – Johanna Lindsey does that to my brain.

Modern present-day brain: WTF IS HAPPENING.

Very fluent romance reader brain: Yeah…. I know why this is the way it is, and I see allll the problems, but it is still delicious, effective, absorbing reading that gets me every time. Silver Angel, you devil book, you.

Carrie: I think with some material you have to be really clear about whether you are grading “for its time” or “right now”. With classics I run into this constantly.

I will give a classic a pass for brief racist or sexist moments that I would never grant in a modern book.

Sarah: An A for me is very, very rare.

It has to knock my socks clear into the next time zone to qualify. Part of that is because I read so much, and part of it is because an A has a LOT of meaning and weight. It means practically damn near perfect if not absolutely awesome, and not many books hit that point for me.

Hence I don’t use the A+ anymore. It exists because it exists in the archives, but really, what’s the difference between A and A+? There isn’t really a difference.

Carrie: I feel like A is this book was amazing and A+ is this book changed my life in a large or small way.

Sarah: That’s not a massive difference, though.

Carrie: Example: Fast Woman is an A, Bet Me is an A+.

Sarah: But the + doesn’t communicate anything specific, really.

Carrie: Why do we have it for C’s and B’s? what does a B+ tell a reader as opposed to a B?

Redheadedgirl: To be honest, I do the letter grade last, after I’ve written the review and do it based on a gut feel once I’ve processed my thoughts.

Sarah: B+: it was nearly an A. Almost there. Better than good, not great. There’s room, I think, for nuance between A- and B+.

Redheadedgirl: If I think about it too much, I get all flaily and then it’s another hour.

Sarah: The + and – help me personally when I’m looking at past reviews I’ve written and align the book I’m trying to grade against past grades. Like, Ok, this was better than that book I gave a B- to, but not as good as that B+ book, so B it is.

There’s a high and low range for most grades for me.

What does a D mean?

Redheadedgirl: There is some redeeming quality, but it doesn’t balance out the rest of the crap.

Sarah: What’s the difference between D and F?

Redheadedgirl: F has no redeeming qualities. The book is bad and it should feel bad.

Elyse: I look at from an investment standpoint.

A – worth the time and money. Would buy the book new at list price. I will probably lend an A book out or give it as a gift or reread

B – probably would buy, might wait for a sale. Enjoyed the book but it has some issues.

C – would not buy. Might be worth checking out from the library but it was meh.

D – would not buy. Would not recommend to other readers.

F – this is a disaster and I want my goddamned money and time back.

Before I had access to review copies, I had to be picky about what I actually purchased because books are expensive as hell and I read a lot. So a lot of it for me is helping readers make the choice of what to buy because I think a lot of them are in the same boat.

Redheadedgirl: To go back to the, “it was good but not for me,” there’s a grid, right? One axis is “good or bad” and the other is “liked it – didn’t like it.”

Things can be bad but I liked them.

Sarah: I see the grid as good/bad and enjoyable/not enjoyable. There are plenty of books that might fall under various definitions of bad that I find immensely enjoyable

RedheadedgirlThankfully we have F+.

Sarah: Yup.

When I am reviewing a book, I’m usually trying to explain how a book made me feel, what I thought about it and whether I recommend it. Then I translate that into a grade. Other times I know the grade first, almost right away, and I have to explain why.

I also have to examine the total of things I specify that I liked vs things that I disliked. The percentage of how much I liked vs how much I didn’t like should match or correspond to the grade. A-grades are therefore rare because it’s not often that I have nothing critical to say.

Also interesting: the more popular review categories for stat purposes are A and B ranges and also F and D.

Carrie: One of my criteria for a F is if the book is sloppily produced – riddled with errors (not one or two, but tons), hard to read – just something someone threw up on the screen or the page.

I always assign the grade last.

I also care about whether the book delivers what is offered. Chuck Tingle offered me a book about gay coffee cup porn and I got well-produced, properly spelled coffee cup porn with humor and social commentary. So is it literature? I’m going with NO. Did it deliver as promised? Sure.

