Decoding the Stars: How I Determine My Book Ratings

I plan on writing reviews more so I can remember the content of the books I read and how I feel about them, but perhaps my reviews will prove useful to other people as well. In order for my review to be of any service, though, I feel it necessary to provide some standard by which I am measuring the books, even if that standard is mostly based on subjective factors.

The first area of critique is word choice. A one-star rating suggests the author exhibits extremely poor word choice while a five-star rating suggests phenomenal word choice. Authors of lower scoring books tend to make simple and/or repetitive word choices. Most books, however, tend to fall into the three-star category, meaning I didn’t take particular notice of the novel’s vocabulary. The words in a three-star book are fairly average and easy to read, but probably aren’t the most interesting.

Next comes “intrigue,” another category based entirely on personal preference. Books with intrigue are, if you’ll pardon my cliché, page-turners. I grant five-stars to the most addicting books and one-star to the books I finished merely because I decided I would. Three-star books are books that I wanted to put down but were just good enough to keep me reading. Two-star books are books I mostly detested while four-star books are books I mostly loved.

The last two categories, “plot” and “ideas”, relate to fiction and nonfiction books respectively; it doesn’t make sense to rate a book on the reproductive activity of snakes on plot, nor does it make sense to rate Harry Potter on ideas (actually, that’s debatable, because fiction tends use figurative language to convey an underlying message, but because the perceived message is not concrete, I will refrain from rating it. I may, however, comment on those ideas). In order to rate these categories, I ask myself a few questions:

Is it interesting? Is it predictable? Plots I can see through to the end obviously get low ratings while surprise endings get higher ratings.

Is the argument clear? Does it make sense? Is it well supported? With nonfiction books I’ve found that I can like the information and hate the opinion, making this a difficult category to score. I try to rate based solely on the quality of the information. If I strongly agree/disagree with the author’s opinion, I make a note of it but keep it out of the rating.

With a rubric sketched out (I was going to say “fleshed out” but in reality this is just a rudimentary list of criterion to get me started; I might add more later), I should be able to understand ratings I give from this point forward. The next step now is to write the reviews. I’ve gotten into the habit of writing short reviews on Goodreads that capture my feelings immediately after having finished a book, but I’d like the reviews on my blog to be a bit more in-depth. I don’t want them to turn into dissertations, though. The issue with writing a review for the blog is that I have to sit down and find the time to write. Poems come easily, I usually write them in a notebook when inspiration hits and transcribe them. Writing a book reviews, by comparison, seems like a daunting task. Still, I’ll work out a system and get the reviews rolling (insha’Allah).

Decoding the Stars: How I Determine My Book Ratings

Poem: Ascension

When I hear about the brutality towards my brothers and sisters,

I can feel

the an–




I tap the desk

I cry

I pace

I can feel

the an–




But this anger does nothing

to solve problems diplomatically

It does, however, get my point across


I can feel

the an–




So I arm myself

with education

and go forth to fight

the good fight

struggling to cover the

piping water rolling inside me

I can feel

We now have the world’s attention

the an–


step carefully

and watch closely

we are



Poem: Ascension

I’ve Been Nominated for a Liebster Award

First off, I’d like to thank Noor for nominating me! After reading all the wonderful poems and prose of the other nominees, I don’t feel worthy, ha.  The nomination came at a great time, actually. I’ve got a lot of ideas for the future. Perhaps this will be the push I need to finally start writing everything. Again, thank you.

Here are the questions she gave me:

  1. If you could speak another language, which language would you pick and why?

I actually already speak Mandarin and French as second and third languages (although my French could use some help). I’m obsessed with learning languages and have clear goals- I want to speak at least 7 languages by 2020. I’ve got Arabic and Hindi in my sights next.  I’m working on them at the same time, which may or may not be a wise idea. I want to learn Hindi because I want to be able to watch Bollywood movies without subtitles and speak to my Indian and Pakistani friends. I want to learn Arabic because I want to be able to read the Qur’an in its original form (which means I need to learn Classical Arabic, although most people speak Modern Standard Arabic or some dialect). My ultimate goal, though, is to be able to read as many texts as possible in their original languages. Translations are okay, but they are often no substitution for the original.

