The first-page test, or “I probably rate books too highly on GoodReads”

Okay, so here’s the thing. Of the 19 books I’ve so far logged on GoodReads, here’s the breakdown of my ratings:

  • 7 books at 5 stars
  • 7 books at 4 stars
  • 4 books at 3 stars
  • 1 book at 1 star

What do you think? I rate too many books too highly, don’t I? That’s what I think every time I go to GoodReads to review a book. There’s some guilt. Like, “I think all these books are four or five stars, but people are going to see my review and read them and go, ‘What the hell, this book sucks.'”

As if I’m letting people down with my use of GoodReads, which is ridiculous not least because I really don’t think my dumb review that’s overexcited and says nothing specific is going to decide anyone’s reading for the day. But whatever. The guilt is real.

In my defense, I’m not a person who reads a book purely because it was recommended to me or it’s been on my reading list or it’s the must-read book right now. I mean, I’ll pick those books up. But every book, regardless of whether it’s an impulse pick-up or something I’m looking at for a specific reason, gets my first-page test.

The first step is obviously reading the book blurb – although I’ve realized recently those can sometimes be terribly misleading. My first experience with this was Red Threads, by Rex Stout, which I picked up at an antique store. I love Stout’s Nero Wolfe mysteries, despite not being a big reader of mystery in general, and the book blurb sounded hilarious and awesome – Inspector Cramer, the police inspector whose toes Wolfe constantly treads on, solving a mystery all on his own with Wolfe nowhere in sight.

The book actually focused on a young woman who solved the murder. Cramer was there, but this woman was unquestionably the main character. It was a standalone mystery.

Which was fine, by the way. It was a fantastic book and I’m glad I bought it. The best I can figure is the publishers of the ’60s (when my copy was printed) didn’t think people would want to read a detective story starring a woman. My point is that the book blurb was misleading.

Then, more recently, a friend recommended Raven Boys to me. Based on that book blurb, I’m not super interested. Based on my friend’s recommendation and the Tumblr she linked me to, I’m hella interested.

I digress. I read the book blurb, and if that sounds interesting, I give the book the first-page test.

Which is a snooty way of saying, I read the first page to see if I like the writing style. If I don’t like the style at all, I won’t like the book, no matter how interesting the plot or sympathetic the characters. Does everyone do this? I don’t know, but it only takes me a paragraph or two to decide if I want to give the book a shot. If I do, I can tell – because I’m already on the second page by the time I realize I haven’t put the book down yet.

Because of this, a lot of books I might otherwise end up rating in the one-to-three star range get put down immediately and I never read them. Even if they were recommended by a friend. Even if I meant to get to them last year.

So I’ll probably continue rating most of my reads at four or five stars. Know that it’s only because I’m not reading many books that I won’t enjoy.

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