On the one hand, I don’t think a book by Jane Austen and a book by Chuck Tingle deserve the same grade. But I do think it’s fair to grade something based on whether it gives you what it says it’s going to give you.

I don’t grade on the cover unless the cover and marketing overall are actively misleading.

Sarah: I could theoretically give Austen and Tingle the same letter, I think. Just different reasons. But that’s where a specific author’s influence on their rubric applies.

Amanda: Okay, so grades. I don’t really believe there’s such a thing as a perfect book because I can find faults with just about anything. But an A+ or A grade is usually given to books that I just love. They’re fun. They’re engaging. I love the characters. And all those things outweigh any pickiness I can find to gripe about.

B grades are more of, this book was great and I enjoyed it, but it could have been better. C grades, while they aren’t bad, are the middle ground for me. They could either mean they were meh or just weren’t good, but they weren’t terrible.

D and below – Houston, we have a problem. Whether it’s the writing or some shitty characterization, my enjoyment of these books is low and it usually means it took me a while to get through it.

I agree with Sarah that certain authors have a different set of standards given to our connections to their backlist, their writing history, etc.

But I will also knock down points or a letter grade for certain things that bother me. I don’t want to call them triggers necessarily, but they’re just pet peeves I have in writing. Like if there are no other female characters besides the heroine. Or if all the other secondary female characters introduced serve as competition for the hero’s affection. Slut shaming that doesn’t get redeemed. Sexual assault that feels unnecessary to the plot. Those are all things I’m very touchy about.

Sarah: Me, too. When I think about the books that to this day still piss me off, I can pinpoint the thing (or, more likely, things) that made me rage angry and they still piss me off, in that book or in another book that includes them.

Slut shaming is a good example. Heroes whose “alpha-ness” rests largely on misogyny and indications of toxic insecurity and rape culture – nope. Nope nope nope.

The DNF is a separate thing for me. For example, if the plot and the characters require me to be stupid, I’m DNFing.

Carrie: I’ll DNF if I’m outraged or bored.

Redheadedgirl: I won’t write a review for a bored DNF, or a, “I put his down and then forgot it existed,” which is slightly different.

Carrie: I usually don’t end up reviewing anything that I don’t finish unless it involved outrage.

Redheadedgirl: I usually won’t even try a review unless I have something to say – hence the massive writer’s block this summer.

Sarah: I review DNFs if there is a reason worth talking about it. Otherwise I just move on.

What makes a book difficult to grade? Is “meh” the hardest for you?

Carrie: Meh is torture.

Redheadedgirl: Grade or review?

Carrie: Oh, good point. Meh is easy to grade (C). Hard to review. What’s to say? “It was meh.”

Redheadedgirl: Because as I said, grading comes last once I’ve processed my thoughts. That’s the easy part.

What about you? Do you review books, or grade them? What merits an A or B from you, or a D? And do you have any questions about how we approach our own rubric? 

Comments are Closed

  1. 1
    Georgie Wickham says:

    I loved “Well, that was a book. It had words” – thanks to all for insights: gonna be useful.

  2. 2

    I don’t review, per se. I jot down a few words of notes on Goodreads* to describe my reaction to a book or to remind me what I liked or disliked about it. (My brain, it will tell me exactly how I felt about a book I read in my teens. A book I read last month? I’m pretty sure it wasn’t worth the… wait, I really liked it? Huh.) I’m more wordy with my dislikes, my I-loved-it reviews are mostly squee and of no help to anyone else. Unless they share my reading tastes.

    For grading, I use the GR stars system with my own additional meanings.
    1 star: did not like it (hated it/huuuuuge problems/no no no!)
    2 stars: it was ok (okay/meh/I expected more from this author/not bothering with this new-to-me author again unless I already own more of their books or can try/get it for free)
    3 stars: liked it (I’ll be happy to reread the book/happy to read more by this author)(3 stars is not a bad grade from me!!!)(sometimes, a fave-author 3-star book is better than a different author’s 4-star book—it’s subjective)
    4 stars: really liked it (like, really really liked it/let me check out what else the author has written…)
    5 stars: it was amazing (give me more now!)

