On the fickleness of book reviews

I’ve been thinking quite a lot about this topic lately because 1. my big blogiversary is coming up and I’ve taken a look back at my older reviews; 2. I’m having my seniors write book reviews for their final independent reading unit, so I have reviews on the mind at work, too; and 3. I just wrote my first review for Blogging for Books, which got me thinking even more about the subject.

In short, I’ve realized that book reviews are fickle creatures. Allow me to illustrate this opinion fact with a couple of examples:

Exhibit A: The first review I ever wrote for this blog was on Matthew Quick’s The Silver Linings Playbook. I gave it 5 stars. In the review, the reason I gave for rewarding it 5 stars was literally just because of how it made me feel. It was apparently a thoughtful and bittersweet book, and I just generally liked the feels it gave me (it was my first review, guys). Feels are a fine and good reason for a 5-star rating, but thinking back on it 3 years later, I actually remember very little about the book itself. Not only that, but it definitely does not compare to my other 5-star books (which are few). I literally do not remember why I liked it. Over time, the book has faded for me so much that I feel like I need to revoke 1 or 2 of its stars.

Exhibit B: Conversely, the novel Empire Falls by Richard Russo has stuck with me for a good 2 years after reading it (I didn’t write a review for it, but I gave it 4 stars on Goodreads). I think about this book a lot because it was so incredibly good, and I cannot understand why I didn’t award it 5 stars immediately after reading it. It won the fuckin Pulitzer for chrissake. But for whatever reason, it didn’t reach a 5 in my esteem until it was let to settle for a long while in my mind. I guess it needed time to digest or ripen (or whatever metaphor you want to use) before I truly appreciated its greatness. I cannot stop thinking about how good this book is, and I read it 2 years ago.

I realize these are only 2 examples from 1 person, but it gets me thinking about how much trust and authority we put into our book reviews. I think we need to start considering book reviews as reflections of our thoughts about a book at that particular moment in our lives. How many times have you heard the story of someone reading a book as a teen, hating it, but reading it later with a more adult perspective and loving it?? Probably a lot…or like, you know, at least twice. It makes me want to put a disclaimer on every review, saying, “*This rating is based on my current situation and outlook on life and is subject to change over time.”

I think if a book “ages well” in your mind over time, it is ultimately better than the ones you forget, even if you gave them 5 stars right away. I would definitely rate Empire Falls over The Silver Linings Playbook without hesitation, but that’s after several years have passed, and one has stuck with me while the other has not.

Let me know if this has ever happened to you, and with what books. Should we (or CAN we even) reflect this time-related phenomenon in our reviews? Or just brush it off as a given?

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17 thoughts on “On the fickleness of book reviews

  1. Jorelene @ Page Chronicles says:

    This is a great discussion topic! I think it’s definitely tricky to reflect this time-related phenomenon in our book reviews. I suppose that it’s part of the territory of writing book reviews. Reading tastes are bound to change over time, and so are rating systems.

    I think it might also have to do with the target audience for books. I’ve discussed this topic with my boyfriend before, when I was telling him that I found it strange how it’s rare to find highly rated (via Goodreads) adult fiction books in used bookstores, compared to highly rated young adult fiction. He brought up the point that it may be that adult readers are more willing to be critical of a book, and also have more experience of what is generic in a book and what is truly special. Additionally, the pool of readers for general fiction is a lot greater than the pool of readers for young adult fiction – therefore, there will be a greater number of readers who don’t enjoy a general fiction book.

    So basically, I think that we as book reviewers can generally brush off this time-related phenomenon as a given. It’s hard to know if a book does age well, and book reviews are always based on our current opinions, emotions, and state of mind anyways! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Briana says:

    I’ve definitely had different thoughts about books at different times. Sometimes I like them more on rereading, sometimes less. And sometimes I know I’m in the mood for a certain type of book or not.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Katherine @ Fabled Haven says:

    I definitely agree with you on this. There are books that I may rate highly upon reading, but after a few years, I realize that my enjoyment of the book was really temporary, and that it… faded? from my mind. With the Selection series, I was literally under the impression that I had never read it before… until I looked up the first book on Goodreads and found a 4 star review for it from 2014. I don’t remember ANYTHING from the series – it just didn’t stick with me and was completely unmemorable. Because of that alone, I question the fact that I gave it a 4 star rating.

