Last week, over on Jenny Crusie’s Argh blog, she mentioned that she’s been reading so much romance recently she’s developed her own rating system. It’s a highly personal (read: idiosyncratic) system but it sounds like it works for her.
The book I’m currently working on, The Demon Wore Stilettos, would definitely lose points under Jenny’s system because there’s going to be an epilogue and it’s going to have a baby in it. The whole book revolves around a pregnancy my heroine waited 12,000 years to experience and after all that it would be a breach of reader trust not to show the damned baby (that’s not just me being a potty-mouth. That kid is the product of two of Satan’s minions. It is going to be a very difficult child.)
Sorry, I wandered off-topic there. Anyway, Jenny’s post got me to thinking about what my own rating system would look like. I would add points for:
- Strong, interesting protagonist with a clear, imperative goal
- Strong, interesting antagonist with a clear, imperative goal that is mutually exclusive with the protagonist’s.
- A plot that shows the two of them putting their all into reaching those goals, with twists and turns that catch the other (and me) unawares.
- Language that occasionally surprises me with a unique and original image that gives me a clear picture of something I’m unfamiliar with or lets me see something familiar in a new way.
- A setting that takes me somewhere I’ve never been with such richness that it feels like I live there for the duration of the story.
- Demonstration of an understanding of human nature that goes beyond what you can see on the average TV show.
If I were to take all the books I’ve ever read and rate them based on the above criteria, it would look like this.
***** Five stars would be reserved for books that changed my worldview in some way, or opened up a vista into a strange new world and left me permanently enriched.
**** Four stars would be a really good book, substantially above the ordinary because of one or more of the characteristics listed above.
*** Three stars would be the vast majority of the books I’ve read–solid stories, well-told, with empathetic characters in interesting situations.
** Two stars describes books that fail on one or two the of items listed above.
* One star books fail all or most of my criteria. Typically, I do not finish these books.
How do you rate your reading?
I read Jenny’s blog yesterday with interest, too, and before I started it, I would have bet anyone that she’d have “includes a dog” on her list of things she likes in a book. During our McDaniel life, I put a dog in my trilogy because I’d written myself into a corner, and I told her I wasn’t Raymond Carver, I couldn’t write in a man with a gun. She said that whenever she writes herself into a corner, she writes in a dog. So I wrote in a dog. I’m not sorry, really, but I did have to keep that dog in mind for all three books.
I’m not sure I have a list of reading requirements that suits me every moment. Just last week I started a book I’ve been looking forward to reading, and while I thought it wasn’t perfect (debut author issues), I was enjoying it and especially the historical context, which I knew had been meticulously researched. And then one day over the weekend, I read three pages and put the book in the bag for the thrift store. I’d been fine with the hero…and then I wasn’t. I don’t think it was the hero who changed.
That’s interesting. I wonder what did change? Some intersection with life that said, “Nope, this doesn’t work,” apparently.
Yeah, the hero made a series of decisions that were pretty dumb. At first I was willing to suspend my disbelief—he was young, he was inexperienced, etc. And then, that day, it was one bad decision too many for my suspension capabilities, I think.
I’ve had rating systems before but I’ve found they don’t hold up as well as I’d like because my tastes seem to change over time.
There have been books that I’ve read and thought “well I’ll never read that again” just to pick up the book months or years later because of some detail or another that stuck in my mind, and happily read and enjoy it. Sometimes it just depends on what mood i’m in.
I do have some things that give instant points off or more likely will cause a book to never get picked up in the first place:
– Billionaires. Especially young, super-hot, arrogant billionaires. So not my catnip.
– Pirates. Sure, not every pirate story is a pseudo-rape story, but enough of the ones I read were, so they are all off the table.
– One-night-stand-with-a-secret-baby stories. Especially when the father doesn’t find out until the child is a tween or teen. As a caveat, I do recall one book with this story line by Rachel Gibson that I read and enjoyed, but the “hiding your son” bit reflected poorly on the heroine.
– Stories that are basically a string of sex-scenes with the mere whiff of a plot thrown in but not developed.
– plot moppets
and my newest addition to the “points off” list:
– stories where the author throws in everything, including the kitchen sink. I want to read and enjoy a story, not be bombarded with so many details and storylines that I can’t keep track of who is who and what is what.
On the positive side I’ll keep reading a book and give it a chance if there is snappy dialogue, an endearing pet, an interesting setting/premise, or well-developed characters, even if the story might be a little weak to begin with. I have read several mysteries in a series recently that were okay (not great) just because I liked the main character and the (very brief) glimpses of his personal life that were sprinkled in the stories.
Whatever the rating system, I have found that I have a far shorter attention span than I ever had before. At one point I had never started a book that I didn’t finish. Then I hit Madame Bovary and things went downhill from there. No, 50-pages in, if I’m not hooked or at least enjoying myself, it’s off to the next book. My TBR pile is too vast for me to spend time reading things I’m not enjoying.
To be honest, I rarely read books a second time. I did when I was a teenager, reading faves three and four times even. And recently I’ve gone back and reread Little Women and Anne of Green Gables, but other than a few exceptions, not so much. So I’m not even sure what purpose my rating system serves, other than being judgy.