    My grades skew on the positive end of the scale, because (obviously, duh!) when I pick up a book to read, I expect to enjoy it. I want to enjoy it. Please let me enjoy it, my reading time is limited!

    My grading has a lot to do with how a book made me feel. The first time. But if on a second read, when the emotional impact isn’t as great, I notice plot holes or other things that make me go WTF, I will adjust my grade and make a note of the reason. Or course, I’ve been known to adjust my grade upwards, too…

    *The notes are for me. If anyone else finds them useful in making reading/buying decisions, fine, good, but while I’m aware that my notes may have an audience—so I try to make them coherent—the fact is that the notes are a reminder to my brain for when I’m making a decision to reread or to buy more of the author’s books.**

    **The exception being if I read a book that hasn’t been translated into English, then I will try to give more of a description just because there’s probably little other information available in English.

  3. 3
    LF says:

    “What does a D mean?”

    😐

  4. 4
    jimthered says:

    I do book, music, movie, and Gaming reviews for the Armchair Critic (shameless plug: http://thearmchaircritic.blogspot.com/ ) and I also use the A+ to F scale. I also use a + and – to denote differences within the letter; for exampple, a A+ movie will be or be a strong contender for movie of the year, while an A- is really good but had a few small flaws. It’s also worth noting that not every work is equal to other works with the same rating: Just because something isn’t THE SEVEN SAMURAI or CASABLANCA doesn’t mean it can’t get an A+ as well.

    As for how I see the letters:

    A: A great movie. I loved it, recommend it to just about everyone, would see it again, and may wind up owning it.

    B: Above average. It’s not great, but it’s good and I enjoyed it.

    C: Mediocre. It’s just their, being neither particularly bad nor particularly good. These are the works/items you don’t really hate but don’t remember five minutes after finishing them.

    D: Bad. This is a work I actively dislike and would tell people to avoid. Often I look forward to this work ending so I can do just about anything else.

    F: Terrible! These works are often painful to experience and are likely candidates for the worst [x] of the year. It’s often hard to find a redeeming feature in these works, and even if there is one it doesn’t make up for the overall work.

  5. 5
    Patricia says:

    “It had words” may have been the best description of “meh” I’ve ever read.

  6. 6
    Allie says:

    I don’t officially review books beyond goodreads, but I do tend to grade books in my head. Also, since more and more of what I read is coming from this site, either from the reviews or books on sale or comments from other readers (I noticed on my comment on “Whatcha reading?” only 2 out of 16 books were ones that weren’t recommended here, and one of those was JD Robb) I like being able to compare what my grade is to what specific reviewers on here think. I know when Elyse gives a psychological thriller/mystery an A I am going to love it. I know pretty much all the C reviews are not worth my time, since I’m also working my way through the A grade reviews from the past when I run out of books. I know I don’t have the same tastes in sci fi as Carrie for a lot of books, but when she recommends fantasy I’ll enjoy it. I know my tastes run pretty similar to Sarah and Redheadedgirl, except for a couple tropes that I hate and they love or vice versa.

    One thing I do want to mention, is how much this site has shaped my reading. Just having a love story or being entertained is no longer enough for me in a romance, and for a long time it was. I think more critically about racism/sexism/all the isms when I read now, and the presence of those things does make me like an author and book less. And, except for mindless comfort reads, I expect books to make me think now, for the book to push me into researching something or start talking to more people about X issue or spend a couple hours contemplating. I feel like I’ve become a better reader by reading critical reviews and choosing to read high quality instead of whatever I can get my hands on. So thank you for that SBTB!

  7. 7
    Lil says:

    One reason I don’t review is that my reaction to a book depends a lot on my mood at the time. There are days when I feel in need of warm and fuzzy and there are days when I want a good meaty book. I feel as if it isn’t fair to the author if I dismiss a book because of my mood. Actually, I think the easiest reviews would be for a book that struck you as simply awful—bad prose, incoherent characters, impossible plot, etc.

