This post is going to be several hundred words of me trashing myself. Just thought I would let you know in advance. Probably not the best decision for a book blogger, the whole basis of her blog being that people actually trust her reviews and ratings, but eh, let’s just go with it.
Book reviews and ratings are extremely subjective. What one person loves and gives five stars to, another person might hate entirely or not even bother to finish. Then there’s the fact that everyone has their own rating systems and ideas about what a specific star level means. It’s chaos, chaos I tell you! But what about the subjectivity between the reviews and ratings of an individual reviewer? If I look back at my reading, reviews and ratings of the last few years there’s definitely some major changes evident in the types of books I read, ways I review and things I consider in deciding my opinion of something. As you might expect, this makes me question the reliability of my past ratings and reviews.
Scaredy Pants Reviewer
I’ve mentioned in the past that, until recently, the idea of using low and really high star ratings was something that made me extremely nervous. Lord knows why. Where my silly brain was concerned, five stars was the god-tier reserved exclusively for Harry Potter and a one star rating was pretty much non-existent. Anything I loved was 4 stars, ‘okay’ or somewhat flawed reads got 3 stars, and to get 2 stars, heaven forbid, you really had to grind my gears. As I’m sure you’ve noticed, this isn’t something I worry about too much anymore. If I really love something, it’s five stars. If it sucks or it’s not for me, 1 and 2 star ratings exist for a reason. However, looking back at the large number of 3 star and 4 star books that make up the bulk of my Goodreads ‘read’ shelf, I can’t help but wonder where things would sit if I had rated them with my current attitude and closer to how I really felt.
Change in Interests, Tastes & Reading Experience
The things we enjoy and the reasons we enjoy them change substantially over the course of our lives. Music I had on loop as a teen, in most cases, isn’t my go to in my mid-twenties (except maybe Taylor Swift & The High School Musical Soundtrack – those will always bop). The same thing applies to books. Over the years, as I’ve read more books from different genres and authors I’ve been exposed to a range of tropes, clichés, character & story archetypes, and writing styles. As a result, things that I once thought were original, exciting or humorous are now…less so. With this experience, my tastes and interests have also gradually shifted toward other things. For these reasons, I’m almost positive that were I to read certain books from years ago now, I’d feel very differently about them. But does that make my reviews and ratings of them less reliable?
This is a bit of a tough call. Although older and more widely read Ashley has better taste and awareness (I hope), my younger self was: (a) experiencing those books for the first time, (b) for YA reads, closer in age to the intended target audience and better able to relate to the characters’ emotions and experiences, and (c) perhaps reading about certain tropes, stories & character types before they became overused. Would I still love Harry Potter as much had I read it for the first time in my twenties? Maybe, maybe not. I hope so, at least, but I guess I’ll never know.
However, with this in mind, I will say that I often have to resist the urge to go back and edit my old reviews (they’re tragic, really) and ratings to make them more in line with my current ideas. It’s extremely tempting, but something I know I need to avoid to prevent further damaging their reliability.
Memory Based Ratings
Now for another tricky one. Review websites have only existed for a certain number of years and it’s fair to say that most people will have read a lot of books before ever deciding to start formally rating, reviewing and discussing them online. By the time we begin to do so, there’s a degree of separation between now and when we actually read those books, leaving us to rely largely on our memory of the content and how we felt about it.
I don’t know about you, but I often forget whether I remembered to unplug my straightener and pack my charger of a morning. So the very suggestion that I’m also able to remember how much I liked a book I read five plus years ago well enough to accurately rate and discuss it seems like a pigs flying kind of scenario. Do I have a general idea? Sure, but is it detailed enough to consider my casual clicking of the Goodreads star buttons for books I read pre-the site entirely reliable ratings? Eh, probably not.
Don’t get me wrong, for books I obsessively loved or hated, this is probably less of a problem as the emotions associated with them are particularly strong, but with the ones in the middle, perhaps take them with a grain of salt.
So, how reliable are my past reviews and ratings? I suppose the answer is: it’s complicated. It all depends on the book, really – when I read it, what I rated it, how memorable it was, and so on and so forth. If that sounds messy to you, you’d be right! Then again, the fact that there are variations in the accuracy and quality of the reviews of an individual reviewer is no different than the mixed bag we usually sift through from multiple reviewers in deciding whether to read a book or not. I suppose it all comes down to finding reviewers who share your interests, tastes and views. When they recommend something, sometimes they’re on the money and other times they’re not. How reliable I am is up to you.
(But as a suggestion, maybe, just maybe check the year on individual reviews & ratings, and hold tasteless, illegible, teen Ashley to a lower standard. Please and thank you!)