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 Love. Still 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?