[...]I look back at some of my early reviews and wonder just what I was thinking. Some books I read and rated 3 years ago may now not pass muster if I read them for the first time today, because my experience has grown, my literary world expanded, and my opinions refined and honed beyond what they were in the past. [...] It’s a rare person, I think, who doesn’t look back on their past critiques and wonder what they might think now. Would they rate something higher or lower? Would they even bother to read that book now, if now was the first time they came across it?I've written before about how I don't think that reviews are fixed walls, and that opinions can't change. As I mentioned in that post, I think that it's perfectly normal and understandable and legitimate to feel one thing immediately after finishing a book, and then realizing three months later that actually, no, your opinion is completely changed. Time does strange things to our perceptions of art and literature; it can certainly alter our overall opinions. There are books that I only moderately disliked when I read them, but years have turned me bitter and fiercely against them. Or books that I wasn't particularly impressed with that have slowly grown on me. Or books that I loved once when I was a certain type of reader, but years of experience (or changing tastes) means that I can no longer revisit the book without a sour taste.
This is exactly the not-vacuum that Ria is talking about. Everything influences us in some form. Ria specifically mentions the familiar "I've read it before" sentiment we bibliophiles encounter when reading a book that might have been good had it not been the twentieth book of its kind we'd read in a short while. But I think there's another, broader option. The fact is, I've found that as a book reviewer - by the sheer number and breadth of books I've read - I have inevitably changed my perceptions of literature. I can no longer read without the critical lenses on. Even when I read a book and might enjoy it on the simplest level, I can't help but pulling it apart on a deeper one. This has extended to music, to film, to television... everything.
A bookseller at this year's Hebrew Book Week made a recommendation for me based on the titles in my hand. "You've got strange choices there," she told me. "Really different books. Let me find you something else that's a bit... different." And she was right. The books I had chosen came from many different countries, represented many different styles, and had a distinctly "different" flavor from the majority of so-called mainstream literature. Years and years of reading have made me less inclined towards books whose plots I can easily pull apart, or books with cardboard cut-out characters, or books that fail to do anything new with age-old ideas. Innovation - even when I don't necessarily like it - is more important to me now than the internal elements that I once valued in books. My experiences have changed how I read - no vacuum.
It doesn't mean I can't read those old books again. It doesn't mean I can't occasionally read something predictable and still find it brilliant because of its writing or its characterization. It doesn't mean that just because there's a similar plot point to another novel I'd previously enjoyed, there is no value to the new book. It doesn't mean that I can't recognize innovation even in straight-forward contemporary novels that seem to break no boundaries. It just means that I as a reader am constantly - at every given moment - influenced by the books I've read before. Whether it's an outright comparison to a previously read book or a more general shift in my reading tastes, there is not a single moment that I can truly disconnect my individual reading experience from the hundreds of others I've had in my lifetime. I might be losing something small in terms of "spoiling" the experience and not coming "clean", but I am gaining something back as well. And it's kind of beautiful.