What Are Your Desert Island Keepers?

desertisland-300x200 I have always been stingy with my A’s and I found with reviewing the expectancy of the grade weighs on me more. Why? Because I have been on the other side. In the past, my anticipation has skyrocketed over a five star or A rating, only to end in disappointment. My first experience with romance book ratings occurred with Romantic Times magazine. Now four and a half star ratings were fairly common but five stars or 4 1/2G only happened once in a blue moon. Upon seeing a five star review, I was determined to find the book come hell or high water. Just that rating had me pulling out my small discretionary income and buying it. It must be fabulous, because it got a five star rating. However, more often than not, I didn’t agree with the grades there, and was quite let down.

Sometimes I wonder if giving an A/DIK creates too much expectation, making it almost impossible for the book to live up to its grade. Finally, I realized that the bigger the hype the bigger the disappointment, leaving me leery and almost jaded about the high ratings. So when I think of giving an A grade, I tend to ask myself “can this book stand up to the expectations that a DIK rating gives?”

I shared my opinion with the AAR staff, and we had a lively discussion. I am sure that some people thought I was saying that they graded too easily, which was not the case. But I did wonder if we all considered a DIK the same thing. Officially, we here at AAR consider A-range books to be books that are among the best we have read. However, interpretations of what that means can differ, and so I gave mine and asked for theirs.

I stated “A DIK book to me is the best of the best. B+ are better than average, even great but an “A” book has to be more than the easily given five star ratings on Amazon. It is a book that I finish, and immediately start reading all or parts of it again. It is a book that I think about long after I finish it. It is a magical, touching book that makes me laugh or makes me cry. The characters seem like friends. And of course it spoils me for other books.”

I used To Kill a Mockingbird as an example of a book that is a DIK. While most agreed that is a great book, Blythe said it best when she stated that every book didn’t have to be as good as To Kill a Mockingbird since to many it was an A+ book and there was more room at the top for A- and A books.

Maggie: “To me a DIK goes beyond a good book I like. It is a book that is well written, that is at the top of its genre, that makes me think. When I shut the book, even if I don’t pick it right back up it sticks with me. I think about it. I am both anxious to get to the finish because I want to see how it ends and sad when I get there because the experience is over. I’ve stopped during the reading a few times because I needed time to process. A DIK isn’t just a read, it’s an event in a lot of ways. I know I have something special. Not all of them will be To Kill A Mockingbird but they will be memorable in their own right, meaningful, something I am proud to recommend.”

Wendy: My definition of a DIK is a book that I read as fast as I can because I can’t stop, but wish I could put down because I know it’ll kill me when it’s over. DIKs also spoil me for other books, the effect sometimes lasting for weeks so that all other books suck in comparison. I know a book is a DIK when as I close the back cover I hug the book and sigh.

Pat: “A DIK is a book I would read over again, often a comfort read, something that sticks to my mind and that I’ll share with my romance-reading daughter and anyone who asks, “Read anything good lately?” Or it’s my answer to “Romances are just trash reading.” I think about the characters in a DIK as real people, people whom I like and who live on in my mind. Usually they are people for whom I evolve an after-book life. I get a solid sense of place from DIKs and when I visit a real setting for a DIK, I recognize places and remember scenes that took place at those places. All in all, however, I give a sigh or a smile, or wipe my eyes at the end of a DIK and wish that more pages would magically appear so I could keep reading. A DIK on an island would make the island disappear.”

Louise: “A book that makes me laugh and cry, that I want to reread the minute I finish it, books where both the hero and heroine are perfectly portrayed, books that can make me a fan of a genre that isn’t in my comfort zone, a book where when the phone rings and it’s my friend – I’m a bit startled that it wasn’t a character from the story instead because I was so immersed.”

