Before I started blogging, I already knew it was difficult to find two people who felt the exact same way about a book. What I didn’t expect was how often I would disagree with myself.
The thing about having a blog that is several years old, especially if you started blogging when you weren’t even an adult, is that you grow and change as a person, and you’re not necessarily going to see the books you read as you did in the past. It’s an obvious thing, and yet one I don’t really know how to deal with, because – blame the anxiety or the perfectionism, I don’t know – I’d like my blog to reflect the things I think now.
The way I tend to change opinions has also changed through time:
When I Started Reviewing…
…I liked most things I read, or at least, I gave higher ratings than I do now on average. And I think it’s pretty much an universal experience to look back on the books you read when you started blogging and think “yeah, that most definitely wasn’t that great”, (especially if you started at 15). I usually changed my mind in these ways:
- Peer Pressured: I read a hyped book and ended up not feeling much, or couldn’t articulate my feelings. So I rate it four stars, because everyone seems to like it and I don’t have any strong opinion I recognize. Then I think about it months later and realize they’d have to pay me to make me reread it. (Falling Kingdoms by Morgan Rhodes is an example of this for me; it went from 4 to 1 stars in the span of a few months)
- Unfortunate realization: I read a book and like it. Then I learn that several plot points had strong unfortunate implications and that doesn’t make me think of the book in a positive light anymore, even though I did like it while reading (example: the twist in Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon)
- Plain old suck fairy: [“You read a book you used to love, and—something’s happened to it! The prose is terrible, the characters are thin, the plot is ridiculous.” – Jo Walton]
These mostly happened because back then I didn’t really have standards. Which is fine, because you have to build them for yourself! Change is a good thing and so is growth.
And to deal with them is easy. My Italian blog isn’t public anymore, so I don’t have to think about old reviews; if I want my goodreads shelves to reflect my current taste accurately, I just go on goodreads and either change or remove the rating.
But that’s usually not the kind of self-disagreement that happens to me anymore.
Now what happens more often is that I change my mind about a book I disliked. Sometimes I dislike something because I read it at the wrong time, or because in the context I had the book was bad and then the context changed – as I’ve talked about a little in my review of Down Among the Sticks and Bones by Seanan McGuire.
But this was an easy case: I wanted to reread it anyway, and it was a novella.
What if I change my mind about a book I don’t want to reread?
Let’s make two examples:
#1: The Cruel Prince
I read The Cruel Prince when it came out, and I gave it 3.5 stars. I still think that’s what it deserves, so the rating stays, and I don’t feel the need to reread it – I’m not that interested in the sequels if not in the “wanting to understand the discussions around them” way, but it’s not a strong enough motivation for me.
What has changed? I disagree with my own review (or: a certain part of it) and don’t think that at the time I could really explain what didn’t work for me.
Ok, I’ll explain, because I feel the need to do that somewhere at least.
The part of The Cruel Prince I disliked the most was the relationship between Jude and Cardan. When I tried to explain what went wrong for me in early 2018, I tried to put together an explanation that pretty much relied on this assumption:
I don’t like it, therefore there must be something objectively wrong with it
Which, especially when it comes to relationships, is pretty much the foundation of most shipping discourse and book twitter’s favorite hobby. I also think that, in most cases, it’s bullshit. And I get why I did it! I was still listening to book twitter/Tumblr (RIP) at that point, and thought that if I came across a toxic relationship I didn’t like in a book, especially one you’re not meant to strongly dislike, it must mean that the book is romanticizing it. (I didn’t use that word because on some level I did feel it was bullshit – I said it was a “fake redemption arc” like the one in the Shatter Me series, except it’s not really that.)
Which is all very hypocritical of a villain romance fan.
The now-obvious thing is that The Cruel Prince never meant to be a portrayal of a healthy relationship or a “how to” novel or a story about how the reader’s bully must certainly secretly love them, and to read it that way is to misread it. So much of fandom discourse is based on misreading, sometimes maliciously – “authorial intent doesn’t matter”, they say, but I say the reviewer’s intent is really, really important – but you don’t realize that when you’re sorrounded by it and new to it at the same time.
I also have never believed in the “reading about unchallenged (or according to some even challenged) toxic relationships will make you seek out toxic relationship or will make you an abuser” pseudoscience.
