To read from the heart or the mind?

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?

A disclaimer:

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.

9 Replies to “To read from the heart or the mind?”

  1. For me it is something very personal. I might give a book 5 stars as I did with this book, but also mention the minor flaws in it as part of the review. It all depends on the writing and how I consume it as a reader. Recently, a book which was given 2-3 stars by everyone else, blew my mind and I gave it 5 whole stars. Yes, it is important to do justice to our readers because we are reviewers at the end of the day, but I think they also need to understand that we review a book from our point of view only.

    Pointing out the good and the bad, irrespective of rating helps.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hmm.. I kind of agree with you except that I am too stringent with a five-star rating. Which isn’t necessarily a good thing because no book is perfect.


  2. I know what you mean. It’s tricky. I may love a book for so many reasons but I cannot ignore certain things that bothers me when I’m reading. That’s why 0.5 is an important factor for my rating system. I save my 5 stars for very-very special books, yes.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I generally pick books that I find a connect with. It could be the theme, characters, author etc. and then let the book take me for a ride. Flaws are a part of life and while ill mention them in my review, ill also not stay super focused on it

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Ah, with your sister on this one! 😛 Oops!
    I often give ratings based on how the book made me feel. As Soumya mentioned, while I write a review, I’d gladly specify shortcomings, if any. But if it gave me all the feels, then I’m pretty generous with the ratings.
    I have a friend who asks me how I can give a simple love story and also something like a cult classic, 5 stars! He has got a point, no doubt. But I think my reasons are justified.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I can completely relate to this, Tulika. My ratings are based on how the book made me feel. That does result in some popular books not getting as high a rating.

    Liked by 1 person

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