LinnieGayl: “For me, a DIK is definitely one I want to re-read (and I do re-read many favorites). It also is a book that touches my emotions and has me thinking about the characters and the plot when life interrupts my reading. The characters in my DIKs are vivid and well-developed, and the plot holds my attention throughout. When I’m reading a DIK, I know it because I squeeze out extra reading time. If it’s a DIK in audio, I’ll sit in my car in the grocery parking lot, in the parking garage at work, listening for a few extra minutes before finally turning off my car. If it’s a print DIK, I’ll stay up late reading it and will sneak a peek at the Kindle version during random moments at work or meetings.”

Lee: “To me a DIK is a book I find hard to put down while I am reading it and when I am done, I say to myself “that was a GOOD book.” And I will keep it to re-read it at some point in the future, whether months or years.”

Lynn: “DIKs are books that are very memorable for me. Would I read this book again and would I give this one to other people? Since I almost never re-read, it makes a good test for me.”

Blythe stated “To me a DIK is a near perfect book. That doesn’t necessarily mean I will re-read it, but then I rarely re- read anything ever.”

Dabney: “A- books aren’t perfect but they’re damn good, way better than most. That’s how I see it.”

Rike: “For me, a DIK is a book that enthralls me completely, so much that I end up devouring it (preferably in one sitting). In addition it’s a book that I feel I may wish to reread, and one that I recommend heartily. But the really important point is the devouring. I must feel breathless while reading it.”

Heather S: “I will readily admit that I am stingy with my A – level grades. For me, it’s not about perfect grammar or tight plotting, though those elements help. I have to feel fully engaged in the author’s world. I need to truly care what happens to the characters. And I absolutely must be taken on an emotional journey. When an author can bring those qualities together in such a way that it leaves me wanting more, that’s when a book goes on my keeper shelf.”

Jean: “My DIKs are the books that I’ll still agree with in 20 years. And actually, looking back at all my DIKs, both personal and at AAR, I stand by most of them.”

So it looks like we all pretty much agree on what is a DIK book. Do we grade alike? No, just like your teachers in school, the way we grade, and what impresses or touches us, varies. But you can rest assured that when a reviewer gives a DIK rating, the book was special to her.

Now it is your turn. What is your definition of a DIK? Are you generous or miserly with your “A” ratings? What do you think when you see a book that has a DIK rating? Are you filled with great expectations or do you pass it off as hype? Do you buy a new to you author based on a DIK rating? Or do you need some assurance that this is an author you will like? If you see a DIK in a genre that you normally don’t read, are you tempted to give the book a try?

– Leigh Davis

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40 Responses to What Are Your Desert Island Keepers?

  1. farmwifetwo says:

    I think people make the mistake of thinking your DIK/Favourites are books you would recommend to them. My list, is not. I have had people take books from that list and read them and then get upset about it. YET, I know, from spending time with them online, they’d hate the very book they just read.

    DIK’s IMO are very personal. They are books I read over and over and over again.

    It’s very rare I give a book a 5 star reading on goodreads. I have no rhyme or reason for liking a particular book. Some are fluffy and silly. Some are long winded and have poor grammar. Some actually get close to being classifed as litterature. There are paranormals, fantasy, romance, mysteries etc all on my DIK list. Bottom line, they have to entertain me. Keep me hooked from the start to the end of the book and make me want to go back and read it again and again and again and…..

    • maggie b. says:

      I think you make a good point about the personal nature of the DIK for some. I know there have been huge kerfluffle here over books a reviewer liked and many, many others didn’t. I also know that the opposite has occured.

      I learned pretty quickly that a DIK probably means a book that has no serious issues with plotting, characterization or execution. But just because a book is well written doesn’t mean I will fall in love with it. Moby Dick has won countless awards and I will admit it is a membrable work. Still doesn’t put it on my keeper shelf. When I look at a DIK to pick up I look at every aspect of it – is it a Regency historical with spies? I probably won’t be that impressed even if it is well written. To me DIK means a well done book of its kind, not a book that will be universally loved. Even Austen didn’t achieve that.

    • leslie says:

      I agree with you.

      • Leigh says:

        I do think that DIK are personal because we each bring our own life experience with us, when we read. But there also has to be a universal component too – that speaks to many people.

