A review on reviews, do they have a shelf life?

I had a thought today while scrolling through my Goodreads recent updates thread. I looked on curiously as one of my friends marked a book as ‘to-be-read.’ It was one that I had read and rated 4 stars a while ago (back in early 2009) and it got me to thinking.

Back in 2009, reading was a big part of my life. I would read at least 2 hours every day on the commute to work on the bus. I read quite a lot of books (not all of which are on my GR ‘read’ list) and similar to now, I didn’t mind what I read as long as it kept me interested. At that time, the book as mentioned above elicited a 4 star rating (no review though!) from me. The key words being At that time! If I re-read the book now, would I still rate it 4 stars? Given my reading repertoire is a lot broader now, would the author’s style and word choice still work for me? Following along with those thoughts I wondered…

Do reviews have a shelf life?

photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/question_everything/1460025318/in/faves-9553600@N07/

My experiences, my continual ingesting of knowledge, my change in tastes, the level of importance I place on reading, the seasons, the weather, the time of day, time in general. Do these things have an effect on how I perceive the book I’m reading? Would they change my review if I were to re-read the book again?

I think yes.

Let’s take, for example, one of the first reviews I have written on Goodreads: Drink of Me by Jacquelyn Frank. In August 2011, I rated this book as 4 stars, added it to my ‘read’, ‘sexy’ and ‘va-va-voom’ shelves and wrote this review:

I want to start off by saying that I really enjoyed this book…however, I did find the mix of stereotypically vampire and werewolf traits a little confusing initially, but once I got the ideas straight in my head I was pleasantly surprised at how well it fit.

I had to break my pre-conceived ideas about how a race of telepathic warriors could possibly encompass such strong characteristics from both Were and Vamp beings. As an avid sf/fantasy/paranormal reader I have formed some pretty strong theories on what works and what doesn’t when it comes to vamps and Weres, however, I was pleasantly surprised at how Jacquelyn managed to mix the two. The pack mentality that is normally such a strong Were characteristic fit unbelievably well with the Sánge (the main race of the story), yet some of the other utterly vamp characteristics, like drinking blood especially during sex, poked through too… but somehow it works brilliantly!

The lead female – Mystique was a fantastic character!!! I loved her from the moment she was introduced to us and just fell more in love with her through out the book.

Thank you Jacquelyn! A deliciously interesting read!

Now, flash forward to today. I don’t really remember too much about this book. I can vaguely recollect Mystique and the rather sizzling scenes, particularly one scene in a bathroom, but it hasn’t stuck like some of the books I’ve read some before this book and some since this one. If I re-read it today, would Mystique’s character still resonate with me as much as she did then? Since reading about Mystique, I’ve been introduced to a vast number of other fantastic characters, some of which I think I enjoy more than her, some less. Would this change my rating? I know it would change my review. I note that this book is not on my ‘Legendary Leading Ladies’ shelf, if Mystique was so awesome, why isn’t she on that shelf?

I’m thinking I may try this theory out. I might sit down and re-read one of my earlier books, see if my review would be different now that I’ve experiences so much more in the land of fiction, I’ve met so many more incredible characters and my tastes and interests have changed.

What do you think? Do you think reviews have a shelf life? Should we only review on the technical components of a book, (punctuation, grammar, paragraph construction, ease of reading) or should we review based on emotional responses to the books and characters? If you agree with the emotional side of things, do you think your review of the same book would be different after 1 year, 2, 5?

Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.

9 thoughts on “A review on reviews, do they have a shelf life?

  1. Pingback: The Burning City by Larry Niven & Jerry Pournelle – More Necroreviewing | Davetopia

  2. My taste has definitely changed over time: I suspect most people’s has.

    As we read more we develop two sources of appreciation: how exiting the story is to us, and how well it is written. If I find a book that contains either I will probably enjoy it the first time; if it lacks either I will probably not enjoy it as much each time I read it.

    As a well written version of an old story (if there are really any new stories) is still well written but a plot twist is only new once, our judgement of a book’s enduring appeal is likely to be much truer the second time we read it as we are not judging the one-off elements.

    I feel that the more we read the more we come to know what is good writing, so our taste will broaden; however I also feel that the change is inversely proportional to the amount we have read, so our opinions become more likely to remain the same the later we form them.

  3. I think your opinions of books always change over time, sometimes for the better and sometimes for the worse. The more you read, the more the good ones stay with you and the mediocre ones slip away.

    It’s an interesting time stamp, though isn’t? Maybe there should be a website, or functionality on Goodreads to “Grade over time”. Then you could average them out and find out what’s changed in you since you read it.

    Like any art, I guess books are a reflection on the recipient of that art as much as they are about the creator, and reflections always change. One of the hardest things to do as a writer is to find the constants in us all: Love, death, sex, marriage, divorce, happiness, sorrow. Those things never change and never will, and the trick is to find something new to say about them.

  4. Reblogged this on Deb's Answers and commented:
    When you write a review on goodreads, it asks, “What did you think?” Your review is supposed to be your own opinion, not a book report or a technical grade.

  5. Definitely, your tastes naturally change and grow over the years. I rated a lot of books with 3 stars when I first joined goodreads. I knew that I liked them much more when I read them than I would now. I wonder if I should have left at least some of them unrated.

    That’s one of the problems with long series, especially if there’s a large gap in the release dates. I loved Jean Auel’s Earth Children series and was looking forward to the last one. I actually got to read it early because I won it on goodreads. It was awful. I gave it 2 stars. When I went back and read some of the reviews of the earlier books, it appears that all of them had the same problems, but I guess I just didn’t know any better then. I do expect a lot more of books than I did 10 years ago.

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