  8. 8
    Milly says:

    This is so interesting to me as I keep a grading system in my Calibre to keep track of books I’ve read. I also find that I grade certain authors on a different scale. Authors like Tessa Dare, Courtney Milan, Elizabeth Hoyt, Tiffany Reisz, Joey W Hill to name but a few, are, to me, incapable of writing a bad book. So a B grade from me for any of these would be someone else’s A because quite frankly in my humble opinion they can do no wrong even if a book is not quite up to their high standards.

  9. 9
    Nina says:

    This is my quick and dirty rating system, including the patented Airplane rating system.
    A is a book so good I will forgo personal hygiene and subsist on random bits of carbs and protein from my refrigerator. Airplane rating: I am not getting out of this seat until I am done and I don’t care if we have taxied to the gate.
    B is a book that I will stay up two extra hours to read but not all night. Airplane rating: can I get a chapter in while waiting for my bags?
    C a time filler and as long as I can read it while knitting I am content. Airplane rating: good enough to pass the time.
    D audio book only so I can get something useful done while consuming. Airplane rating:i it is so unengaging that I will watch my random seat mate play video car race games rather than read it.
    F is has problems in execution, plotting or world view so egregious that I hope the author has a day job. Airplane rating I will take a Benadryl and hope to be comatose for the next six hours.

  10. 10
    Tsuki says:

    DNF: I only review if I had rage issues.

    .5-1.5 Stars is terribly written with loads of errors (whether craft or not) but it had a decent plot premise or a likable character

    2-2.5 Stars is my “meh” grade. It means it’s enough that I didn’t hate it but it isn’t something I’ll recommend.

    3-3.5 Stars is my “It was okay” grade. Basically I’ll probably continue the series but I will most likely forget the plot of this book by next week so…I would potentially recommend it to others but most likely not.

    4-4.5 Stars is my “It was pretty good but there was this one thing…” grade. It’s almost there but there was something that irked me to no end. Usually it’s plotting or a ragey conflict.

    5 Stars is my “THIS IS THE BEST BOOK THIS YEAR” grade which I give to roughly 3-5 titles every year (I read hundreds). I will recommend this book constantly and it just hit all the notes.

    I heavily grade 2 stars because I am just so picky.

  11. 11
    Bona says:

    I do review books and I also grade them, but it’s 1-5 stars for me. More or less, it could be something like this 5=A, 4=B, 3=C, 2=D and 1=F. I don’t like the (-) or the (+) and until now, I haven’t reviewed anything as DNF.
    5-stars – Loved it.
    4-stars – Liked it.
    3-stars – Enjoyed, but there’s nothing special in it.
    2-stars – Bored.
    1-star – Hated it.
    But I do something else, which is compare books written by the same author. A Kleypas or a Courtney Milan book can be a 2 if it’s not as good or compelling as the rest of their production, even if they are better books than others with a higher grade.
    I usually compare a book with others in the same genre or by the same author. Which is tricky, I know.
    I would like to know how can you write a funny review when the book was so awful that you wanted to throw it to the wall. I mean, you say you rant, but in the end you laugh, how can you achieve that attitude? When a book has made me angry, it’s very difficult for me to say something funny about it.

  12. 12

    I find myself thinking in terms of starts as well due to Goodreads and Amazon. But I think that directly translates to letter grades.
    I think I’m a tough reviewer. I rarely give 5 stars. I agree with the premise above that everything has to work to get a 5; plot, characters, writing quality all have to be dead on. Life changing is an automatic 5. I have to think it is worth the price I paid and time I spent.
    A 4 star is most things worked well, but there were either a few minor things that bugged me or one major element in an otherwise good book. I have to enjoy it and consider it worth the price and time.
    A 3 star is it was good enough. It had some elements that annoyed me for whatever reason but enough of it worked to have me read it to the end. It may not have been worth the time or money but not a total waste of either.
    2 star is that it annoyed me sufficiently that I probably skimmed parts but still likely finished it. It has major flaws in the plot, characters, and/or writing but probably not all three.
    1 star is so awful that either I could not finish reading it or read it just to see how awful it really was, which can be oddly entertaining and instructive since I am a writer. There are major flaws in all the areas and I feel like it wasn;t worth the time or money.
    I can appreciate a book that just isn’t my cup of tea, but well written but I tend to avoid it if I think that is the case to begin with (I don’t read vampires, werewolves, BDSM, and I really hate billionaire and Scotsman romances….so overdone). I will read some genres that are not my favorites (Christian or so called clean romance, BBW stories, gay romance) if I stumble into them and they are well written enough to keep my attention but I do struggle to rate them since they aren’t what I really like (historical and contemporary especially with either military, small town and second chance elements).
    I love the reviews on SBTB because they are so honest. Keep up the good work!