2. What is something you enjoy to do on your spare time?

As you might have guessed from my answer to the first question, I read in my spare time. I love language, I love literature, I love learning.

3. What’s one fact about you that not many or any of your followers know?

Oof that’s hard. I’m not sure what to share. Here’s a fact: my guilty pleasure is dancing like a mad woman around my room to music from the early 2000s. I tell myself I’m exercising, but let’s be real here– I just like to dance.

4. What are you hoping to reach from blogging?

As with many bloggers, I’m sure, I’m hoping to make an impact. My focus has been relatively narrow so far, but I plan on expanding my scope. I’ve got book reviews planned, perhaps a few thoughts on topics in Islam and hopefully a few photography and graphic design projects (insha’Allah!).  I want people to have fun and maybe learn something, haha.

5. Where would you want to travel to if you had the chance?

My travel list is just as long as, maybe longer than my language list. I’ve got a few small trips on my wish list, but more than anything I want to travel north to south on the east coast of China (from Harbin to Hong Kong). I’m hoping to make my trip during the winter recess senior year, before my Chinese residence permit expires. We’ll see how that goes.

6. When frustrated how do you calm yourself down?

If I’m frustrated with a project or thing, I take a break. If I’m frustrated with a person and I catch myself, I say “a’udhu billah” (I seek refuge in Allah). If I don’t catch myself, I react as humans do (and ask forgiveness later :/). No matter what, though, I need a way to expel the energy I’ve built up. That’s usually when I go for a walk or dance.

7. What’s one advice that you would give out?

Be proud of who you are. Don’t let society or your peers define you. So what if your name doesn’t sound like everyone else’s? So what if your skin is a different color? So what if you dress  a little differently? Don’t spend your life sacrificing integral parts of your identity to please others. I know it can be hard, especially when the discrimination morphs into violence and hate crimes, but you’ve got to push through it, especially when it comes to things you can’t change (like skin color). Love yourself, only then will you be able to love others. I learned that the hard way and I’m still working on recovering.

8. What’s something that keeps you going through any hardship?

Poetry and belief in Allah.

9. Are you a planner or a spontaneous traveler?

Both. I make plans for big trips (4+ days), but I tend to take weekend trips spontaneously. Even if I’ve planned my destinations on longer trips, I don’t plan all of the things I plan to do at those destinations. I just let things happen organically.

10. What’s the first thing you do when you wake up and the last thing you do before going to bed?

Besides making my supplications (to be perfectly honest, they’re not always the first and last thing I do, but I’m working on it), I usually skim my phone for any message that requires an immediate answer. In the mornings I read the news/a book for a while before I begin to prepare for the day. In the evening I’d like to get into a yoga habit (or maybe in the morning, hrm.)

11. What makes you smile?

Toddlers. THEY’RE JUST SO ADORABLE. Unless they’re crying. They’re less adorable then.

It turns out I don’t follow that many blogs, and most of the people I follow have around a thousand followers, if not more. Nevertheless,


Nigerian and Natural 


Jess A

The rules are simple:

  • Each nominee must link back the person who nominated them
  • Answer the 11 questions
  • Nominate 3-11 other bloggers for this award who have less than 500 followers
  • Create 11 questions for your nominees to answer
  • You can’t nominate the one who tagged you
  • Let the nominees know that they have been nominated by going to their blog and notifying them

Here are your questions:

  1. What is one food you absolutely refuse to eat?
  2. Why do you write?
  3. What’s your favorite book/story, why?
  4. Which do you prefer, being hot or being cold?
  5. What’s your pet peeve?
  6. What is your “squirrel”?  What derails your projects and causes you to veer off course?
  7. What is one thing you want everyone to know?
  8. Coconut or mango?
  9. Do you prefer to keep your nails long or short?
  10. What brightens your day?
  11. Do you keep a momento from your childhood? (No worries, if it’s embarrassing you can just say “yes” or “no” ;D)

I’m interested in seeing everyone’s answers. Have fun!


