Tag Archives: Louisa May Alcott

How Many Stars Should a Book Get on Goodreads?

7 Aug

redpony

Yesterday I wrote about my experience on Goodreads. I think most people use it to write and read reviews of books, but truth be told I don’t do that. The only “review” I give is ranking a book through Goodreads’ star system, and I only do that because it seems sort of mandatory.

I actually feel a sense of anxiety in ranking books. I have very idiosyncratic tastes. I often read books that have gotten a lot of hype and dislike them. But give me a book that the general reading public finds “strange” or that “no one” has heard of and I smatter it with stars.

I think it’s important to acknowledge that we all have different tastes and that a book can be worthwhile even if we didn’t enjoy it. I know that sounds strange, crazy even, but hear me out: I don’t particularly love the story of Hamlet (I mean, come on, it has a ghost in it), but the dialogue, structure, and literary techniques are genius, pure genius.

Also, tastes change over time. I didn’t like David Guterson’s Snow Falling on Cedars the first time I read it. It was required summer reading when I was in high school, and I was decidedly not into love stories or books that heavily emphasized ethnicity issues, a topic my school focused on a lot. When I read it again in college, though, I was drawn into the story itself as if I were reading it for the first time. Sometimes I don’t even re-read a book and my opinion of it changes. I was looking over my Goodreads list and was surprised at how I’d rated some books. Books with three or four stars are the trickiest. I can really enjoy a book yet give it a lower ranking just because it’s not something I feel will stand the test of time or because it doesn’t have that extra little something. In contrast, sometimes I’ll give a book a slightly higher ranking than my gut reaction to it because it is a good book and I don’t want to discredit it even though in my mind there was something missing from it. See, this is why I should probably actually write reviews!

Anyway, here’s a bit of insight into the method of my ranking madness:

  • Five stars—the highest a book can get—are only for books that I feel have changed my life in some way, that are impressively written, and/or that I would reread. They’re the books I would own a copy of, have either marked up profusely or am careful to keep pristine, and would selfishly not lend out. Laurence Sterne’s Tristram Shandy is a book I gave five stars to. An eighteenth-century British novel, it still feels strikingly fresh and relevant to today’s postmodern literature. Read it. It’s wild.
  • Four stars are for books I enjoyed a lot and got absorbed in reading and would recommend to others. I would want to own a copy of the book. I gave J. D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye four stars, for example, because I recognize it’s a well-written, thoughtful book with deep implications for our culture but it didn’t really move me. I read it when I was a teenager and I read it again a year or two ago for my alumnae book club and my reaction was the same.
  • Three stars are for books that are good—good in the sense that they are solid reading for on the subway, on a plane, or at the beach. Maybe the story was appealing or maybe there was something interesting about the writing style that got me thinking. I’d pass the book along to my mom or a friend without wanting it back. A book like Ethan Hawke’s Ash Wednesday gets three stars. It met my expectations but didn’t blow me away.
  • Two stars are for books that somehow miss the mark for me personally. They’re for books I couldn’t get into, that tried too hard, that maybe had an interesting concept but failed to execute it properly, or that didn’t use interesting diction. Oftentimes they’re for books I was excited to read but weren’t worth the hype. They’re for books where I tend to feel cheated for some reason. Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women gets two stars from me. I’d heard so much about this book I was really expecting it to be something special, but it was kinda a snooze fest. Sorry.
  • One star is for books that irritated me. John Steinbeck’s The Red Pony is an example of a book I only gave one star to. I read it back in high school and maybe I’d feel differently now but at the time I remember feeling tortured as I read it. (Conversely, I gave five stars to Steinbeck’s Travels with Charley and Cannery Row.)

Do you think I’m too harsh? Too fickle? How do you rank books on Goodreads? Do you ever go back and change your ranking?

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Make Reading Part of Your Christmas Tradition

5 Dec

The holidays seem to have crept up on us this year, the unseasonably warm weather masquerading the approach of December.  Yes, there’s lots to do, between gift shopping and making travel arrangements and attending holiday parties, but I’ve been slowly learning and relearning that it’s not the doing that matters most.  It’s the people we’re with and the moments we share.

Instead of rushing from mall to mall, pepperspraying each other, what if we slowed down and carved out quiet moments of reflection with the ones we love most?

I have so many great childhood memories associated with the holidays.  My parents really knew how to make the holidays special.  It wasn’t all toys and games.  We had special rituals, decorations, foods, and traditions.  One of my favorite was when my mom would read to my sister, brother, and me Barbara Helen Berger’s The Donkey’s Dream.

Later this special Christmas story tradition continued when I went to college.  I had a wonderful pastor who read us Angela Elwell Hunt’s The Tale of Three Trees: A Traditional Folktale.

There are so many great Christmas stories out there for people of all ages and interests, and I truly believe that staying in with a hot cup of cocoa and a good book is more memorable than rushing out to get the latest Tamagotchi, Tickle Me Elmo, Cabbage Patch Kid, Poggs, Wii, or whatever this generation of kids is into.

Here are my Christmas book recommendations:

For the little women in your life, there’s Louisa May Alcott’s Christmas Tales and Stories

For anyone who could use a good laugh, there’s Laurie Notaro’s An Idiot Girl’s Christmas: True Tales from the Top of the Naughty List

For someone who loves twisted tales of holidays run amuck, there’s David Sedaris’ Holidays on Ice

For anyone who loves a classic, there’s Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol

For the nostalgic, there’s Dylan Thomas’ A Child’s Christmas in Wales

For those who love the South, there’s Truman Capote’s Christmas Memory

There are too many great children’s Christmas books to list.  What are your favorite Christmas books?