  13. 13
    SB Sarah says:

    I would like to know how can you write a funny review when the book was so awful that you wanted to throw it to the wall. I mean, you say you rant, but in the end you laugh, how can you achieve that attitude? When a book has made me angry, it’s very difficult for me to say something funny about it.

    @Bona: for me, it depends on the type of angry. There are some books with scenes or characters or plot devices that hurt or upset me very deeply, and it’s difficult sometimes to be funny about that.

    But more often, if I can be funny about a book I didn’t enjoy, it’s because I’m amused by my own reaction: this fictional character has PISSED ME OFF and for me, there’s something inherently amusing about that. It’s even easier to be silly when the suspension of disbelief required to accept the story is so hefty, it’s nearly impossible, so writing about my reaction involves a lot of ridiculousness. My favorite reviews to write are when I dislike a book so much I start yelling at it, or at the characters. I’m not so much a “throw the book across the room” reader as a “holler emphatically at the book because I’m mad at it” reader – and that never fails to make me laugh at myself.

  14. 14
    Alina says:

    Translating a reviewer’s lettergrades to your own tastes is like a simple substitution cypher, isn’t it? If you’re a long-time reader of a site like SBTB, you end up looking at a review and thinking: “Elyse gave this historical a B, but she’s always been upfront about being lukewarm on secret babies in regency-set romances, while I love it, so it’s probably an A for me.” (Reviewer name and trope picked at random, Elyse if you actually love Mr. Darcy’s Secret Love-child, I apologize!)

  15. 15
    Linda says:

    I’m still trying to figure out the grade for “well written and technically proficient but I’m going to be low key furious about this book forever.”

    Also my overachiever past has made me kind of feel like a B means a book isn’t good, even though I personally would give Bs to a ton of good books.

  16. 16
    Carole says:

    Great suggestions – very helpful for my future evaluations. My grading is often based on whether I enjoyed a story so much gthat I will read it again. My grading is based on whether I have chosen to store a book in my EPub Ebook Library which is currently around 10,000 entries (so yup I have a huge TBR shelf).

    Books I love I would retain to re-read and steep myself in the good stuff again, so those would be the A’s or 5 Star. I also keep B’s (4 Stars) which are worth re-reading again, but the grade tells me that I might have the odd issue with parts or segments or one character, but overall is a good read and is generally enjoyable and worth my time (and digital storage space).

    Most of my C’s (3 Stars) are my MEH quandry: “do I KEEP or TOAST from my Ebook Library?” I use Calibre so I can identify in comments/notes “not sure I am keeping”, or “keeping only because it is middle book in series”. Grades of D’s to F’s are books that I have read and TOASTED from my Ebook Library with no regret whatsoever, as I would never in a million years re-read them and they are not worth saving on my digital storage.

  17. 17
    Heather T says:

    I’m with jimthered in terms of grading. Another factor that I use is whether I can still remember it/am still thinking about it later. If a week later I can remember that I read it but have to read the back to remind me what it was about, that’s a C right there. I term those books “eminently forgettable.” If I remember it with good memories it might be a B, and if I’m telling everyone to read it, that’s an A. If I remember it with bad memories it is a D or F, depending on whether it was just bad/annoying or whether it actively ticked me off.

  18. 18
    DonnaMarie says:

    Thanks for an interesting discussion this morning.

    To be honest, until Goodreads and the Rita reviews, I never thought about grading books. There were books I loved enough to keep or reread and there were books I enjoyed, but had no problems letting go of. There were books I closed and wondered if it had sucked years off my life the way cigarettes would.