I’ve Been Nominated for a Liebster Award

This Poem Isn’t About Race -OR- Sarabi’s Manifesto


Take. Take. Take.

They took from us and called it giving

And told us to be glad we were still living

They took our cultures and gave them class

They took our religions and said they saved our a—

They took our languages and called it education

They took our names and called it social foundation

They took our stuff then started to race

Then got upset when we couldn’t keep pace

Now it’s our fault, we’re to blame

Because we failed to win their game

They dumped our chocolate bodies into the pot

Piled high, tempers boiling hot

They dumped our chocolate bodies in-

-to one big hot garbage bin

Then they went and dumped in sugar

Ta sweetin’ us up an’ mek us taste gooder


Well hun, this chocolate ain’t burnt

That I know

And it don’t take the Bible to tell me so

All that’s left is for me to be

Truly, wholly, sincerely, unapologetically me

This Poem Isn’t About Race -OR- Sarabi’s Manifesto

Poem: Speaking in Tongues

I almost wish I had an accent.


I almost wish I had something linking me to my maybe roots

Almost wish I had something other

Than this sometimes southern-twinged “white people speak”

To let people know that I, too, come from somewhere

that I, too, have a background


Because this sometimes speech almost

saves me from the definite rebuke

people of my complexion

have grown accustomed to

Because accents are somehow the defining measure of


So even though I desperately want to be linked to somewhere

I also enjoy the tiny bit of white privilege that rubbed off on me

I almost wish I had an accent

But sometimes yea I guess I’m a little glad

it’s just a wish.

Poem: Speaking in Tongues

Poem: Danger, Fear, and Urgency


I don’t want my daughter to experience the horror

of a strange man grabbing her or

one of her friends as they walk down the street.

I don’t want strangers to question why she’s in school,


she’s too ugly and stupid to be anything but a prostitute


“reminding” her she doesn’t need to be able to read to lie on her back.

I don’t want strangers to express surprise at her collegiate-level reading ability,

Though she’s been reading on that level since the 5th grade

and is, in fact, in college.

I don’t want people to gush over how articulate she is

after she’s spoken a carefully selected 4-syllable word.


It seems we are always articulate,

implying our words are of no more than a perfunctory nature,

never eloquent,

because it takes education to convey meaning

(surely, we are uneducated),

and always less-than.

Poem: Danger, Fear, and Urgency

A Little Bit of Rhetoric

I’m writing this post as a necessary addendum to yesterday’s post. I titled the piece “covered convert” for two reasons: I like alliteration, and “convert” is a buzzword when it comes to religion. I felt that by using a buzzword, the post would reach more people.

Personally, though, I limit my self-reflective use of the word convert for the simple fact that it isn’t true; I had nothing from which to convert. I tend to use the either the phrase “I accepted Islam” or the phrase “I embraced Islam” because they feel more accurate. My journey into Islam was long and hard but eventually there came a point when I could not deny myself any longer. More on that later (maybe).

As for the term “revert,” I’m pretty apathetic about it. I understand the theory behind it– everyone is born Muslim, but not everyone knows that right away. When they eventually “see the light” they are simply returning to their true form. I get it. I just haven’t thought about it enough or done enough reading to form an opinion about it, and I shy away from taking other people’s words for fact.

On an unrelated note: I’m surprised by the surge of inspiration that’s been hitting me the past two weeks. I’m notorious for posting a slew of fairly regular pieces then disappearing off the face of the Earth. I’m hoping to keep up the momentum, but humans are creatures of habit. For the time being, I’ll write what I’ve got planned and let the rest happen as it happens.

A Little Bit of Rhetoric