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Sunday Salon: Gold Stars

August 28, 2011

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I have a ton of titles from July and August to catch up on (this is not to even mention the backlist from earlier this year), so I’ll keep this paragraph brief! But I’ve seen quite a few bloggers mulling over ‘ratings,’ in particular star ratings, and I’ve been wanting to share my two cents. I use a five-star rating system on my books read page, simply so that I (and others) can quickly see what I felt about them;  in some cases, I don’t get to blog about a book, but even when I do, I imagine sometimes readers might want to only read posts on books I loved (aka four and five stars). I don’t use those ratings in my posts, just because I think my ramblings make it pretty clear how I felt about the book. ;) I get around the philosophical complications of reducing a book to stars in a very simple way. Rather than rating the book, I rate my experience reading it; that way, I’m making no judgement on the book and author but merely on my reaction to them. And I make it very clear that it’s not a comparison system, because it’s silly to imagine that just because there’s a certain number of stars, an emotional reaction to a book could actually be quantified. It’s shorthand, not a math system. If you want, you can see all of the explanations for various numbers on my books read page, but that’s my philosophy! I bring it up now, because I have been thinking about adding stars to my Sunday sentence blurbs, just because I’ve had a few comments that indicate it’s not always clear from one sentence when I loved a book. What do y’all think? Would adding my stars here be helpful or redundant?

And now, to a brief recap of my reading!

Read Among Others by Jo Walton if…you love coming-of-age stories with book-obsessed main characters and aren’t bothered by an unrealistic diary format.

Read A Spell of Winter by Helen Dunmore if…you’re a Gothic enthusiast and are looking for a lush, pitch-perfect, neogothic story.

Read A Gentleman of Fortune by Anna Dean if…you enjoy cosy mysteries or historicals set in Regency England.

Read The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything by James Martin if…you’re curious about what spiritual self-help advice looks like through a Jesuit lens.

Read Death’s Favorite Child by Frankie Y. Bailey if…you’re willing to overlook clunky writing and strange characterisations for a decent mystery plot.

Read The Sleeping Car Murders by Sebastien Japrisot if…you love sharply plotted mysteries or those set in international locations or are just looking for wonderful lit from the 1960s.

Read Claudine Married by Colette if…you’re a Colette lover enjoying the Claudine quartet (if you’d like to start from the beginning, track down Claudine at School)! ;)

Read Luka and the Fire of Life by Salman Rushdie if…you’re looking for a decent children’s book (as opposed to Haroun and the Sea of Stories, which was more young adult) and can overlook instances of the typical girl-bashing authors seem to engage in to appeal to boy readers.

Read The Mysterious Affair at Styles by Agatha Christie if…you’d like to meet Poirot the way the original readers did!

Read Destiny Disrupted by Tamim Ansary if…you’re looking for a very general, stereotype-based history of the world from the Muslim point of view and don’t expect a decent bibliography or end notes in your nonfiction.

Read Death of a Snob by M.C. Beaton if…you need some cheering up of the lighthearted, well-written mystery variety, particularly if a small Scottish Highlands village setting appeals to you.

Read Style Statement by Carrie McCarthy & Danielle LaPorte if…you secretly love all of those ‘identify your personality’ quizzes and want a whole book full of that style fun.

Read An Unsuitable Job for a Woman by P.D. James if…you’re already a James fan or want to give her a try without committing yourself to the more extensive Dalgleish series or are planning a mid-century mystery reading project or just want a marvelously well-written, intellectual character-driven novel.

Read The Substance of Style by Virginia Postrel if…you’re curious about the philosophy of aesthetics or want some affirmation that your desire to fill your life with beautiful things is not trivial and don’t mind a large helping of white, thin privilege.

Read Death of a Gossip by M.C. Beaton if…you prefer beginning mystery series at the beginning and are attracted to the Highland village setting and/or quirky village constable sleuth Hamish, but be aware that the series improves dramatically as it goes along!

Read The Edible Woman by Margaret Atwood if…you want to read a wonderfully written, fascinating pre-feminist movement account of a young middle-class Canadian woman trying to find herself in the early 1960s.

Read The Ballad and the Source by Rosamond Lehmann if…you enjoy slightly melodramatic ‘fallen women’ stories from the turn of the century and don’t mind odd plot pacing and a story told entirely through hearsay.

Read The Unfinished Clue by Georgette Heyer if…you’re craving a good Golden Age mystery read, or you’re curious about Heyer’s writing outside of the Regency romance world (this is light years better than the other mystery I read by her, so a great place to start).

