The other day I was hosting a book-club meeting where we were discussing The House in the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune. I’ve mentioned in an earlier post that this was one of the top reads of 2021 for me.
Most readers had given the book straight up five stars. A few, including me, disagreed. The book was a singularly uplifting read for sure. That we were going through the Pandemic and really needed a book full of hope such as this one, made it even more special.
However, one couldn’t help but notice that the storyline was simplistic, the narrative predictable. The characters were pretty much black and white with few layers and the editing wasn’t flawless either. That the book garnered so much love and appreciation despite all those shortcomings, makes it even more magical. It was a simple book and that was its strength as well as its weakness.
I had dragged my sister along for the meet, figuratively of course, since it was a Zoom meeting. After we wrapped up she and I carried on with the discussion.
‘Why should you analyse a book so much? If you come away with a happy feeling, if you love the characters, just give it those five stars. Why hold back?’ she argued.
She insisted that over-analysing a book took away from the feel of it; that some books, like this one specially, should be felt purely from the heart without being taken apart.
As a mature reader and a balanced book reviewer (my POV entirely, my sister of course will differ 😊 ), I feel I owe it to my readers to actively look for the good and the bad and to put it out there. I will still recommend a book (or not) with all my heart but I would keep those five stars for more layered, better-written books. That’s not to say that I would never give a simple book five stars. The rating is always subjective.
I have to add here, that I’ve read articles where the author has confessed that readers and reviewers have often found undertones and implications in their writing that they didn’t see themselves.
Let me ask you now — How important do you think it is to be objective while reading a book? Would you give five stars to a book that made you feel good but had obvious flaws?
I’m not a fan of the star rating system. Liking (or disliking) books is hugely subjective and I hate to have to put them in five straight categories. There are a million in-between places where I might be comfortable putting the book. Also, I might give two very differently written books an equal star rating.