    DNF’s are rare. As I’ve mentioned many times in the past, I apply The Swiss Family Robinson theory to most books.

    Someone asked why I gave When Harry Met Molly a C when I so clearly disliked it. I said it was because she wrote grammatically correct sentences and completed a book, which is more than I can do . So, yes, a C book has sentences.

    F’s are generally reserved for authors who start out really well, but get worse over time to the point where the book is so egregiously bad you know it’s only the author’s name and a six book contract that allowed it to be published. The other F would be something that offends on so many levels, including just plain poor writing, that it is incomprehensible, that it got published at all, ie: 50sog.

  19. 19
    Qualisign says:

    As a loooong time prof (recently retired so I can WRITE and not grade), I have had to deal with grading forever. For grad students, A+ meant a paper was publishable as it stood. A was excellent work, no glitches that detracted from the basic premise, but it didn’t necessarily teach me something that I didn’t know. When it comes to fiction, I use a system that is closer to undergrad grading in the 1970s-80s, prior to rampant grade inflation. A is an excellent read. A+ is flawless. A- Excellent read with perhaps a *single* glitch, e.g., a misused word in an otherwise excellent book; insta-love; anachronism(s), etc. Anything that pulls one from the reading. B is a good book. Solid, enjoyable, worth reading. C is a dreary read. D is a horror show but with some redeeming quality, perhaps a well-done trope, a nicely done scene in the midst of awfulness, a new way of looking at things. (Kraken love, perhaps…). A D is rant-worthy. F is just plain awful. A waste of time, energy, brain cells. There should be a class action suit against the writers of F books — except for F+ books, which SBTB taught me are some of the very best!!! Shock-able, mock-able, unbelievable. One has to read it to believe it, and then one must share one’s affronted reaction. DNF, a C (or D) book where the “there were words” made the book or e-reader so heavy that it falls into disuse on its own accord.

    I hated writing academic reviews, and hated having to grade students. I love the opportunity to read and give an honest review of books that I am reading for my own enjoyment. SBTB is the best!

    A hint as to my age: in 1972, I failed (university) Chemistry with a grade of 68%, which would have been some four plus decades later, a B-/C+ at the [major] university from which I recently retired.

  20. 20
    Lisa Boike says:

    I really appreciate the C reviews and understand they are hard to write but I think it is important to write them. I read a lot of books (generally over 100 a year and I am sure I am not alone in this community) and the majority I read are C’s so I don’t want to think they were a total waste of time. I will pick up a book reviewed as a C if it has plot elements I liked. I can still enjoy C books. A’s are harder to come by and I really don’t want to read all that many A’s because my lord how exhausting would it be to have every single book you read change your life. I am am OK with A’s being rare. I don’t like too much upheaval in my life. I have enough of that on a day to day basis. So bring on those C reviews!

  21. 21
    KellyM says:

    I look at not only the ratings (letters or stars) but also the person leaving the review of the book I am interested in. A thousand people could leave a 5 star review for a book that completely baffles me. So I look to see if reviewers have generally the same opinions of books we both rated.
    My reviews are mainly for my own purpose to remind me how I felt about a book. I suffer from book amnesia and my own reviews can refresh my failing memory and also helps decide whether I want to read more from an author.
    I have DNF’ed a book and picked it up a few years later and loved it. I have also 5 starred a book and read it again a few years later and lowered my rating. I guess I am just a moody bitch 🙂

    A grade (5 stars) are books that I couldn’t put down, snarled at interruptions, and couldn’t wait to snatch up other books from the author.
    B grade (4 stars) are keeper books and really enjoyed but I can get enough sleep to function properly the next day.
    C grade (3 stars) are books that I put down, pick up later, put down again. I want to finish it but I am easily distracted.
    D grade (2 stars) It is a struggle to finish. I didn’t like the writing or I just didn’t like any of the characters. Usually ends up on my eye rolling plot shelf.
    F grade (1 star) Hated it to the point of resenting the book and myself for wasting my time. I vow to never be fooled again! Yeah, right.

