A little over a year ago, I did an experiment where I read the lowest rated books on my TBR. And it had pretty interesting results – there was a book I loved, a book I hated, and everything in-between. So, this year, I thought I would read the highest rated books on my TBR, to see if they actually deserve that title. I had one rule: all of these books had to be published before 2020 – that way, they should all have a decent sample group of ratings (I made sure that they all have at least a few thousand), and maybe the Goodreads rating is more reliable. We shall find out in this totally biased experiment! I am both nervous and excited to begin. Also thankful that there is a graphic novel to even out the fact that there is a THOUSAND-PAGE biography on this list. Why am I doing this again?
Note: I took down these ratings at the beginning of January 2020 (I meant to publish this last year, but 2020 was the worst and I just didn’t get to all of these in time), so they may have changed slightly since then. But these books were still in the top five highest rated books on my TBR at the time I read them.
Here are the five highest-rated books on my TBR, and what I thought of them:
These are in order of lowest to highest rated on Goodreads (not the order in which I read them).
Beneath a Scarlet Sky by Mark. T. Sullivan: average GR rating 4.41
I literally knew nothing about this one except that it was very highly-rated WWII historical fiction. Which is basically all it takes for me to add something to my TBR, apparently. I honestly didn’t remember doing it, but I guess I’m reading it now. Clearly, I was absolutely not prepared for how much this book destroyed me.
The last WWII novel I read (also based on a true story) was We Were the Lucky Ones. And it’s about a family that goes through hardships but comes back together in the end. So I think that happy ending subconsciously gave me a fall sense of security going into this book. Because this book broke me. It’s just so tragic. But it’s also a really great story. It follows Pino Lella, who as a young man in Italy during the war, becomes a spy, falls in love, saves lives, and also experiences terrible tragedy. This is not an easy story to read, but it is a good one.
I went into this book knowing very little about it (and honestly, not that excited to read it), but I ended up loving it. Even though they make me sad, WWII fiction based on true stories is definitely something I want to read more of.
My rating: 5 stars
Grant by Ron Chernow: average GR rating 4.53
I’ll be honest: the only reason I read Chernow’s infamous Alexander Hamilton is because of Hamilton. And, while it was good, it wasn’t the best biography I’ve ever read (thanks to Walter Isaacson for proving historical biographies don’t have to be dry – although they do apparently have to be very long). But I have to say, I liked Grant better. Which was a little weird because I felt more invested going into Alexander Hamilton. But wow, this biography was GOOD.
I still don’t think I enjoy Chernow’s writing as much as I do Isaacson’s, but I just really enjoyed learning about Grant’s life. (Side note: when did I become the kind of person that has a favorite biographer?) Literally all I knew about Grant going into this was that he was a Civil War general before becoming president and that his middle name is literally just the letter “S”. I was somehow completely unaware that he did just as much (maybe even more) for black Americans and former slaves as Lincoln did.
One of the reasons it took me so long to get through this book (in addition to it being over a thousand pages) was because it was kind of making me angry to read about a president who actually cared about people, especially people of color, and then hearing the opposite on the news. So I had to wait until 2021 to finish it because I was having very strong urges to throw this brick at someone’s head. Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed this book! It’s a great biography about a great man whose achievement aren’t as well know as they should be.
My rating: 5 stars. It’s going on the shelf with my other favorite biographies.
Saga Vol. 9 by Brian K. Vaughn and Fiona Staples: average GR rating 4.57
So, funny story: I stopped reading Saga after vol. 7. Not because I wasn’t enjoying it (because I really was), but because this idiot accidentally spoiled herself for what happens at the end of vol. 9 and I wasn’t ready. And, if I’m being totally honest, it might have taken a while longer for me to read it if it wasn’t for this post. So, I actually ended up reading volumes 8 and 9 for this. And it’s fine, this definitely didn’t make me super sad (especially knowing that it’ll be a while before we get more Saga). What else can I say? It’s Saga, it’s amazing, we all know this.
My rating: 5 stars (to both volumes)
Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America by Ibram X. Kendi: average GR rating 4.60
I have been planning and working on this post since the end of 2019. And I literally planned out when I wanted to read each of these books. This one had been on my scheduled reading list for June. I had the paperback and the audiobook all ready to go. And I it ended up being the absolute perfect time to read this book. Because June was filled with Black Lives Matter protests and this book absolutely blew up. Everyone was reading it. Which makes me so happy, because I loved this book. And I learned so much.
This book was like an entire college-level history course. And I learned more than I had in a lot of the actual courses I took in college. I have a degree in history and a minor in American studies. But the history of racism was completely underrepresented in my formal education. I’ve been slowly trying to fill the gaps on my own, but I should have just read this book and filled them all in one go. I’m still a little bit in awe of how much I just learned. And glad that it was about something I needed to learn. Which makes me very happy.
Honestly, everyone should read this book. It totally deserves the rating it has. I am so glad I own a copy, so I can keep it on my shelves and return to it. It was a ton of information to take in, so I definitely want to revisit it someday. But for now, I have a lot to think about. And a lot more reading to do.
My rating: 5 stars! (but only because I can’t give it more)
Know My Name by Chanel Miller: average GR rating 4.71
This average rating is crazy high for Goodreads, so even though I was pretty sure I would like this book, I was still a little skeptical. But this book was SO GOOD. You might know Chanel as Emily Doe, the girl who was sexually assaulted on Stanford’s campus by a swimmer (who shall remain nameless on this blog) who then received just six months in jail – and was released in three – for his crime. The reasoning behind that bullshit sentence was that his life shouldn’t be totally ruined (according to the judge who was since been recalled). If you’re mad about it, welcome to the club. I remember feeling rage and confusion following this story on the news.
In this memoir, Chanel Miller finally owns her story, her experience, her trauma. And it was so raw and so powerful. This is a story that should be told, it is a story that people should be familiar with. It was brilliant and well-written, and I loved it. I chose to listen to the audiobook, and finished the all fifteen-plus hours in three days. Needless to say, I loved this. So much. I am not personally a victim of sexual assault, but I have experienced trauma in other ways, and this book really spoke to me. Definitely one I think everyone could benefit from reading. It one-hundred percent deserves the rating it has.
My rating: 5 stars!
Well, this was boring. Honestly, I was really not expecting to give every single one of these books five stars. When I read the lowest rated on my TBR, they ranged from one- to four-star reads. And I was kind of expecting some range with this bunch, but no, they’re all amazing and I loved them. I’m gonna try to not be annoyed that this post was anticlimactic because I only read great books. These all definitely deserved the title of highest rated books.
Seriously, though, I am really impressed with every single one of these books. But I have also learned that maybe people give higher ratings to books that are at least a little sad. Seriously, people die in more than half of these books. Three are about war, two focus on slavery and racism, and the other is a memoir about sexual assault. Not exactly the happiest books. And even though I absolutely loved every single one of them, I think I need to read some books where no one dies.
I’d love to hear what you thought about this experiment! Have you read any of these books? What reading experiment do you want to see next? And, because I need them right now: what’s your favorite book that isn’t depressing?