What didn’t work was that Jude and Cardan’s relationship dynamic is that of a power fantasy that doesn’t appeal to me on any level. To me, there’s nothing as unattractive as a bully, and Cardan is the fae version of a repressed high school bully. Maybe I feel this way because I was bullied, maybe I would have felt this in any case; it doesn’t really matter. I don’t believe that people who like Cardan must not understand what it’s like to be bullied, and this isn’t a line of thinking that I feel is productive anyway [this often leads to the whole “we must know your past trauma to understand if your take is valid™” thing, which I find troubling.]
The step between “this is abhorrent and completely opposed to my experience” and “people have different experiences with the same things and what is flatly disgusting to you might be interesting to dissect for someone else for reasons you might never truly get” is important. But recognizing any of this would have meant recognizing the diversity of human experience and that there aren’t hard rules on “hurtful”/”not hurtful” literature; any of this would have meant letting go of the rush of anger people will tell you is so so righteous when you dislike something problematic. I definitely wasn’t there yet.
I still deeply don’t want to read about bully romances, and that’s fine too.
My review is still up on goodreads, and I don’t remember the book enough to re-review it. And I can’t replace it with all this because it’s not a review, this is dragging January-2018!Acqua (she was not in therapy yet and it shows) and book twitter, and I don’t think it belongs on goodreads.
I still haven’t decided what to do about it, apart from writing this post.
#2: Empire of Sand
Empire of Sand is a favorite of many of my mutuals on various sites, one I still think about trying again sometimes, but then never do.
I first tried reading it in November 2018, and I remember that without looking it up – how could I not? The very end of November 2018, the month in which I went off from medication.
If you’ve ever had to deal with psychiatric meds, you’ve also probably heard of or dealt with the side effects, and that some people need to stop that kind of treatment because of them; also, one might experience side effects during withdrawal.
An ARC of this book was lucky enough to not only end up in my hands only a few days after I read Girls of Paper and Fire (both are heavy fantasy reads involving constant threat of sexual assault for the main character) but to also do so during what was, in hindsight, a medication-induced depressive episode.
While it was happening, I didn’t think much of it. I couldn’t think much of it. I didn’t have the energy to do much at all and felt horrible and everything I tried reading felt horrible as well. I don’t think I can explain just how much I dreaded picking up this book again – I’ll just say that I didn’t want to DNF this (I could at least tell that the worldbuilding was good) but had realized that doing chemistry homework in the state I was in (which made me feel miserable, of course, as I kept making obvious mistakes) was less exhausting than this and would have rather done that instead.
But at the time I didn’t have as much insight on what was happening (you can see, from my November 2018 wrap-up, that I said “I kept finding mediocre stuff”) and DNFed Empire of Sand thinking that it was mostly on the novel and just a little on me. I did realize there was a connection between how much GoPaF exhausted me and how I felt about this, but not much more. I rated it two stars on goodreads and that was it, for a while.
The thing is, until this sort of episode is over, you can’t look back and say, no, that was definitely not normal.
It was not on the book. After a few months, I removed the rating, but it took me a while to understand what had happened, and today I still don’t know how I feel about this. I’m in this weird situation in which I read more than half a book and remember it vividly, but don’t really have an opinion on it, though the idea of picking it up again to find out fills me with dread. It certainly has made me think about just how unreliable my negative reviews can be in certain circumstances, and I might not realize that until later.
And That’s Only a A Part
There are other cases, but I won’t stay here to talk about all of them. From Anger is a Gift, a novel I didn’t like but that I read while sick enough to end up in a hospital a few days later (I didn’t think it was good, but was I unfair because I was sick? I ended up deleting my review) to The Poppy War, which I didn’t like, but I liked my attempt at explaining why even less (I’m still not able to explain it, I’ve found things that contributed but I always feel like I’m missing the mark), there really are many.
Generally, I’ve realized that in the last year, I’ve trusted negative reviews – especially one star reviews – less than I did once, and this includes my own (I’ve tried writing a post about that multiple times but it never quite comes together.) There’s probably a lot on this blog I don’t agree with anymore. At the same time, I try to keep in mind that the urge to delete, delete, delete everything is an anxiety symptom, so I shouldn’t listen to it too much.
The problem with the internet and a great thing about the internet is that everything stays while we don’t, and I’m not sure what to do about that. Maybe, every time I realize I significantly changed my mind about a book I didn’t reread I’ll write a post like this one about why, or maybe I’ll keep having crises about the inherent instability of life.
What do you do when you change your mind about a book? Change the review? Nothing? Write too-long discussion posts?