    And I also completely agree with you when it comes to opinions on books changing based on the stages of life that we’re currently at. My favorite books are the ones that have stuck with me throughout the years, and the ones that continue to speak to me even if it has been years since I’ve reread them, and remain just as vibrant in my memory. This was a great discussion post that definitely got me thinking!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Emily | RoseRead says:

      Thank you so much! I’m glad; that was the goal! That’s funny that you don’t remember reading it, lol. I feel like that’s probably happened to me, too, but mostly pre-Goodreads. Goodreads definitely helps keep track of what I’ve actually read. I know there’s a lot of books I probably forgot I read but since they were pre-Goodreads, I might never remember!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Amy (inkyspells) says:

    I definitely agree with you on this. There have been several occasions where I’ve looked back on my star rating for a book on Goodreads and been surprised that I only gave it 3 stars, when I’ve thought about it so much. Similarly, I know that I’ve read books that I gave 5 stars to that were definitely because of the mood I was in at the time. I think if I’m just reading a book for fun, or to relax/destress, then I’m more likely to give “lighter” books 5 stars, purely because they put me in a good mood.

    It’s like I read The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo about 5 or 6 years ago, I gave it 5 stars because I’d never read anything like it; I thought it was amazing and it really got me thinking. But then when I reread it not that long ago I found I had issues with the pacing, and the writing wasn’t as good as I remembered, so I ended up dropping the rating.

    This is a great discussion post, by the way! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Ravenclaw Book Club says:

    Interesting! There are definitely books that I gave 5 stars to and don’t remember that well anymore, but I definitely remember how they made me feel, how incredible I thought they were, and for me that’s definitely reason enough to maintain their high ratings.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Read Diverse Books says:

    Blogging For Book is great! I do wish they had more books available for review, though :/

    My reviews are definitely fickle and subjective. I am not a professional reviewer so I only review books based on how they make me feel as well. There’s nothing wrong with this, I feel. But it’s important to note how fickler our reviews can be. So thanks for reminding us!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Emily | RoseRead says:

      You’re welcome! I agree on all accounts. I also definitely feel more pressure to be critical if I am reviewing for Blogging for Books, which I know I shouldn’t be, but it’s hard when I want to make sure that review is good!

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Donna says:

    Awesome discussion topic. It is true that reviews are written either right after or not too long after we read a book, and we have little change to get enough hindsight to really appreciate the effects a story has on us. I feel like the more I review books, the better I can judge how many stars a book deserved in my opinion, but when adding time in the equation, the perspective changes. Thank you for reminding us reviews are only a subjective opinion at a certain moment in our life, not a lifetime sentence! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  8. noteablepad says:

    Really interesting discussion post! You’re right in saying that book reviews do reflect our subjective opinions. I’ve found that I may give a book 5 stars one time, but reread it years later and not understand what I liked about it at all. But I suppose it depends on what we are going through in our lives at the time, and if that distorts our understanding of the book. You won’t have the exact same feelings as the first time you read, which is kind of depressing if you think about it. When I started reviewing, I looked out for things I wouldn’t usually, and I became incredibly critical. It does beg the question- why do we read? To review? To be comforted? To escape reality?

    Liked by 1 person

  9. fromthelibraryofemily says:

    I totally understand what you’re saying here. This has happened to me so many times before. Especially when I read a book that relates to my life at exactly that moment. In the moment, that book is all I can think about and if I were to review it, it would be a five-star review. But ultimately it was a book that I needed in that moment and I’ll still love it later on in life but not as much as I did. I don’t know if it would make me change my mind on what to rate that book because I try not to be too hard on myself. I’m not going to criticise myself for loving something at 13 that would make me cringe now.
    So while I agree with you about how fickle book reviews can be, I think it’s important to remember blogging is just documenting a moment in our lives and we’re allowed to change our minds.
    Great post as always 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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