Rating memoirs - what's your approach?

(Lara M) #1

I've read a few memoirs lately and find giving them a rating in reviews problematic. I feel weird about it, like I'm grading someone's life experiences. So in giving a rating I tend to concentrate on the quality of the writing and storytelling. What do you do?

(Jennifer D.) #2

I usually do the exact same thing with memoirs.

(Becky Boer) #3

I don't have an answer, but I do have the same problem! I tend to get so wrapped up in characters that it's hard not to judge them the same way when it's a real person in a memoir... then I remember that's really a nice way to behave! I had this problem when I read Truth and Beauty by Ann Patchett, and from reading others' reviews, I think we're not the only ones who are unsure about how to rate memoirs!

I think that your solution is probably the best way to go about it, though.

(Janine Tabor) #4

The same. Anyone can spew their life experiences, but writing it well so that a stranger will find it interesting is a skill and that's what we're rating.

(Penny / Literary Hoarders ) #5

Great question!

I'm reading one right now that is written quite well, but I do find it starting to meander - I'm interested in seeing how she's going to wrap it up and make the necessary connections.

There was one memoir that I read that wasn't terribly well written and I remember rating it quite low ...it was Robert Goolrick's The End of the World as we Know It.

I found I went on a terrible rant when rating and discussing the book - "the book itself" was not well-written and I found Goolrick to provide a run on raging complaint and rant - at times romanticizing, at others raging against his parents and childhood. In this case, I really did not like this memoir at all, not against his life in any way, but I think the book itself could have used a much stronger editor to guide and shape his rage into a more readable memoir. (Sorry if I babbled here.)

(SERIESous Book Reviews) #6

Depends on what I expect going into it. If I expect to laugh when I read it, I better be laughing throughout it! If I hope to get inspired, I better feel inspired by the end. I also don't like getting bored so keep interested.

But writing does play a big role in it too. Although it isn't a memoir, I read Death of a King by Tavis Smiley which is a biography but he wrote it as if he knew what Martin Luther King Jr was thinking in that last year of his life and that irked me a bit. How does he know that that is the emotion MLK would be feeling at that time? So things like that can impact my rating.

(Olga NM) #7

It is very difficult and I agree with the comments. It is true that we should try and rate the how the story is told rather than the actual life, but I guess if we can we should try and keep both things separate (make sure it is clear that we are talking about the book rather than the events).
I don't read many memoirs, but I liked this one not only because of the events but because of the attitude and the way it is written.

(Stickney-Forest View Library ) #8

I rate memoirs solely based on my personal enjoyment of the reading experience.

(Erica Holthausen) #9

I rate memoirs the same way that I rate other books. But that doesn’t really answer the question, so here is a very loose description of my rating system:

One Star. I reserve single-star ratings for books that I abandon. It took me a long time to learn to abandon a bad book. Now you get 50 pages. If the story hasn’t captured my attention by then, I abandon the book. There are way too many wonderful books out there to waste my time with one that just isn’t resonating with me.

Two Stars. Two stars means that I finished the book, but don’t feel the need to keep it on my bookshelves. These books are donated to the library book sale. Sometimes I regret reading the entire book, other times, the book was perfectly fine but not something on want on my bookshelf or, if I’m honest, in any of the many piles around my apartment!

Three Stars. These books are staying on my bookshelf, at least for now. This basically means that I enjoyed the book. Either I consider it to be an important work or it in some way reflects who I am or what I believe or what I hope to be. I have a small number of you-should-like-this-because-its-a-classic books in this category, but I’ve been steadily weeding them out. It may be widely considered important or good literature, but unless I consider it important or just really good, it’s out the door!

Four Stars. A book that gets four stars is a book that I truly enjoyed. Sometimes I enjoy the book for its escape value, other times its because I learned something. In all cases, these books have a good story. In my experience, not all great stories are accompanied by great writing. Story is the priority for me. A great story will get a four star review. Amazing writing, with a mediocre story, will get a three star review.

Five Stars. I want every single person I have ever met to read this book right now and then come over so we can talk about it. At length.

What is interesting, is that my ratings change over time. A book that I absolutely loved without reservation two years ago, may not resonate with me as much today. Obviously the book didn’t change, but I am not in the same place as I was when I first read it.

(Jasmin Begić 88) #10

Same as you do, Lara. :blush: