In defence of five star reviews


Last month we spoke about negative book reviews – the one stars. The truth is I give far, far more positive reviews than negative. I’ve always assumed that’s because mostly I choose the books I read, even when an author approaches me about a novel I consider whether I am likely to enjoy it before I agree to accept it for review. Because reviews are subjective and I don’t like giving bad reviews.

But then I got to thinking. Am I inflating my positive reviews? I’ve heard reviewers say they never give five stars – sometimes a decimal approaching five stars, but not the whole enchilada. That idea makes me really sad. I’m far more inclined to want to tell you how much I loved a novel than how it could have been better. Of course it’s subjective. It’s entertainment – it will always be a matter of taste.  And subjective taste can change. So, why not revisit the five stars and see if I’d still rate them so highly?

Below is my challenge for the next 12 months. I’ve cut and pasted from my Goodreads read folder, in what I assume is no particular order, all of my five star reviews. There’s some wobbliness in the rating here. Goodreads doesn’t allow half stars, so some of these may be 4.5 reviews I’ve rounded up to five. Some of them I starred but didn’t review. Some I haven’t even glanced at since childhood. I wonder how much I’ll enjoy rereading them. When I’ve finished this I probably should look at the novels that should have five stars but don’t. (I gave To Kill A Mockingbird three?! What was I thinking?)

And you? Have you read any of these? Would you five star them? Which of your own favourites would you reread with a critical eye?

The Raw Shark Texts,  Steven Hall

Daughters of the North,  Sarah Hall

Slaughterhouse-Five,  Kurt Vonnegut

Love in the Time of Cholera, Gabriel Garcí­a Márquez

The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August, Claire North

The Handmaid’s Tale,  Margaret Atwood

The Neverending Story, Michael Ende

A Girl Is a Half-formed Thing, Eimear McBride

Wrong Turn at the Office of Unmade Lists, Jane Rawson

The Ark, Annabel Smith

Dept. of Speculation, Jenny Offill

Letters to the End of Love,  Yvette Walker

The People of Paper, Salvador Plascencia

The Poisonwood Bible, Barbara Kingsolver

1984, George Orwell

The God of Small Things,  Arundhati Roy

How to Paint a Dead Man, Sarah Hall

How the Dead Live, Will Self

The Great Gatsby, F Scott Fitzgerald

Middlesex, Jeffrey Eugenides

Ender’s Game,  Orson Scott Card

About Rachel Watts

I am a writer from Perth, Western Australia. My speculative fiction novella Survival will be released in early 2018. View all posts by Rachel Watts

4 responses to “In defence of five star reviews

  • Jane Bryony Rawson

    Very interested to see if Raw Shark gets five stars again – I was so disappointed with it. Slaughterhouse V, Handmaids Tale, Letters to the End of Love and 1984 would all still be definite 5 stars for me I reckon (I hear that Unmade Lists book is pretty good too…).
    This is a great idea. After my ‘Summer of Short Stories’ and ‘2015: year of Indigenous reading’, maybe I should have ‘2016: five stars? Really?’. If my eyes hold out that long….


  • W. Len

    Interesting post. I tried out the experiment on one of my favorite books, Infinite Jest, which I discovered when I was eighteen. Back then, every day, I read the book on my two hour commute to a military base. I remember hating the moment when the bus ride ended and I was transported back to the real world. Yesterday, I picked up the book again and flipped through the first chapter. I felt a little sad when I put the book back after a while. The book is a thousand pages. It’s filled with angst and pain and existential doubt and a few hundred pages worth of appendix, which I no longer have the patience to commit to. Still a five star read? No, not for me anymore, but I guess that’s normal. As we grow, we change the way we read. Despite the failed re-reading attempt, the memory of reading Infinite Jest for the first time still glows. The book may no longer be worth five stars to me, but the memory of reading it is worth a lot more.


    • leatherboundpounds

      Thanks for your thoughtful comment.
      I hope my re-reads don’t ruin my fond memories, especially for those childhood books like The Never Ending Story. Your comment has filled me with hope that even though I might not love them anymore I could still love the idea of them. Which is probably just as good.


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