If you have ever felt particularly attacked after reading a negative review concerning a book you love, welcome to the club.
While it is pretty understandable that writers can see bad reviews as a personal attack – less acceptable, perhaps, to act on it, as liking things is so particular to each person’s taste – it is also true that the relationships we create with the books we read may get us a bit inflamed when someone starts dissing on one of our favourites. But have you ever had a review actually change your mind?
I sometimes engage in buddy-reading – for those who are unfamiliar with the term, it means reading a book together with someone, but in a more intimate way than a book club. You set a few goals and dates, and discuss the book as you read it. Doing this is pretty fun, and it can work great as a pick me up if you find yourself in a reading slump, but like most people, I am mostly a lone reader and reviewer.
I find that writing reviews right after finishing a book tends to be easier, since your memory of the plot is fresher and sharper, but after a few years of being more mindful of how I consume and talk about books, I’m not entirely sure that it is the wisest thing to do. Sometimes you need to allow the story to settle down and let it simmer, admire it from a distance to be able to form a proper opinion of it, even if that means you will start forgetting bits of it as time goes by. Giving it some time will allow you to have a steadier, and probably more fair, understanding of what you have just read.
More than once, I have found myself changing my opinion on a book after talking to friends about it, or after reading a review online. And this proves how a story always depends on its reader. When I talk to other people about a book, I encounter different perspectives, things I never even considered before, details I have missed or may have overlooked. At times, I even change my star rating of the book entirely.
Now, you might think, it is unfair and even wrong to change your perspective on a book based on someone else’s experience, but I am here to tell you that it is actually perfectly fine to do exactly so.
There are many ways you can choose to consume media. You can build up a little bubble in which you read the book, form your own thoughts about it, put it on a shelf, and are done with it. Or you can be open – and even actively search – for the thoughts of others, in order to see a book from different angles.
I like this second option much better because books can be a great tool to learn about people’s behaviours and feelings, and hearing about the way someone interprets a book not only allows you a glimpse into the book’s various meanings, it also offers you a better understanding of others, their personal experiences, and the way they read.
On top of that, while we may be sensitivity readers for some matters, we are not an all-in-one tool to figure out problematics in fiction. In trying to become better people alongside becoming better readers – personally, these two things are often entangled – it is a gift accepting that we may encounter issues and fail to recognise them. While it is nobody’s job to educate us, we should make room for that to happen organically, and consider ourselves lucky when it does.
All this doesn’t necessarily mean a bad or negative outcome: at times, people will point out details and make you appreciate a story ten times more; sometimes you’ll be staring at your screen, filled with joy about a book you absolutely loved, just to read a negative review of it and think, “damn I did love this book, but they DO make some very valid points”, and still appreciate the book anyway, or go on to find something better.
And, of course, while it is perfectly okay to lower your rating of a book after hearing some very clever points, the opposite is also more than acceptable. Disliked a book, but booklover35 explains why they loved the book, and it changes your mind? Lucky you!
All this said, if you review The Vanishing Half and give it 3 stars because the characters are too obsessed with race (I had to read that with my own two eyes on a Dutch newspaper), I’m just going to block you.
Online reviews can be great tools of clarification, give you a better insight into books, or make you even more certain of your own perceptions. Use them as they best serve you.