Penny asked:

As I interact with other readers in book clubs and online, am finding it interesting how many readers want to rate a book highly for just one or two positive attributes. A 4 or 5 star book should get just about everything perfect. This book got a few things very right, but alot of other things were below average. Wondering why it's so hard for us readers to be "critical" in the best sense of the word?

To answer questions about We Need New Names, please sign up.
Ty-real - Full disclosure: I've not read this book, but nonetheless felt that there are a huge amount of assumptions in this questions that need to be challenged.-

"A 4 or 5 star book should get just about everything perfect."

Lot of assumptions to unpack here - what a 4 or 5 star books looks like varies per person, and frankly, a numerical grading system is limited when dealing with a target that isn't measurable by strict criteria. Reading most certainly is not this.

Hell, what look likes a 4 or 5 star book has changed for me over last few years, and will no doubt continue to do so.

Your statement not only assumes some kind of universal arbiter, but also assumes that your opinion is very much in-step with said universal arbiter.

People can value different things in reading - realistically, using some kind of numerical scale is a comparative, so they are rating the book in comparison with other books they've read. In no sense is other people's literary experiences a uniform thing.

" This book got a few things very right, but alot of other things were below average."

You know, there's nothing wrong with putting this opinion to people who do like the book, and trying to engage them on that level. Helping them see your perspective and vice versa. Just vaguely asserting this is true about the book isn't a great start.

"Wondering why it's so hard for us readers to be "critical" in the best sense of the word?"

Honestly, I wouldn't even be answering this if it wasn't for this sentence. So now you've asserted a standard that you think everyone should hold books to, and vaguely dismissed the novel itself, now you're using this as a basis to suggest people aren't reading correctly. Reading correctly, of course, seems to be implied that it should be read in the way you read it.

(I also balk at the idea that reading "critically" just involves identifying what worked for you and what didn't. Surely looking at the context of the novel, the way parts of the novel interact with other parts, how it plays against the lit' history it's playing off of and so on.)

Apologies if this seems a little blunt! There's every chance you just need to clarify some of what you were saying with this question, but as it's written I couldn't help but, well, be a bit critical of the way you framed things.
SusanJ When I first joined Goodreads I thought a lot about what it might mean for me to give a book 4 or 5 stars. I finally decided that, for me, it means I myself found the book moving, fascinating, lovely -- while fully aware that that which moves me, fascinates me, seems lovely to me, may very well not strike someone else the same way. My hope - which is very gradually coming true - is to develop a shared circle of reader-friends with whom I can share reactions and suggestions.

I have a dear friend who feels quite competent and willing to pronounce a book "well written" or "good literature." I am not such a reader.

I'm not quite finished with this book, so perhaps I should wait to comment, but I find so very few books - fiction or non-fiction - that share the stories and experiences of African migrants in a way that gets to me - I am eager for the author to publish her memoir - I think I read that she is working on it now.

And truly next to nothing from Zimbabwe.

I give this book 5 stars.
Drottnigu Rating is also perspective-wise. As a reader, I choose to rate highly the books that move me the most, teach me something new,- or something old- about humanity at large. I take into consideration style and plot etc, but only if there's really something striking to comment upon. Now, if I were to rate as a critic, that is, more critically, the results would be somewhat different. Still, though, it depends on the role you identify with in the process of rating. But I get your point about critical and not-so- critical thinking.
Ro One of the reasons bookaholics participate in groups such as Goodreads is to identify books in which we are interested, as well as those that are well written. If I don't like a book, it is unlikely that I will finish it. There's just not enough time to read all the books I'd like. If I don't finish a book, I won't rate it. I don't think that would be fair, because I would not have a complete picture. Rather than looking at the rating, I read the reviews here and on other sites, look for books that have won awards, and for topics I enjoy. I may also read a book that I think will stretch my mind. But unless a book really let's me down toward the end, I will probably not finish reading a one to three star book.
Amber "This book got a few things very right," that is an opinion and one with which I disagree. I adored this book, it is an example to me of literature done right.

I agree that people review in a non-nuanced way. Like they liked the story but fail to be critical of the style or whatever. You have to remember that on GoodReads you have writers, authors, literature lovers and critics. You also have high school students, lovers of trashy romance novels (not judging), lovers of NF text-type or self-help books or etc., and so on. In other words there is a mix of seasoned and critical readers and fourteen year olds (also not judging, I love fourteen year olds, but with the exception of a few amazing ones I know, their reviews will be based mostly on whether they find it "boring" or "long" or whether they "got it")--and we are all on here trying to make sense of the same books. So...