Read Peril at End House by Agatha Christie if…you love Golden Age mysteries or Agatha Christie or just want to see what all of the fuss is about!

Read Hundred Dollar Holiday by Bill McKibben if…you’re looking for a slim history of Christmas in the US or need ideas for how to re-invent Christmas to make it more joyful and, incidentally, less expensive.

The Sunday

56 Comments leave one →
  1. August 28, 2011 7:39 am

    Eva, I really adore your posts, I just have to say that. I feel about the same way you do on the rating system in that it’s usually pretty clear from my “ramblings” as you put it, how I feel about a book. Oh, and I do love the gold star photo also. ;O)

    • August 28, 2011 11:33 am

      Thank you! And isn’t that photo stunning? I’m addicted to Flickr’s creative commons, hehe.

  2. August 28, 2011 8:20 am

    I don’t use stars on my blog, only because I just find it hard to boil my reaction down to a rating, and then I sometimes change my mind about my feelings after a book has sat with me for a while, so I hate to be on record with a rating. (Oddly enough, I don’t feel the same about being on record in my ramblings. Somehow they don’t feel as conclusive as stars.)

    All that said, I do usually put down a star rating on LibraryThing and/or Goodreads for reference and as a quick shortcut for me. Those are very much my gut reaction and personal experience, just as you describe, and I often go back and change them if my feelings change. I can see the value too on adding them to posts like this.

    • August 28, 2011 11:32 am

      I’ve totally changed my star ratings on my books read page a few times, or I’ll hold off on adding a recently finished book to the list if I haven’t decided how I feel about it. ;) I haven’t bothered transferring my star ratings to LT, though: it would be so much work, and the half star thing would make my life even more complicated. lol

  3. August 28, 2011 8:39 am

    I read The Affair at Styles this month too. I really enjoyed it. The Ballad and the Source is on my TBR shelf. I first heard about it in Jessica Mitford’s letters. Apparently a friend of the Mitford family, a Mrs Hammersley, was the basis for one of the characters.

    • August 28, 2011 11:31 am

      Yay for Christie! It doesn’t surprise me that there was a real-life woman who inspired the story…it had that kind of feel. ;) I’ll be curious to see what you make of it!

  4. August 28, 2011 8:44 am

    Wow, a lot of books that sound only OK – or at least your warning makes it kinda scare me off! Though the Atwood sounds fun :)

    • August 28, 2011 11:24 am

      I just went and counted: 12 of them I either loved or really, really liked. And 5 of the others I gave ‘three star,’ so a decent read if nothing to write home about. So I’m worried that I came off too negative! *sigh*

      • August 30, 2011 11:08 am

        Heh no worries. I think it is more a place where our tastes diverge ;)

  5. August 28, 2011 8:49 am

    With long reviews, where you lay out exactly what you liked and didn’t like in a book, I don’t think stars are necessary. But with these little reviews I’d like to have them. I can’t really tell from this where you stand on all the books, especially given that I know you were underwhelmed by Among Others. I’m adding A Spell of Winter to my list so hopefully you enjoyed that one a lot.

    • August 28, 2011 11:25 am

      I lurved the first half of Among Others, though, even if the second half didn’t live up to it (imo). I loved, loved A Spell of Winter! :D And from several of the comments being left, I think I will be popping in stars in the future, just so that people can say when I loved/really liked a book.

  6. August 28, 2011 9:18 am

    Seems like a lot of mystery novels lately instead of non-fiction. I did the same this summer, myself.

    • August 28, 2011 11:26 am

      Most of this month, w my new meds and a fibro flare-up, I couldn’t read anything that required a lot of focus. And I just wanted some comfort reads, which for me is definitely mysteries! Most of the nonfic in my stack seemed like it would just depress me. heehee

  7. August 28, 2011 9:58 am

    I’ve always wanted to read the Claudine series

  8. August 28, 2011 10:02 am

    I’m glad your back and I love your brief recaps. They give me a sense of each book and what you felt while reading them. Like you, I don’t have a rating system. Your thoughts about rating your experience of reading a book help me understand why I write about books. Brilliant, Eva.

  9. August 28, 2011 10:03 am

    I’m glad you’re back and I love your brief recaps. They give me a sense of each book and what you felt while reading them. Like you, I don’t have a rating system. Your thoughts about rating your experience of reading a book help me understand why I write about books. Brilliant, Eva.

  10. August 28, 2011 10:09 am

    I like your mini-reviews the way they are. I don’t think you need to stars to them, saying whether or not you like them or not. I think it’s fairly clear from what you write what you think about them.

