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?