Review — or let it simmer?

At my core, I’m a writer. One of the things I love best about reading — and having a book blog — is the ability to read and immediately write about a novel. Whether it’s chatting on how terrible it was, how stunning, or just hashing and re-hashing my favorite moments, I love sharing my thoughts — and review books almost immediately after finishing them, typically early the following morning.

I’m realizing something strange, though. As I continue to chronicle my reading adventures and review each book I finish, weeks can go by — months, maybe — before I think about a book again. Then, when I’m scanning my book reviews archive or reading challenges, a title will jump out at me and I’ll think, “Oh yeah. I remember that one. It was . . . good?”

how_i_live_nowAnd I won’t quite know. I won’t remember.

I read the book. In many cases, I loved the book. But the details? Well, the details will have faded into obscurity — characters, places, times. Nothing much remains. And when I go back to see what I wrote, I’ll barely contain my surprise at having raved about something I can barely recall later on. Lu at Regular Rumination recently posted on Meg Rosoff’s How I Live Now, a book I finished last August. As I was reading Lu’s review, all the things I disliked about it — the things that frightened me — came rushing back, swamping any positive feelings I could conjure up. But after I pulled up my own review, I was shocked by how much I liked it.

So the little wheels in my brain are turning. How different would my review of the young adult novel — which centers around an American teen trapped in England after the onset of a mysterious world war — have changed if I’d discussed it weeks later, instead of the following morning? And that particular morning, as I recall, I was dead exhausted from having stayed up until 2 a.m. or so to finish. It was horrifying; I couldn’t tear myself away. And then, of course, I couldn’t calm down long enough to sleep.

If I were to talk about the book now, my review would be very different — and probably not as positive. And I have a feeling that’s true of many of the novels I’ve read.

So which reaction is the “true” reaction? Is it better to review a book when it’s fresh and freshly in my mind, when I’m probably emotional from having finished it? When I love a book so much and then write a review immediately, I have a tendency to gush. Are those reviews “better” than the ones I might have written had I let the book simmer, giving me time to analyze my feelings and discuss it in a more logical way?

As I’m sure it apparent, I adore writing about books. And if I had to wait to write about them, I feel like they would lose something powerful in the meantime. Those gut reactions to a book are, to me, some of the most interesting . . . and honest. But I know that not everyone feels that way.

So do you review promptly, or let it simmer?
What are the advantages and disadvantages to both?

39 thoughts on “Review — or let it simmer?

  1. What a timely post.

    I’m currently on the phase of post-reading pre-reviewing where I want the details, the story, and the emotions to sink in. I want to feel the book, how bad or good it is, and at the same time I don’t want my review to be emotion driven. I want to understand and juice out the facts, understand the logic.

    Sometimes, rereading a book helps me form a better and more firm review. It might be tacky and tedious but it helped me form a better opinion. At first, I thought Twilight and The Lightning Thief was great and then when I reread it, it suddenly turned dull.

    So to answer your question, I think it’s the latter – I let it simmer for a bit. A good book will always be a good book after all. If it made an impact on me then surely an impact won’t vanish overnight.

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    • Great comment, Lex! I totally agree: a great book is a great book, and our feelings on a truly good book won’t change that much over time.

      But as readers, we change so much — and funny that you mention Twilight, because I was just thinking about that one as a perfect example of this! Read it years ago and loved it — recommended it to everyone — but now? Well, I still like it, but it’s much more of a guilty pleasure… and I recognize that it’s not great literature. By any stretch.

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  2. I often wait a day or so before writing a review, but it also depends on whether my blog has had any reviews the last few days (if not, I’ll write it straight away).

    I will probably not think of the book a lot, because I will have started a new book in the mean time, but after a day or so only some things will still stand out, so they must have been important for me about the book.

    I’m the same as you, Meg, I forget about books after a while. I can say whether I liked them or not, but no more!

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  3. This is something that I struggle with. I like to let it simmer for awhile because it does allow me to really reflect on what I liked and didn’t like. However I also find myself having problems remembering some of the details.

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  4. I tend to find that my first impression is generally the most spot on. In the case with the book I am reading now, The Magicans by Lev Grossman, I thought the character was a little prick, and I was right. The character has not changed over the course of this epic novel and to make it worse, nothing is happening in this book. It’s pretty much Catcher in the Rye but with more sex and drugs.

    Now, in my reading of Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger, I thought that book was amazing and as I kept reading it, I found I was right. However I decided to let the book simmer a bit, and yet my opinion has not changed. I still think that book is superior to The Time Traveler’s Wife.

    So I can see the benefit of letting the book simmer but I think perhaps instead of waiting to write your initial review maybe you could reflect on the book again in a years time and see how much of it has stayed with you. Perhaps a yearly report card at the end of the year. What books really stood out and which should be left on the shelf.

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    • I love the idea of a yearly review, too! And it’s amazing how many of the books I didn’t necessarily “like” really stay with me… perhaps moreso than the ones I loved at the time. A report card would be great — like reading honors!

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  5. I find that if I write a review right away, I get the details right, but if I let it sit for a bit, things become vague. Perhaps the fact that the details become vague should make it into the review. I just read so much, right now about a book a day, so I think that it would be impossible for a book to stay fresh in my mind for a long time!