  22. 22
    Lora says:

    I agree it’s hard to grade one’s enjoyment of/appreciation for a book.
    Example: I just read Touched by an Alien, which is cracktastic and escapist, so i’d give it a B if pressed. Because Fun and Relatable Narrator but also sciency bits that didn’t make a great deal of sense to me. I don’t usually read sci fi for that reason, and aliens and paranormal anything ain’t my jam, but this was really fun and absorbing and, hell, a fun read is a fun read regardless of genre for my money.
    But then I’d give The Peach Keeper by Sarah Addison Allen (whom I revere) a B because I loved the backstory and the restoration of the house but everyone’s obsession with the mc having been a prankster in school a decade ago was annoying AF to me. Like, entire letter grade annoying. So a sci fi book from outside my comfort zone would get a B for hey that’s good I’ll read the next in the series! but a novel from a favorite author will be judged more harshly and get the same grade…so…I’m glad I’m not a book critic. Too subjective. Head may explode.

    Meanwhlie, I appreciate all trigger warnings (esp. animal abuse) and disclaimers about tropes (I cant’ stand a secret baby and have been known to refer to such a book as “OH SH*T IT’S TWINS!”)

  23. 23
    DonnaMarie says:

    @Bono, I agree, writing a ranty review of a book you hate with the heat of a thousand fiery suns with your sense of humor intact isn’t always easy. Amanda asked me to edit one of my Rita reviews because I was so angry when I wrote it I might as have written “This is the worst effen book written by the worst effen writer to ever grace the effen planet and someone should take an effen baseball bat to her effen keyboard” a thousand times. It wasn’t constructive, coherent or enjoyable. A little levity about what you hated or your reactions as you read make a review accessible to whoever your audience might be.

    If it’s just for you, rage on.

  24. 24
    Francesca says:

    It’s weird, but nowadays, I’m more likely to DNF a book that would otherwise get a C. Life’s too short to waste my free time reading a book that isn’t really engaging me or making me care that much about the characters. It’s a romance; I know they’re going to get together eventually, but if the author doesn’t make me feel that interested in how it’s going to happen, I’m moving on. It might be an okay book – nothing terrible, but nothing special – but I’m done.

    I’ll probably finish a book that is a D for me, especially one that has been well-reviewed, because I’m waiting for it finally to get good.

    I have read, perhaps, one book I would give an A+. This book gave me chills for close to an hour after I finished it, left me breathless and sad that I couldn’t read it for the first time ever again.

    An A is a book that I love and reread once a year. It’s totally subjective because I know that some of these books aren’t necessarily that great, but I have developed an unreasonable love for them. These include my go-to comfort authors such as Eva Ibbotson, Edith Layton and Kathleen Gilles Seidel.

    A B is a solid enjoyable read and will be greeted like an old friend every few years.

    Then there are the WTF books. These aren’t the crazy-sauce so-bad-it’s-good. These are genuinely bad books that I can’t put down, swear are going out in the next book purge and reread faithfully, hating myself the whole time.

  25. 25
    chacha1 says:

    I don’t have a review site, so I only grade books in my head, but I do grade them. 🙂

    DNF = bored to the point of coma, I know exactly where this is going, and I don’t care/quality of writing is so poor it doesn’t deserve one more minute/I hate the storyline/characters so much not even good writing will keep me going (Note the only book I have ever finished that I hated with a pure fiery hate was “The Sheik,” and I only finished it because I wanted to rant about it from a fully-informed vantage point.)

    F = fantastically, hilariously bad/crazypants. No redeeming features but it made me froth at the mouth to the point of cracking myself up, as in very bad traffic I once heard myself say “what the f*** are you f***ing f***ers doing?!”

    D = someone should be ashamed of themselves. probably the author, definitely the publisher if it wasn’t self-published, and certainly me for wasting my time on it.