        Some authors just have the ability to tap into that.

  2. LouiseAAR says:

    You both make a great point about the personal nature of a DIK. I can give a DIK rating to a book in a series even if the book itself isn’t the best of the best – because I may take into consideration the character development that occurred in previous books in the series. I could add THAT to the character’s story and then, taken as a whole, to me, it becomes a DIK.

    Take for example the upcoming Lover at Last by JR Ward. I would be stunned if I didn’t rate it a DIK because even BEFORE this book, the storyline of the two main characters is DIK caliber. It would take a major screw up on the author’s part (which I don’t anticipate) for all the previous plot in their story to be negated. Does that make sense?

    I think the moral of the story is that when a reviewer gives a book a DIK, it means that this book – at the very least – is a well written book. But it doesn’t guarantee that everyone will think it is the best of the best.

  3. mari says:

    Quite frankly, I disagree with the DIK award so many times on this site, its become kinda meaningless for me. It helps to remember, as a reader that reviews are merely one person’s opinion, hopefully well written. The best a reader can do is to find reviewer whose tastes are similar to her own. So I take most reviews with a big helping tablespoon of salt.

    • Leigh says:

      That is exactly what is needed. And something I didn’t realize when I first started reading reviews. I would just get excited about the grade. After a while, it became oh, that is so and so review and I knew that she and I didn’t have the same taste.

      I do miss the excitement about A or five stars, or DIK – whatever you want to call them. Which is crazy, because those things lead to having unrealistic expectations and then being disappointed. But I love the anticipation and excitement and I miss it.

      Sort of like still wanting to keep the crazy anticipation that you have as a child for Christmas – which tends to go away, when you now are paying the bills (grin)

  4. TerryS says:

    My definition of a DIK is most closely aligned to Lee’s definition of a DIK. (Except that I am incredibly easy and I wish Goodreads would employ something with a little more range than 5 measly choices – I like AAR’s grading system better!)

    Other people’s DIK’s do carry weight for me, but sometimes it’s the ones that almost make the DIK status with that B+ that I tend to enjoy the most. Maybe it does have to do with expectations.

    Currently, there is a discussion in the forums about re-reads. Someone remarked that weren’t re-reads and favorites the same thing? The funny thing is for me they are not. While the majority of the re-reads I listed make my personal top 50, some of my favorite books (read DIK’s) weren’t on the list.

    In thinking about this, I believe the reason is that for me, a DIK usually has a strong emotional component. I can forgive technical deficiencies, if the story reaches me on an emotional level. This leaves me with a heavy angst laden list of DIK’s. And let’s face it; you have to be in a special mood to willingly read angst.

    • Leigh says:

      Yes, you are right the book has to have a emotional component. But I need the angst balanced with humor now. I read all those type of books in the 90′s and early 2000′s. And now I want the book to touch me, but also make me laugh.

  5. Christine says:

    For me a DIK is not only a book I thoroughly enjoy, but as many have said above, one I will re-read many times over the years.

    The problem with DIK’s is that everyone’s taste is different. It’s like relying on someone else to pick your ice cream flavor for you. If you know a reviewer’s taste and their previous reviews you can decide if their recommendations may be right for you. If not, you can have a carnivore choosing a meal for a vegan. Neither is wrong- but it may not be to your taste.

    For me that is why the body of the review is so important. It’s where the reviewer explains why the book did or didn’t work for them and lets me know if the book is going to work for me.

    It reminds me of the time in college when one of my history professors was going on and on about how he was invited to some symposium where the talk was going to be about ‘Women Mystics of the 17th Century” and how he thought it was the most ghastly subject ever. To me it sounded fantastic! (His field was Earl of Shaftesbury and the formation of England’s political parties which seemed dry and boring to me.)

    Chacun a son gout- as the French say.

    • Leigh says:

      Good points. Although to be honest sometimes I find it difficult to put into words why a book worked so well for me . It reminds me of when I used to ask my mother- “how will I know when I meet the right one?”, and she always replied “you will just know”.

