Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Reviews are not walls

Years ago, I wrote about my hesitation in rating or reviewing books too quickly. This is a mistake I frequently make, often jumping to conclusions or saying stupid things like "This book will stay with me for a long time to come", and then forgetting all the details one week later. The past few years have seen me trying to rein back this instinct to immediately review, but I haven't conquered it quite yet.

Here's the thing. As much as I want to bite my tongue, sometimes the immediate reaction is the more powerful one. Sometimes that immediacy is what brings the book to life - with all the details still fresh in my mind, I'm not simply attempting to rebuild the book from a dim memory. It's all still real to me. And as a reader who notoriously forgets the names of characters and the finer details of certain stories, maybe these immediate responses are better in certain ways.

What I'm learning is that this doesn't necessarily clash with my previous statement. Opinions change. Reviews can be amended or rewritten. Does this necessarily cancel out the previous review? I don't think so. Those opinions, as well as those thoughts, feelings and impressions, still stand in their relative position. That time has waved its magic wand and has made me see the book differently doesn't negate the fact that at a certain point I held other opinions.

All of this got me thinking about reviewing in general, and makes me wonder about my reviewing style. I've mostly avoided reviews on this site, based on an early impression that simply posting reviews would be a messy way to blog. I was worried that any reviews posted here would get lost and wouldn't reach the appropriate audience. I've stuck to websites like Amazon (and more recently, Goodreads) since then. But those sites compel me to write reviews a certain way. Each has its own style, its own approach to how a review should be. Neither style quite fits the sporadic reviews I write in my personal notebooks. And none of these outlets enable me to write the reviews I truly want to be writing - flexible reviews.

Reviews are not walls. They aren't fixed structures to force me to adhere to a specific model. Every blogger, reviewer and simple book lover will write about books in different ways. Some will discuss their emotional reaction to the book. Some will detail the finer plot points. Others will prefer to quote passages, and others still with dissect the book with familiarity and ease. Some will rate the book according to a personal scale, others forgo ratings and stick to the written word. No two people review exactly the same. And when someone does review, there aren't rules that say opinions can't change. If a few months later you find yourself wanting to amend what you said, there is absolutely no reason not to.


  1. I love the title, and point, of this post. I tend to vary in my review style, and in the length of time I take between completing a book and reviewing it. Sometimes it needs to be immediate, and sometimes I need a chance to really mull it over for a while. Glad to hear I'm not alone in these thoughts!

  2. When I began blogging, I worried too much about how I should review. I even made a template to go by so I would be consistent. But I realized I can't read and review in a cookie cutter fashion. My blog began as a reading journal with sporadic commentary on issues that I felt passionate about, and that's how I see it now. It's made it much easier, and less stressful, to read whatever I want and review it however I want. Forget pleasing some of the people some of the time, what it comes down to is being happy just being me all of the time. Trust me, that's a hard enough battle to fight without adding the worry of 'how' I blog - all I need to keep sight of is 'why' I blog.

  3. Great essay! And a great lesson to remember. I figure that there are as many ways to "review" a book as there are to write one. In general, I regard my reviews as a snapshot of how I felt about the book when I wrote the review. But like you say, there is no guarantee that I will feel the same if I return to that review -- or that book -- down the road.

  4. I think my immediate reaction to a book is my 'real' one, but sometimes it takes me awhile to flesh it out, clarify it in my mind to be able to put it in words.


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