I'm a big Goodreads fan, meaning I usually take time to reflect after finishing a novel. The main benefit comes from sitting down and writing a review based on several questions. Did I enjoy the book? Did I learn something from it? Was I supposed to? But one question bothers me more than any other: How many stars?
The five-star rating system is a great way to summarize how I felt about a particular read, and Murakami's writing is the perfect example of why.
I read 1Q84 several years back and couldn't figure out what rating was sufficient. The style of writing was beautiful, and some images still stick with me to this day (I can never eat edamame without thinking of Murakami). Yet the plot, or lack of one, never grasped my attention. So I fumbled around before settling on a neutral three stars.
I didn't pick up Murakami again until a friend recommended The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, which caused a similar reaction. The imagery was vivid, the characters sympathetic, and even the plot was fairly interesting. But the circular logic and irregular story structure gave me vertigo. So...three stars again?
Then was Kafka on the Shore. His short story collection, First Person Singular. And now I'm into Norwegian Wood, and–surprise–it's a mixed bag.
Listen: no one cares what rating I give these books. I'm not an influencer, and he's such a popular author that my entry into the database won't change even the decimal of the average. But I care, because being able to reflect on an experience is just as important as the experience itself.
Goodreads is a solid interface in that there's space for reviews, quotes, and highlights, so the star rating doesn't have to stand alone. But how can I rate Murakami, a distinguished author that caused conflicting (if sometimes unpleasant) emotions, the same as a field guide on types of Squirrels in Eastern Europe, or the wine and cheese cookbook a friend gifted me last Christmas? The tooltip that appears when hovering over the three-starred button reads "It was okay." What does okay mean? Average or undecided? Complex or nondescript?
It's a nothing word, and a reminder that not every book or experience can be labelled. Trying to reward stars made me reflect, which is more valuable that whichever button I click. Journey's more important than the destination, yeah?
Next time I see a book with an average rating of 3 stars, I'll give it a go.
PS: I really do recommend Murakami. Kind of.