Under the Wire
Cleansing Breath

Seeing Stars

As many of you have noticed, I read a lot.  Like. . . a lot.  I'm always reading something.  I really love books -- the feel of them, the look of them, the smell of them.  I even purchased my current house because it has a "library."  (Well, that and the fireplace.)  These days, I tend to do much of my reading by listening to audiobooks.  While it did take a little getting used to, once I got the hang of it, I love this new method of reading -- mainly because I can do other things WHILE reading.  Things like knitting or walking or household chores.  Having a good book in my ears can make even the most mundane chores pleasant and engaging.  And, with so many books on my to-read list, this makes the choosing between competing activities much less stressful.

Anyway, I keep track of what I'm reading (actual book and audio book) in the sidebar of my blog.  When I complete a book, I give it my personal star rating.  I got thinking about my star rating system this week, as I was reading a book that kept slipping. . . slipping. . . .slipping. . . until it nearly fell out of the universe altogether!   I thought it might be fun to share the thinking behind my star rating system with you.

FIVE STARS -- The Holy Grail of my personal star rating system!  A Five Star book is rare for me; I reserve these stars for a book that, ultimately makes me gasp.  What are the elements of a Five Star book?  Compelling characters; dialog that sings; surprises and unexpected connections; a plot that just . . . unfolds, and, of course, language, language, language!  A Five Star book stays with me . . . for a long, long time.  (Examples:  A Prayer for Owen Meany and  The History of LoveStill thinking about them - with an occasional gasp!).

FOUR STARS -- Because I'm, well, particular (some might say "picky" or even "snobby") about the books I read - and because I rely heavily on book review sources and other readers I trust for referrals - most of the books I read tend to be in the Four Star range.  Four Star books are Excellent Books; books that keep me fully engaged; books with compelling characters, wonderful dialog, beautiful language, and interesting - sometimes surprising - storylines.   (Examples include The Widower's Tale, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Cutting for Stone, and The Elegance of the Hedgehog.)


THREE STARS -- There are plenty of things to love about a good, old Three Star book -- engaging dialogue, interesting characters, a plot that "fits" together in a beliveable and (usually) unforced way.  Three Star books tend to be entertaining, light, kind of fun to read; something that captures the imagination, but doesn't necessarily stretch the mind!  The problem with most Three Star books is that they start to wander into that realm of . . . predictability.  Too often, you can see the resolution of the story coming -- from the opening chapters  You know they'll end up together in the end, for example, or that they'll forgive each other, or she'll find her true calling. . . etc.   There are few surprises in a Three Star book, but they are fun to read.  (Examples include The Help, The Broken Teaglass, Major Pettigrew's Last Stand.)


TWO STARS -- Ah, the Two Star books!  Here's where I tend to get into a bit of trouble.  I have my own personal give-it-time rule -- or what I refer to as The 75-Page Rule.  Life is too short to read crummy books -- so, I never make myself complete a book that I really don't like.  But I always make myself read the first 75 pages before putting it down.  (There have been Four- and Five Star books that really needed those first 75 pages to get going!  It's not always love-at-first-sight!)  Anyway, if I find myself "talking back" to a book I'm reading, it's probably going to do no better than Two Stars!  If the plot tedious and predictable; if the characters are tedious and predictable (AND unlikeable); if the dialogue is forced; if I feel like the author is dragging me along a path to the story's (already painfully obvious) conclusion. . . I'm likely to start making comments.  Out loud.  If I'm listening on my iPod, and you can actually hear me saying. . . "oh, brother!" or "oh, what a surprise!" . . . you can bet it's a Two Star book!  So. . .why am I reading a Two Star book if I hate it so?  Why. . . I made it past the 75-page mark and feel somewhat committed!  (An example is Hotel On the Corner of Bitter and Sweet.)

ONE STAR -- Totally tedious.  Totally predictable.  Sophomoric plot.  Forced dialogue.  Stupid characters.  One star books. . . never make it past page 75!  (Only one recent example -- The English American.  Don't waste your time!)

So.  Read any good books lately?



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The best book that I've read recently is "Still Alice". It's about alzheimer's disease told from the point of view of the person with the disease. Informative and heartbreaking.


We rate books quite similarly. My favorite book of 2010 has turned out to be "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close" by Jonathan Safran Foer. The Room and Widowers Tale are high on my 2011 reading list!


Favorite book this year for me (well, one of them) is The Map of True Places by Brunonia Barry...(She wrote the Lace Reader)...


I follow the 50-page rule, but I play fast and loose with it. If the writing is too bad it is generally apparent by page 20. Like you I always have at least one book going, usually two -- an audio and an analog.


The last couple of books I've gifted and put on my "to read" list have come from your system - thank-you very much. Along with a few things in my knitting queue! Thanks Kym!

Diana Troldahl

I enjoy reading 3-star books. :-}
I do get stretched a bit (painlessly) but in the end, if a book doesn't entertain me, I don't like it, at all, no matter how well-written. If a subject matter is painful for me, I don't like the book, no matter how well-written. If the ending is vague without a sense of resolution, I REALLY don't like the book, no matter how many other people gush over it.
That being said, I have a job reviewing books for Fresh Fiction.com.
It is REALLY good for me. I am compelled to read books I might not ever choose for myself (I try and request a few books on the outer edge of my usual 'entertainment zone'.
Add to that; I take my job seriously. In my opinion, my job is to inform readers about what type of book it is. If I personally don't like the book, I need to determine if it is because of my own preferences, OR because the book was not well-written.
If it is well-written, I make the review as objective as possible, making clear the niche it fills so that those who will enjoy it (and those who will not) are as informed as I can make them about the 'flavor' of the book.
In the 76 reviews I have completed, only ONE book had no redeeming qualities whatsoever, although there were at least 3 that I personally hated, and 6 that I did not enjoy.
I get paid in free books, but I also get paid by stretching my boundaries once in a while :-}

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