Tuesday, December 27, 2011

How Do You Define a Five-Star Book?

That's the question I asked myself as we rolled out our new online catalog a year ago. Mycatalog, as DPPL calls it, allows you to rate books--and CDs and more--from one to five stars: according to mycatalog, one is "poor" and five is "great."

But does great = perfect? Or does great mean a book you simply love, flaws and all? Or does it mean something else?

Jude the Obscure, a longtime favorite, was the first book I rated five stars after I created my account. My thinking at the time was: I love it and I wouldn't change a thing about it. I rated Spooner by Pete Dexter five stars as well using the same criteria, although it's a very different sort of book: comic rather than tragic.

Then I read The Inverted Forest by John Dalton and my criteria morphed, consistency be damned. The Inverted Forest is a strange and wonderful book set primarily at a summer camp, and it features a disfigured man who works as a camp counselor, tending not to the children he anticipated but to severely disabled adults. I looked forward to settling down with this singular book each evening in a way I hadn't in a long time. Was it a book in which I wouldn't change a thing? No. I felt there was extraneous material at the beginning of the book that pulled the book out of shape and that could have been cut or summarized. But I gave it five stars anyway. I loved it too much not to, and I'd just finished it and was still on a high.

Obviously, rating books isn't a science and is incredibly subjective. And how you rate a book can be influenced by factors such as how recently you finished it, your mood at the time, etc. That said, I think rating books is a helpful shorthand and a great way to track the books and authors you've enjoyed (and those you wish to avoid). You can can keep your ratings and lists private or share them with others.

Here's a link to some of the books I've read and rated in the past year, as well as some of my all-time favorites. And here's a link to some of the books read and frequently rated by the Readers' Services staff. Want to know more about a book than just its rating? Click on the book's title to see if there are any reader comments.

We hope you'll rate and comment on what you read as well. To get started, log into your mycatalog account, move your mouse pointer over the My DPPL tab, and click on Completed to begin rating books. Questions? Call or stop by the Readers' Services desk.

And feel free to post your thoughts on how you define a five-star book and any five-star books you've recently read.


Bob said...

Hi Laura, I'm as subjective as the next person, so my five-star items, of course, may not be the next person's cup of tea. Anyway, I gave the following five stars:
Freedom, by Jonathan Franzen
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, by Margaret Smith
Living in the Material World (music cd), by George Harrison,
and two DVDs by Charlie Chaplin: The Gold Rush, and The Kid.

Linda K. said...

I think five-star books are books I love to read over again because I enjoyed them so much the first time.
Some of these would be ...
Any mystery by Louise Penny, starting with "Still Life."
Any South Florida novel by Carl Hiaasen, especially those featuring the former governor called Skink.
The adventure novels written by the team of Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child, especially "Relic" "Mount Dragon" and "Thunderhead" spooky, with great characters and atmosphere.
And of course, anything that makes me laugh.

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