I take the reviews and certainly the star rating overall with a grain of salt--I find some of the worst books rated so highly and some I loved rated low (usually because people didn't "get it"--so I read through the reviews, talk to people I know, etc. I look at "why" people gave a review, particularly a review of 5/1 stars I look at both rather critically.

And I also don't give a full review of each book I read because... who has the time? And even some I don't "review" at all but just give a star rating. Sometimes I will mention 1-2 things I like even if I don't mention critical things or I just pull out one to two details. And I am sure the same is for many reviewers.

The bottom line is that because there is no requirements or suggestions or monitoring of Good Reads for how to review... the discernment of reviews and star-ratings is on the onus of the seasoned, nuanced reader.
Steph C I would not consider myself a literary critic. I always hated English class despite having been a prolific reader since my childhood. I've probably read somewhere close to 1000 books in my 30 years, having tracked nearly 550 since Grade 7. That was just to provide a bit of context. I basically rate a book based on how much I enjoyed it, whether it moved me, whether the characters resonated with me. I have employed a 5 star system in my own recordings. Since Good Reads doesn't allow half stars this has proven challenging. Basically this is my system:
5 stars - one of the best books I've read. I will usually get 0-2 5 star books under my belt per year. I remember them and could list them in my top books of all time.
4.5 stars - I thoroughly enjoyed it, the characters resonated with me, I didn't want to put it down.
4 stars - I enjoyed the book. It had a captivating story line. The characters were engaging.
3.5 stars - The book was fine. I finished it. But my life is fine haven't not read it.
3 stars - I read the book but it didn't particularly resonate with me or had flaws.
Anything below that I basically don't finish because I have better things to do and better books to read than something that gets below 3/5 stars.
Anita Maria Ahhhh, to like or not to like, that is the age old question. To rate a book 4 or 5 stars is asking the reviewer to pack all their opinions of the book into a few short points of interest or dislike. Taking that into consideration, it's easy to determine how the individual will critique the subject, only pinpointing the highs and lows. As another reader commented, I may just rate a book and not write a review simply because I don't have time to. There are times I didn't read a book but I'll review what I did read, adding if I plan to revisit the book at a later date. Often times I've seen reviews written simply as synopsis of the book and not a critique. All in all we are different and will form our own opinion, that's what makes these "Good Reads."
Ayacchi Back then I was confused too, even now tbh. And whenever i read other's review before putting my owns, i'd weave, and i think it's not good. I always keep in my mind of goodreads' rating, and how i feel about the book. Our liking might be different so is our rating/review. We can't force someone to like something we like, and we shouldn't follow others just because they gave a rating or such. Review is a subjective thing, it is what we feel, what a book left for us.

This year, after constantly writing my review on my blog etc, i've made a policy in my ownself, that rating on goodreads should only about the plot/story. And for me, it helps a lot to give a more proper rating. Tho im still looking for a better path, since a good book could have a boring plot and such. It makes thing harder to rate. But again, i try to rate the book for the impression it left in me more or less
Karen I know how you feel, this book is not impressing me a great deal either! Here's what I think: sometimes books can fall into the category of being beloved by the "professional" literary community. Critics praise a certain book, librarians recommend it on their lists, it gets heavy notice, and perhaps the writer has already received an award for his/her previous efforts. I really feel that can get to be a bandwagon type of effect. Paid, professional critics would probably heatedly deny it, but I think they all influence each other, whether they are discussing music, art, or books. It's always interesting to me how similar they sound, praising the same elements and often ignoring the same flaws. That of course has an effect on us lesser mortals -- while you might privately think a book is fair to middling, it can be uncomfortable to be that lonely voice dissenting in the face of all the rah-rah talk from the NY Times Sunday mag or the committee that puts out the list for the Booker Prize, say. I think this book kind of fits there. It happens to be one of those debut novels that everyone seems to feel is just so profound, so it gets on the fast track for success. The librarians in my area chose it as one of their top recommendations for 2014, and I think that is a BIG reason why it is the read for my book club this month.
Image for We Need New Names
Rate this book
Clear rating

About Goodreads Q&A

Ask and answer questions about books!

You can pose questions to the Goodreads community with Reader Q&A, or ask your favorite author a question with Ask the Author.

See Featured Authors Answering Questions

Learn more