    C = meh, kept my interest enough to finish it but I won’t remember it and won’t revisit the author

    B = a reasonable piece of entertainment. B- would be “a reasonable piece of entertainment that needed a line edit or a slap upside the psychology”; B+ would be “a reasonable piece of entertainment with one noteworthy component” which might be setting, character, dialogue, or narrative grace (this is as rare as a snow leopard).

    A = thoroughly enjoyed it and will actively seek out the author again. A- would be “thoroughly enjoyed it with one noteworthy quibble” such as use of the egregious “poured over”; A+ would be “thoroughly enjoyed it and immediately put the next title by the author on my wish list.”

  26. 26
    NLW says:

    @Qualisign, I hear you! As a university lecturer, I find the assigning of grades the hardest thing, and I think this extends to book reviews. It’s often easy to give the written commentary (or at least I find it ok, although after 50 or so essays on the same topic, my brain is … Sluggish…) but giving that a grade is something is struggle with unless it’s exceptionally good or bad. You all seem to do this so well! It’s great to understand others’ process. I’ll think on this some more as I go back to my marking… (It’s mid-semester here in Australia)…

  27. 27
    Christine says:

    Some random thoughts: I really never struggled with grading when I taught at the university, largely because when you have a whole group of identical assignments to grade I think it’s easier to see where each falls on the grading scale. The strongest As stand out, and after that it’s relatively easy to compare and place the others. Grading books is so much more complicated because you’re looking at your subjective enjoyment, technical proficiency (if that’s important to you), and also (for me) whether the author succeeded at what they were trying to do. I give a lot of books three stars on Goodreads, and some of them I actually really enjoyed while others I didn’t like personally but felt compelled to give some credit because they had some redeeming quality that couldn’t be overlooked. There are four star books I’ll never read again, and two star books I do reread if I’m in the right mood. I sometimes go to goodreads with one rating in mind and end up going up or down based on the book’s average because I realize that most readers are rating it based on criteria I personally didn’t have in mind. Sometimes I’m swayed into being more generous, and sometimes I feel like a dissenting lower rating might be more useful to future readers (like if a lot of the reviews are five star squeeing with lots of gifs). I recently went to add a book that was going to be two stars for me, but then it turned out that there were no other reviews and I couldn’t do it–gave it a three so the author wouldn’t be discouraged…

  28. 28
    SandyCo says:

    I use a 5-star rating system like Amazon does. Mine is similar to others’, I suppose:

    5 stars = One of the best books I’ve *ever* read, to be reread and treasured forever. I will sing this book’s praises ’til the day I die. It’s a comfort read, and I turn to it for consolation after I’ve read a 1- or 2-star book. Goes into the “special books” collection on my Kindle.

    4 stars = It was good. It was touching, funny, and made me feel good. Most 4 stars are keepers. Goes into the “good books” collection.

    3 stars = It was okay, but not amazing. I doubt I’ll remember it in 3 days. Goes into the generic “books I’ve read” collection.

    2 stars = Hey, I finished it, didn’t I? (As I get older, my patience diminishes, so I’m finding way less of these. They’re usually DNFs.) A 2 star is notable for me putting it down and forcing myself to pick it back up. It’s a chore to finish this book, not a joy.

    1 star = Usually DNF. These books have major issues. Heroines being kidnapped as sex slaves and then they become BDSM queens and fall in love with their kidnapper (no!), or the heroines are repeatedly TSTL. Factual errors (come on, authors, Google is your friend; you can’t rearrange existing freeways!) don’t help. The same is true for awful grammar and spelling/word usage errors. Those just leap out at me (I’m probably a frustrated copy editor at heart), and I want to grab my red pen! I’m forced out of the story every time this happens, and if it’s rampant, I won’t put up with it.

    I leave honest reviews without tearing an author apart, especially if it’s obvious that this is their first book. I try to detail what didn’t work for me specifically, and if that’s vague then I usually refrain from reviewing at all. Many times I’ve plainly stated that this book didn’t work for *me*, but YMMV.

  29. 29
    April says:

    I used to review books but then it got to be too much work. Who am I to say this is well written or better than X book or is a POS? Generally these days I just post up a note on GR saying that I liked it or hated it or whatever and maybe the reasons why.

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