      Sometimes books are like that.

  6. Michele says:

    I enjoy seeing what the reviewers pick as DIK. It isn’t always what I would pick, which is half the fun. Personally, I don’t always know a book is DIK right after I read it (although I was in such a tizzy after reading Lover Awakened, I knew it was an immediate DIK). I have to ruminate for awhile. But if I keep trying to reread the book two years later and make sure I have it in print….well, it must be a DIK.

  7. Wendy-AAR says:

    I wish there was a different level for DIK reviews. I get stuck sometimes because a book is way too good to deserve merely a B+, but isn’t what I’d call a keeper. But if I give the book the A or A- it deserves it automatically gets a DIK rating. If the DIK rating was separated from the actual letter grade I think there’d be more trust that the book was special. I know I’m not the only reviewer who can acknowledge that a book is very very good, but have no interest in keeping it forever or even re-reading it.

    • Yuri says:

      Totally agree. The A grade book isn’t always a Keeper. Time Traveller’s Wife was a brilliant book, totally an A grade book, but it was such a wrenching emotional read I have no desire to ever read it again (partially because I don’t believe the experience will be that intense again) so it would definitely not be something I’d take to a Desert Island.

      Keepers to me are books you want to read again and again – I get that some people don’t re-read but I’m sure they would if they had no way to get new books ;-)

      So my DIKs would be a bunch of Heyers (Devil’s Cub, Venetia, Frederica), the whole Vorkosigan and Liaden series, some Baloghs and Putneys, Ukiah Oregon, some Lackeys. These are the books I can read again and again and still enjoy. They are my favourites. And nothing makes that list unless I’ve read it at least twice.

      So last year 0.5% of my reading was in the A range, three books. Of which one was a DIK.

      • Leigh says:

        Agree too!

      • NBLibGirl says:

        Yuri: Totally agree. The A grade book isn’t always a Keeper. Time Traveller’s Wife was a brilliant book, totally an A grade book, but it was such a wrenching emotional read I have no desire to ever read it again

        Ditto for me. DIK means something I’d be happy to read again (and for some people, again and again) but may have nothing to do with how I might grade or rate it. Would love to see DIK status disassociated with A grade at AAR.

        Clearly, too many books at too many sites are too highly rated. Think bell curve . . . the ratings (stars/grades/etc.) become meaningless. That’s why actual reviews are valuable – particularly when they are thoughtful about positives and negatives. That is what helps readers find the next thing they will enjoy reading.

  8. bungluna says:

    I agree with several points made here and wanted to add my little bit.

    I find myself excited by books recommended by reviewers that I share tastes with. I also love reading reviews of others I don’t agree with, so long as they include the whys of their recommendations. This allows me to make up my mind whether this one book would be for me.

    I love the reviews in this site precisely because they include not only the reviewer’s personal opinion, but the reasons why they liked/didn’t like the book. This lets me make up my own mind.

    As to what makes a DIK for me, it has to do with either story or character. It may not be the best written book, or the most literate, but if I connect with the characters or the story, if I absolutely find myself wanting to read all or bits of it, then that book has a place in my keeper shelf. Otherwise, I don’t care if it’s the most classic, well written, most admired book in the world; it’s not taking up any of my precious shelf space!

    • Leigh says:

      Off subject, but I want your e-mail address.Red is my favorite color, and the staff has been kidding each other about our assigned symbols. I have several e-mails and I have played around trying to get the best color – but no red.

    • Leigh says:

      You know sometimes it is the little things – a heroine having a similar experience like i have had, or their belief system or the way of dealing with a problem that makes it special.

      Or a fantasy. I gave a DIK rating to Grace Grows by Shelle Sumners and part of the reason is because the hero cared enough to wait for Grace. And that just spoke to me. Here is a man saying, there is something so unique about you that even though you are not interested in me now, I just can’t forget you.