    • August 28, 2011 11:30 am

      I’m going to add something at the end…maybe not stars, just a (love) (really liked) (liked) (disliked), because I think I’m definitely coming off more negatively than I want to on some of the books. But I’ll try to figure out the most attractive/organic way to include it!

    • August 28, 2011 11:36 am

      Oh! I just had a brainwave! I can just sort the books into ‘groups’ by how much I enjoyed reading them…then I don’t have to tack anything on to the actual sentences. *happy dance*

  11. August 28, 2011 12:05 pm

    Wow, you’ve done a lot of reading! The book that stands out for me is Hundred Dollar Holiday.

  12. August 28, 2011 12:34 pm

    I loved all of Among Others, even though I’m not always uncritical of books about folks who love books. But that character grabbed me from the first.

    Even though I find that people react as if I “didn’t like” a book if I say anything critical in the course of praising it, I won’t rate books with stars or anything else, because it’s too much like grading.

    • September 1, 2011 1:11 pm

      I really, really loved the first half, and then somewhere in the second half something shifted and I fell out of love. :(

  13. August 28, 2011 12:43 pm

    Maybe it’s just me but I don’t have any trouble figuring out your general level of positivity based on these one-sentence jobs. Not that there would be anything wrong with grouping them by enjoyment level, but honestly I think you do a great job at communicating a lot in a very succinct way with these. And your negative ones continue to be my favorites. ;-)

    Disappointing about Rushdie’s girl-bashing, though.

    • September 1, 2011 1:12 pm

      Thnx Emily! ;) I wanted to smack Rushdie upside the head, whereas I really enjoyed Haroun and the Sea of Stories. So I don’t know what he was thinking!

  14. August 28, 2011 12:43 pm

    Oh dear. I’m sorry to hear Destiny Disrupted wasn’t very well done. It’s such an interesting concept. I’ve wanted to read it for awhile now but my library doesn’t have a copy. I guess, from your mini-review, I can wait a bit longer.

    • September 1, 2011 1:13 pm

      Every time he said something that disagreed with other books I’ve read, I’d flip to the back to check his sources. Often, there wasn’t one! And almost all of his sources are European academics; it was frustrating.

  15. August 28, 2011 1:28 pm

    I always need tips on how to make Christmas more joyful and less stressful, so I should probably read Hundred Dollar Holiday before the holiday season starts gearing up.

    • September 1, 2011 1:13 pm

      It’s nice & short/small, so it’ll be a quick read! I found it v inspiring. :)

  16. August 28, 2011 2:30 pm

    I use stars but I’ve been thinking about ditching them. Sometimes it’s hard to quantify a book and I feel slightly constrained by the system but I haven’t yet decided how to replace it so I’m sticking with it for a bit longer. I’ve always been able to tell from your descriptions whether or not you liked a book — just my two cents.

  17. August 28, 2011 3:06 pm

    I’m a fan of Margaret Atwood, and I can’t imagine having missed An Edible Woman….so, I’m thinking it must be time for a reread.

    I’m rereading The Handmaid’s Tale right now….


  18. August 28, 2011 4:09 pm

    I like your brief commentary – and you managed to pack a punch in a few words. I’m thinking of adopting the ‘Twitter’ approach to book reviews myself. If I can’t say it in a certain amount of words I won’t say it at all!

    • September 1, 2011 1:14 pm

      Thanks Nicola! I miss being able to type more, but I’m thankful I can blog at all. :)

  19. August 28, 2011 4:56 pm

    To be honest, I ignore any kind of rating on a post. I think they are all too subjective and I would rather just read someone’s honest opinion. *shrugs*

    I just picked up that Atwood title at Borders. Glad to see I made a good choice!

  20. Ioana permalink
    August 28, 2011 5:31 pm

    I’m always too indulgent with books. The only ones that receive 1 or 2 stars on Goodreads are absolutely the ones I really, really dislike. Otherwise, ones that don’t manage to keep me interested (but manage to read in spite of its ‘flaws’) get a 3. And 4-5 are for the ones I enjoy the most. The problem is that star ratings are so tricky…you have to be in the mood for some books and there are some days when nothing pleases me. Same goes for other readers maybe-some are very pretentious and rarely give a 5, some are like me and rate 5 starts for the most books I read. It all comes down to a list of likes and dislikes and moods + honest reviews. Oh, Agatha Christie…I can’t read anything by her because I once screwed up an essay based on an excerpt from one of her books and it really frustrates me to remember about that incident (hello random brain stopping during important times). Really need to check out ‘A Spell of Winter’ though.

