Hyperpat\’s HyperDay

SF, science, and daily living

Book Ratings

Authors A-C D-G H-L M-P Q-T U-Z

This section is a listing of books I’ve read and rated over a 45 year span (I started keeping track of what I’d read at age 11 on index cards), organized by author, with no attention paid to what category (SF/fantasy/General/Non-Fiction) the works are.

This list should be used as a preliminary guide – buying a book based on a single (opinionated) number is probably not a good idea. The items listed here are links to the Amazon review pages, and most of them have a least a few informative reviews there that should help in forming a buying decision.

This listing highlights those books with ratings of 8.0 or higher – books I think are excellent reads. These works represent about 10% of the total – following Sturgeon’s law that 90% of everything is crud (perhaps ‘crud’ is a little extreme, but much of what is published is only good for some light entertainment, and has little lasting value).

If you peruse this list, you might find some surprises in my ratings for what are often considered ‘classics’, such as works by Dickens, Hawthorne, or Dostoevsky, which I judge to be no more than ‘average’ or slightly above. To some degree, this reflects my preference for books that never forget that they are stories, first and foremost, and large amounts of description or philosophical musings I find are detractions to the degree that they interrupt the story. As many 19th century novels are replete with this type of discourse, their ratings suffer. (And there are exceptions to this, too, such as Melville’s Moby Dick, where half the book is filled with details about whales, whaling, and pointed philosophical statements – but for some reason this one really clicked with me). I also have a tendency to not particularly care for most of the post-modern works, as I find their emphasis on stylistic gimmicks, non-linear modes of presenting a story, and unreliable narrators to all detract from the basic point of telling a story. Humorous books are very hit and miss with me – things like Catch-22 and The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy just never hit my funny bone, while Bored of the Rings did.

Some of the listings will indicate the sequence for books that are related to each other and the order in which they should be read. Some very long sequences (such as Bradley’s Darkover or Norton’s Witch World sets) do not indicate the sequence number, as the later books can normally be read in any order or the structure is that of snapshots of a world/universe at different times and places and are not closely linked.

Ratings for some of the YA books listed here (such as those by Walter Farley and Jim Kjelgaard) should be looked at with a critical eye – I read most of these when I was eleven or twelve, and haven’t re-read most of them since, so these ratings are from my viewpoint at that age – which may be quite a bit different from what my reaction to them would be reading them today. However, most of these works are recognized by many others as being very good fiction for their intended age group, so if you are looking for such material for your children, my ratings may be perfect. Note that this does not apply to the Heinlein YA books – I’ve re-read all of these within the last five years, and my ratings are based on that most recent read (and it is very iffy to call these ‘YA’ books – they are mainly adult stories with adolescent protagonists, readable by almost any age).

Ratings for short story collections are something of a problem, as almost invariably there are a couple of poorer stories included in such books, which brings down the overall story rating average. For these types of books, a 7.0 is a high rating, and a 6.5 will almost always have a least a couple of stories that are more than worth reading.

Also somewhat problematic are what are known as ‘fix-up’ novels, made from multiple short stories that were later edited and probably with some new interstitial material added to make up the published book form, as I normally read these as the short stories as they were published in the SF magazines. Usually there is not enough difference to materially affect my ratings, but there are a few where the novel form is much stronger than the individual stories (examples include Simak’s City, van Vogt’s The Weapon Shops of Isher, Sturgeon’s More than Human). There is also the problem of magazine editors doing their own ‘special’ edits of novel-length manuscripts to make the story fit their pages – this nearly always detracts from the novel’s quality (as an example see Heinlein’s The Puppet Masters, which comes off much poorer in the magazine version and the early paperback editions – make sure you get the complete, unedited version of this). Pages are listed by author’s last name.

So what do my ratings mean? A basic breakdown is as follows:

Rating
9+ Demands a re-read, a truly great book
7.5 – 8.5 Excellent, has special qualities
6.5 – 7.0 Above Average, but usually only good for one read
5.0-6.0 Average, nothing special, but readable
4.0-4.5 Fair, usually a tired idea or mildly flawed characterization
3.0-3.5 Poor, multiple flaws, only marginally readable
2.0-2.5 Bad, should never have made it past the editor’s desk, not readable
1.5 and lower Should have been burned instead of published

There are a little over 1500 works listed here (not everything I’ve ever read, but all those which I can remember or have documented), and for those statistically minded, the breakdown of my ratings is as follows:

Rating Number
9+ 18
8.5 23
8.0 112
7.5 213
7.0 256
6.5 265
6.0 233
5.5 105
5.0 131
4.5 73
4.0 51
3.5 10
3.0 12
2.5 4
Total 1531
Average 6.37

6 Responses to “Book Ratings”

  1. fencer said

    I’m looking forward to going through your book ratings…

    Jim Kjelgaard was one of my favorite authors, growing up.