  9. mel says:

    I often don’t like AAR’s DIK’s. I almost always like books reviewed here that were given C grades. I rarely pay attention to reviews unless it is an auto buy author and then I only read the reviews after I have read the book.

    • Leigh says:

      You know, I don’t think I read the reviews after reading the book, unless I go looking for someone to agree with me (grin). I have done that when a book is getting a lot of hype and I think it is a dud. I need confirmation that I not the only one who didn’t see the appeal.

  10. Gayathri says:

    To me a DIK book is one that touches me emotionally and makes me want to re-read. There are a set of comfort books that I will reach for and re-read across the years. I remember my first reading of Something Wonderful by Judith Mcnaught – I laughed, cried, felt with the heroine and finished it waaay late into the night. To me that is a DIK.

    Having said that, I love reading the DIK reviews in AAR. There are some genres which are not my cup of tea at all (paranormals / shapeshifters) yet I love reading the reviews. To me, the DIK review conveys that the reviewer loved the book and somehow I feel those reviews are special. I may not buy the book but I would still read the review.

    • Leigh says:

      What an excellent point! We all know the feeling of finding a great book, so it is nice to see that someone else is experiencing that feeling.

      • Yuri says:

        Totally agree. I read almost all the reviews and its lovely to see someone else’s enthusiasm for a book. I always loving hearing about or reading about something someone else is passionate about – even if I don’t share it.

  11. Eliza says:

    As others I said, I am more likely to look for the reviews by those who have tastes similar to mine–although a reviewer could be the reverse, disliking exactly the kinds of books I enjoy. I also look for DIKs and authors I’m interested in.

    Here’s the thing, though: I tend to read only the first and last paragraphs of reviews of books I haven’t yet read. I may go back for the whole review once I’ve finished a book for comparative takes. I think this habit is probably a result from the business end of writing in publishing where the start of the piece–to grab you–and the conclusion tell me how much time I want to invest on the whole thing. This is probably true of all kinds of articles for me too: I want to know what the aim and conclusion are before or if I spend time with the details. ( I don’t read books this way, since I never read the end until I get there. )

    • Leigh says:

      When I first started visiting AAR, I was lucky to discover Rachel’s reviews. With her reviews I discovered some great books, and new to me authors.

  12. Eliza says:

    Another thought: I think farmwifetwo nailed it when she said, “DIK’s IMO are very personal.” The book “The Seduction of Elliot McBride” certainly didn’t get a consensus for being a DIK but it was indeed for some who gave it an A or 5 stars — an example that struck me for illustrating the range of tastes of both readers and reviewers.

    AAR and Dear Author reviews for it were Cs.
    RT Book Reviews gave it 4.5 stars.
    Romance Junkies had two reviews, a 3.5 and a 5.0
    The AAR thread about it had about 5 people not liking it vs 3 people who did enjoy it (if I interpreted corrected).
    Goodreads gave it an average rating of 3.82 from 557 ratings.
    Amazon gave it an average 4.3 from 42 reviews.

    • Leigh says:

      I recently reviewed a book and gave it a C+ and before my review was posted I read that it received a star review from Publishers Weekly. All the different opinions can drive you crazy, because you don’t know whether to buy the book or not. Even if you find someone who has similar taste as you, you don’t always agree.

      Sometimes years later we discover that we passed up a wonderful book and other times we end up buying a book and wasting our money. There are no guarantees.

  13. Carrie says:

    I went back and looked at how many books on average I give 5 star ratings to on goodreads. It turns out I give about 12 books a year or approximately 5% of books I read a DIK status. Last year I gave a few more than usual because I listened to several of the audiobook from Bujold’s Vorkosigan series and they are stellar.

    Five stars to me might not always mean I will return and read the book over and over, although often it does. A five star rating means the book is either unusually well crafted or unusually entertaining, or both. Some books I probably won’t read again, like Les Mis. Others I will reread over and over such as several Heyer audiobooks or the audio of Envy by Sandra Brown. In that sense, I guess my DIK list would not always match my 5 star rating list. Some books deserve to be 5 stars but I wouldn’t take them with me to an island to reread. And there are quite a few 4 star rated books I reread several times. They aren’t rated higher because they have some problems, but something about the story keeps me coming back.

