Let's Talk About It: Living with Review RegretJuly 13, 2015
Have you guys ever regretted one of your book reviews?
I'm not talking about wondering if your gushing, lukewarm or downright bad feelings about a book were wrong because of all the glowing or scathing reviews out there that disagree with you. That's different: it's called impostor syndrome, and it's actually something I've covered before! I'm talking about looking back on old writing and wishing you'd expressed a point differently (or not at all), or learning more about a topic and recognizing the way you thought or felt about a book that dealt with it doesn't jive with how you think or feel now.
An example for me in recent days is my review of Loving Day by Mat Johnson. In a nutshell, Loving Day is the story of a man exploring and coming to terms with his biracial identity through newfound fatherhood and community and old ghosts. Johnson is a skilled and often hilarious writer and I thought his book had some excellent moments, but I found the plot to be, as I wrote, "a little convoluted, at times in ways that took away from the value of [the protagonist] Warren's transformation of identity." I've come to rue those words ever since reading Justina Ireland's Book Riot satirical piece about how to analyze white characters in novels, particularly her sixth point down:
"Were there other issues in the story for the character to deal with besides being white? The book is probably trying to tackle too many issues. Discuss how the character’s white identity was enough issue for the story without the distraction of all of those other annoying subplots." - Justina Ireland, How to Analyze White Characters in Book Reviews (via Book Riot)While I still do think that there was a lot going on in Loving Day and that one of the story's main themes was how Warren changed over time, I still cringe at how dismissive and shallow that part of my review might sound, especially coming from a white reader.
I've thought about going back to change that sentence, or perhaps even deleting it altogether. I mean, we've all made use of the "delete this Tweet" button, right? With reviews, though, I've always stopped myself. Even if it might save me (real or imagined) embarrassment, it would feel like I was erasing evidence of an instance in which I was less thoughtful with my words or judgment than I should have been. If I were going to change my review of any book, I'd want to go back to the book itself and reread it in its entirety or, at the very least, re-explore some of the passages or plot points that gave me the most pause the first time around.
As voracious readers and prolific writers, I think book bloggers are constantly learning new things and reshaping their viewpoints in wake of them; what we posted a few months (or a few years!) ago might not represent what we think or feel now, but we shouldn't hurry to sweep our old words under the rug. Instead, we should bring them out in the open and explore why they might be inaccurate, troubling, or outdated. After all, the best way to prevent new mistakes is by acknowledging old ones, and that goes for much more than book blogging.
Have you ever regretted a review you've written, for whatever reason? I'd love to hear about it!