    Regards

  2. hyperpat said

    As posted, they’re not complete. I think I have about another 800-900 to get up there. Unfortunately, it takes a lot of time.

  3. Dennis E Henley said

    I like the idea of a website listing ratings for all the books that the website’s author has read. But why is there a need for any more than five divisions? A five-star system gives you everything you need. 1 star for substandard, 2 for below average 3 for average 4 for above average and 5 for excellent. You’ve got 7.5 – 8.5 for excellent (not sure why you have more than one number for the same rating). And then you’ve got a 9+ for truly great which really says it is more than excellent. Don’t you think you could combine those ratings into one that means excellent. The same could be said of average and fair. They could be combined. And why not combine books that cannot be read with books that should be burned?

    In fact, one might argue that a 4-star system would be just as effective. Combine below average and substandard. Apply that rating to worthless books. Then 2 stars would mean average books, 3 stars for above average and 4 stars for great books.

    • hyperpat said

      And I would have to argue just the opposite. I review a large number of books on Amazon, which has just the 5 point system you advocate, and I continuously run into the problem of a book that’s better than a 3 star, but not really deserving of a 4 star, and the problem is even worse between the 4 and 5 star categories. To my mind, top ratings must be reserved for the absolute best, but on Amazon’s system, where the average rating is very close to 4 stars, clearly 4 stars is not enough for an excellent book that does have some flaws, but 5 stars is not deserved for exactly those flaws. Nor am I the only one who feels that this limited rating system is too confining – a quick perusal of the reviews on Amazon shows quite a few people indicate things like 3 1/2 stars in the body of their review.

      If I’m looking at a group of stories that are all approximately average, I can nonetheless state that this sub-group is better than this other subgroup. How do I distinguish between them without a finer scale than what you suggest? At the very top end, this becomes quite marked, as now the ratings I give will translate almost directly into a position ranking of what I consider the best books ever written. How many top 100 books of all time have you seen, and how do the people who make up such lists distinguish between their #1 book and their #5 book?

      Clearly all these ratings are highly subjective, and pretty much only represent what I like and what I don’t. But I find I’m quite consistent with these ratings; I’ve had multiple cases of reading some (typically average) story, giving it a rating, then when entering it in by database find that I’d previously given the story a rating (normally many years earlier, to where I’d forgotten that I’d already read it), and noting that my new rating is almost invariably within a 1/2 point of my old rating. Which does argue that my 1/2 points might be redundant and too fine a discernment, but as I’ve been using the system for more than forty years, I’m not likely to change now.

      • Dennis Henley said

        I picture a rating system like a series of five boxes. A book is rated by placing it in the box. If it is clearly an outstanding book it is in the box labeled 5 stars. If it fails to be outstanding but is clearly above average it goes in the box with 4 stars. To say a book really didn’t make it into the 5 star box but deserves a better home then the 4 star box really doesn’t make much difference. The book is still not outstanding. It’s above average. I do agree that we give out 5 stars too easily.

        I don’t see the need for a finer scale since one could easily read only 4 and 5 star books and not be disappointed. To that end, I even favor combining the 2-star and 1-star category into one category because books that are below average and stinko are probably a waste of everyone’s time.

        I realize you aren’t going to change your system and that a lot of people think we need a finer scale (say 10 points). But to say that a book almost made it to the highest rating really only says it is in the above average category. It still isn’t in the Excellent category no matter how fine the scale is between the two categories.

        To me this is like being given a B+ and thinking that it is significantly different than a B.

        But that’s just my take on it.

  4. C.D. Vowell said

    Pleased to discover your list. I love things of this sort.

    Would you care to debate your ratings for Donaldson’s various Thomas Covenant books? I see you rate his first series rather highly. On a recent reread, in fact a third, I found it powered more by his vision of leprotic alienation than by his powers of fantastic observation (or creation). It could not live up to my memory of it from the time of publication nor even of a less enchanted read-through in early adulthood. The pearls are set in tin.

    In fact, were the first series to be shorn of its Land setting and characters, particularly its cartoonish villain Foul who is straight from the Perils of Pauline, and instead left a realistic struggle with a physical and social curse, it might have made a decent literary fiction. As it is, a 5.5 in my eyes. Originality in one sphere hampered by tired genre convention in another. The .5 comes from Donaldson’s daring in importing adult consciousness into a form too often populated by cardboard. Sometimes very attractive cardboard, e.g. Gandalf. It was this advance that drew me back repeatedly to the series.

    In the second series, the author not only improved technically but became more imaginatively resourceful. Convenant, though, is a readymade by this point, with no more avenues for discovery. These books are maddening in their squandered possibility, going on long past what is necessary with acres of repetition. The pity is that, for economic and marketing reasons, Donaldson had to file these forms in triplicate.

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