    • Leigh says:

      I don’t know why in my mind there is a difference in DIK and A books. Maybe I am too literal. DIK means to me that I feel I can read a book over and over – like if I was actually stuck on a Island.

      And like you there are books that are just comfort reads. Maybe I love the heroine, or a certain love scene, or the humor in the book. Not that the book is earth shattering, but it just pleasing, and I find joy in re-reading it.

      • Carrie says:

        Leigh: I don’t know why in my mind there is a difference in DIK and A books.Maybe I am too literal. DIK means to me that I feel I can read a book over and over – like if I was actually stuck on a Island.

        Yes, that’s it ex

        Leigh: I don’t know why in my mind there is a difference in DIK and A books.Maybe I am too literal. DIK means to me that I feel I can read a book over and over – like if I was actually stuck on a Island.And like you there are books that are just comfort reads. Maybe I love the heroine, or a certain love scene, or the humor in the book.Not that the book is earth shattering, but it just pleasing, and I find joy in re-reading it.

        Yes, that’s it exactly. Well said.

  14. Stephanie says:

    “In my opinion” leads off with the knowledge that only one person’s taste, thought, experience is noted. DIK reviews are the extraordinary moments that can be revisited in book form. All books are not on this magical place. The vast majority don’t come close. There are good books that don’t hit the pinnicle. The ones that grab you and hold a place on your shelf for years. . . Those are the only DIK status.

    • Leigh says:

      I used to re-read a lot. And any time I would hit a reading slump I would pull out my keepers. Some of them I have re-read so often that they have lost their impact. That along with my taste change has really impacted the number of books that I consider keepers.

  15. Eggletina says:

    There are many reasons for re-reading a book or even declaring one as a DIK. It could be because we personally relate to the characters but recognize issues with the writing or plot. It could be because we didn’t quite relate to the book the first time and want to give it a second chance or recognize the timing was off the first time we read it. It could be that we recognize it’s not a great book, but it perfectly suits our mood more than anything else we already have in our TBR. There won’t always be overlap between books we want to re-read and books we think of as DIKs. I have some DIKs that I’m not sure I’ll ever re-read because I’m a different person now than I was 20 years ago, and I’m not sure I want my memory tarnished. I want to preserve the purity of that first reading experience! Yes, reading is personal. No amount of social reading can wipe away our very individual reaction to what we read. I think we sometimes lose sight of that with increased awareness and exposure to what others are reading and thinking about their books.

    • Leigh says:

      I find that my taste in books has changed a lot, and books that I considered DIK 20 years ago, I probably wouldn’t finish today.

  16. escschwartz says:

    I rarely would rate a book as 5-star and there are plenty of books that I read that if you asked me the next day to tell you about it I could barely remember the characters. Occasionally, however, there are books that even if I haven’t re-read them you could ask me about them years later and I could describe characters and plot because the book made a permanent impression on me. Usually it’s a “can’t put it down” book but there are books I stay up reading that aren’t necessarily in that permanent impression catagory. Sometimes it is the kind of book that if I read it first from the library I would think “I need to buy this one to have for my own.”
    As far as reviews go…I’ll seriously consider an unfamiliar author if a reviewer I trust has given a book an A or A- or even B+, but I will rely on the review to see if the plot is one that I would generally like. Some plots just don’t appeal to me so even if it’s extremely well written and someone’s idea of a DIK, I’m not likely to try it.

    • Leigh says:

      I agree with you. I have similar taste to other reviewers here in certain books, but there are other books that they rate very highly that I have no interest in reading.

  17. Joane says:

    A DIK for me is a book that:
    First, I cannot stop reading till I end it, a book that is in my mind even when I’m working or driving my car, and
    Second, when at last I end it I sigh and put it on the shelf knowing that is a sure re-read.

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