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  • Writer's pictureDonna Norman Carbone

Good Reads: What does a 5 star rating really mean?

I read voraciously for several reasons across many genres. I’m a lover of the classics and literary fiction. As an English teacher, I love words–the composition of them, their beauty. When I read a sentence that wholly connects to me or one that, in the construction of it, stands apart from others, I’m in awe. I highlight. I study. I copy these sentences down in my journal; some make it to the graffiti wall in my office (filled with beautiful quotes that have resonated with me over the years).

I read books on pedagogy to make myself a better teacher. I read self-help books to help me become conscious of who I am, why I am and how to embrace change. As a writer, I read books on craft to find tips to make my writing more effective, to make the process of writing run smoothly.

I read memoirs, biographies and autobiographies. I’m fascinated by people’s real lives and what makes them tick.

As a mom, when my children were little, I reignited my affinity for children’s literature, realizing the really good children’s books work on two levels: one, the use of poetic language to make the words sing and, two, the inclusion of a profound moral or aphorism. I even read YA books on occasion to see what’s trending with my teenage students and have found some very memorable reads amongst them.

My favorite reads come in the form of women’s fiction of all kinds: contemporary, historical, dystopian, chick-lit, romcoms, upmarket (which situates itself in the sweet spot between commercial and literary). These are the books I most eagerly look forward to reading. Sitting on a sofa, wrapped up in a blanket with a hot cup of tea. Or soaking up the hot sun on our boat, just drifting in the water. These are the books I lose myself in.

Lately, I’ve been reading a lot of comp books which means books comparable to my own (for the two that are under contract) and for the WIP (writing in progress) I’m working on.

Something I’ve recently learned about being a reader is that I can help an author out by reviewing their work, especially new and/or indie (independent) authors who are just starting out like me. As such, I’ve been posting my reviews to Amazon (where I usually buy my books), Goodreads, Bookbub and on social media (particularly Instagram). Authors who haven’t been published by the BIG FIVE publishing houses rely on reviews (and word-of-mouth) to market their books into the hands of readers.

So, I started thinking about my criteria for reviewing such books which I thought I’d share here. What does a 5 star rating mean to me? What do I consider a good read? What is the criteria I think about when determining what resonates with me as a reader?

  1. Timelessness- Will the book hold up? If I read a book today and read it ten years from now, let’s say, will it still resonate with me in some way? That’s not to say it will have the same meaning to me in ten years. It shouldn’t. I’ve changed and how I interface with the book will change, too.

  2. Style- This is difficult to define because it deals mostly with word choice and sentence structure and tone which varies from one author to another, as it should. But it goes beyond that. Framework and point of view also come into play with style. I want the style of the book to encompass something refreshing, something new–unlike any other author’s work I’ve ever read. It’s almost as if I could read an author’s work and know it because of the many facets that go into creating one’s distinct style.

  3. Characterization- This might seem obvious. Characterization is the central consideration for any novel (for the writer and the reader). I want to read characters who are human–dynamic–that I can like or dislike with equal intensity. I want to read characters who offer something new, something uncharted in my reading or living experience.

  4. Connection- This might be an extension of the last criteria. Connectable, relatable characters are a must. Beyond that, a good read needs to evoke an emotional connection in me. It needs to make me feel something. On some occasions, when a novel is set in a familiar locale, the facet of connection becomes elevated to the visual and sensory. The more opportunities to connect, the deeper I sink into the read. The more value a book offers–in the way that it takes an original thought or belief and shapes it differently somehow–the deeper the connection.

  5. Memorability- Will this book live long in my memory? That’s it. Often, I find I don’t want a book to end if it’s memorable–I feel sad as I approach the last chapters, knowing their story and my relationship to it is about to end. If the characters, the story, the way a book was written or made me feel or think continues to resonate past when I’ve added it to my bookshelf, that’s the true test of a book that I consider a good read.

A (short) list of my BEST READS (not in any particular order):

The Red Tent, Anita Diamant

Wuthering Heights, Emily Bronte

Little Altars Everywhere, Rebecca Wells

A Year by the Sea, Joan Andersen

The Unbearable Lightness of Being, Milan Kundera

Imagined London and Plenty of Cake, Anna Quindlen

Mrs. Dalloway, Virginia Woolf

Summer Sisters and Are You There God, It’s Me, Margaret, Judy Blume

The Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood

Blackbird House, Alice Hoffman

Before Women Had Wings, Connie May Fowler

The Poisonwood Bible, Barbara Kingsolver,

Little Children, Tom Perrotta

The Five People You Meet in Heaven, Mitch Albom

What is your criteria for a good read? Does it vary based on genre? Please add your thoughts to the comments below. I’d even love to know what you consider some of your good reads!

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