  21. August 29, 2011 4:46 am

    I don’t really use star oder number ratings, I have a horrible time expressing my enthusiasm in numbers. It only ever works with books that sucked for me :)

    Love all the Christie mysteries, obviously, I’ve read one by Heyer that I enjoyed, Why Shoot a Butler. I’ve also read Death of a Gossip and liked Hamish but it’s good to hear the series improves.

    A Spell of Winter sounds great, and I’ve been meaning to read The Edile Woman.

    • September 1, 2011 1:14 pm

      I’ve read that Heyer too, and I think The Unfinished Clue was far better! Maybe I was just in a different time frame though. ;)

  22. August 29, 2011 4:48 am

    A very interesting collection of book!

  23. August 29, 2011 6:58 am

    A Spell of Winter looks downright perfect for me right now. I finished up Sarah Waters’ The Little Stranger recently, and it’s got me in the mood for more gothic fiction. Yum!

    • September 1, 2011 1:15 pm

      I think it’ll definitely work for you!

  24. August 29, 2011 8:13 am

    Personally I like the stars because it gives me a quick idea about whether you liked the book or not. But obviously it’s up to you

  25. August 29, 2011 9:27 am

    As always, thanks for adding to my TBR Eva! :D

    I think I’ll be snatching up A Spell of Winter. I’ve been in the mood for something with a Gothic feel to it.

  26. August 29, 2011 2:44 pm

    Oh I just had to comment on The Edible Woman! It doesn’t get much credit in discussions of Atwood’s canon, but I think it’s the one that got my biggest reaction. I was in a relationship when I read it that made it really hit home… Glad to see that title come up.

    As to the stars, I still haven’t instituted a rating system on my blog – you have to read the review to see what I thought. But I keep considering it. It would make it easier at a glance, not least for ME when looking back. But I find my impressions change; a book I loved just after finishing it might be quickly forgotten, and another may grow on me in the weeks after I finish it. Hm.

    I think you’re doing a fine job, I can do without the stars but of course they won’t bother me either.

    • September 1, 2011 1:16 pm

      Did you see the discussion over at Literary Transgressions? Before I read it, I got a few comments that it wasn’t as good as Atwood’s other stuff, so I was surprised at home much I loved it. :)

  27. August 30, 2011 2:52 am

    So so glad that you enjoyed A Spell of Winter. I read it when I took a course in contemporary fiction at university; we had a guest lecture who talked about sibling dynamics and mirror symbolism in fiction and utterly blew me away. I think I could safely say it’s one of those formative books that taught me how to be a better reader. :-)

    As for star ratings…I’m equivocal. I can see their benefit with such short reviews, but often I think they’re reductive, and I don’t really struggle to pick out the books you liked or loved from the ones you didn’t. I think I like the idea of grouping them better.

  28. August 30, 2011 10:42 am

    I use ratings as a reflection of my reading experience too, and have always said that there’s no way you can use a star rating to compare a classic to say, a cozy mystery. But I like to be able to relate how the particular book that I’m reading stood up against others of a similar style.

    So, yes – I like to see ratings. Especially so that I don’t miss out on something that you think is fantastic.

  29. August 30, 2011 8:08 pm

    I think grouping them by how you liked them – as you mention in a comment reply above – sounds like a good idea.

    I enjoyed The Mysterious Affair at Styles – I didn’t figure out whodunit until Poirot was laying it out. It was my first Agatha Christie and I was quite pleased with it.

    The Style Statement book sounds intriguing, because I do like those little personality quizzes, though I haven’t taken them in a while.

    • September 1, 2011 1:17 pm

      Style Statement was v fun, and it’s all about discovering two words to describe yourself, so perfect for bookish/wordy people too. :D

  30. September 1, 2011 1:17 pm

    Thank you to everyone who weighed in on the posting ratings discussion! I’ll definitely be taking all of these comments into consideration next Sunday. :)

  31. September 9, 2011 8:05 pm

    What did you think of The Mysterious Affair at Styles?? I liked this one although it wasn’t my favorite by Christie. I just read the first book featuring Miss Marple (Murder at the Vicarage) and liked it a lot better. She is such an amazing author! I really enjoy the M.C. Beaton series as well although I have only read the first 3 books :)

    • Zoya permalink
      November 14, 2011 12:49 pm


      My fav Poirot book is Cat Among the Pigeons apart from the Murder on Orient Express. That apart I noticed you mentioned An Unsuitable Job for Woman by PD James. I enjoyed reading this title although it was slow to pick up on the story…I went through the book in 3 days. Your book list certainly helps me make my TBR pile for the next year.


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