    I love teaandliterature’s comment above. A yearly recap post, as in “this book continues to stand out in my mind” is a great idea!

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  6. Normally I review books quite soon after finishing them (generally within a week), but lately my pile of TBR (R stands for “Reviewed” in this case) books as been piling up and I’ve fallen behind so in some cases I’m review books I finished a few weeks ago. I do try to jot down notes about each book immediately after finishing them so that my impressions and feelings are captured and fresh, because I find that the longer I wait to write, the hazier my feelings about a book generally becomes. This can be good because I may write a more tempered review, but I also feel like it means I am less precise and have less to say about the book as well. I do find it harder to write about books the longer I wait, probably due to memory issues like the ones you describe!

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  7. It obviously depends on the book and the reader, but I know that sometimes I get caught up in the hype surrounding a book. A couple of commentors mentioned Twilight and Percy Jackson; I also think of The Da Vinci Code – books that everyone seems to be talking about and loving. So when you finally read it, part of your response or reaction is guided by all the talk surrounding the book and you may end up loving (or hating) it more than you actually do.

    I like the idea of doing a Review Redux or something, almost like a regular feature on the blog. 3, 6, 12 months after reviewing a book, go back, re-read (at least parts of it) and review the book all over again and see where it stands. I think the only true test for really good literature is the test of time.

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  8. I tend to review a book close to when I finish it, too. This is partially because I don’t finish nearly as many books as other bloggers. I rarely have a huge backlog of unreviewed books. If I’m really excited to write about a book, I also jump right into the review. Other times, if I’m having trouble I’ll sit and wait it out.

    What I’m finding that I like to do now is do “reminiscence” posts. If a book stands up to time and I remember it….that’s a huge deal for me too, no matter if I reviewed it positively or negatively the first time.

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  9. I think it’s good to simmer but sometimes I can’t wait to write about a specific book and do it very soon after. Also, as leeswames said above, if it’s been a while since I put up a review on my blog, I’ll want to write a review sooner rather than later.

    And teaandliterature has beat me to it, but I was making sure to comment because I’ve been thinking that I might want to do an end-of-the-year retrospective post about the books read this year, and see if my opinion has changed about them over time, for better or for worse.

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  10. I’m sure there are advantages to both, but I review right away, because I’ll forget details and I’m so anal I couldn’t stand having a stack of books waiting to be reviewed.

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  11. Great post! I have thought about this a lot too, and ultimately, I think there are pros and cons to each that really either would be fine. What I always aim for (but rarely get to do) is write the review right away, then let it stew for a few days and read the review later to see if I still agree or want to add/substract anything to/from the review. But usually I just go with whatever works with my schedule, lol.

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    • I’m with you: my schedule really dictates when I post my reviews, too! I would love to get to a point where I have a backlog of reviews I can choose to post and when, but usually I read and immediately review a book so I have fresh content. 🙂

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  12. I usually review a book right after I finish the book. And I never really thought of doing it any other way. I can’t imagine waiting to write a review: all those reactions that make my reviews what they are might disappear. After all, I can only stay excited about something for so long. But then I’ve read about how other readers go about writing reviews: the notes, the process … and I’m not sure if I have the discipline to really do that. My reaction to books right after I read them is really what matters to me. And usually, when I truly like a book, all the little details don’t matter all that much. It’s that initial reaction, that first connection that matters to me. If it’s there, it’s there and if it isn’t … well, than the book is easily forgotten and it doesn’t get the best review.

    Great post and this is definitely something I’ll be thinking about for a while now. Maybe I’ll even try waiting a while before I write up a review just to see how it feels.

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    • “It’s the initial reaction, that first connection that matters to me.”

      So agree! I’m starting to really believe all my gushing and non-sensical flattery about books I love is okay.

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  13. I generally write my reviews right away, but sometimes I’m really shocked when I looked back, especially at books that I reviewed either far better or far worse than I come to think of them. In those cases, I will actually add a note to the bottom of the review with my feelings as of 6+ months later. I talked about this in a recent Sunday Salon post (http://zenleaf.blogspot.com/2010/06/sunday-salon-staying-power.html) and my husband suggest I do a look back a year later at some of the books I read and do a re-review if they are very different.

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    • Love the idea of a re-review! When I have time (someday, oh someday…) I would love to re-read my favorite books and then do a side-by-side comparison of my initial thoughts and present feelings. Would be super fun.

      Loved that Sunday Salon post, too!

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  14. I need to write about it right away…almost immediately. That is when a book most affects me…some so much that I want to hold on to them…their characters and events…just a little bit longer. I think we forget how much we loved each book that we love because we move on…we embrace a new cover, a new plot and new friends. I have a friend who loved books so much that she said when she finished a book she was sad…she just held it in silence for a little while…sort of like saying goodbye.

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    • Like your friend, I’ve totally been there, Patty — especially with a series of books. When I finished Meg Cabot’s Princess Diaries books, I cried. Actually cried. I didn’t want to say goodbye!

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  15. My first impression usually turns out to be my final impression, especially if it’s a bomb- I need to get out all my rage and offense as soon as possible. But I can tell if it’s a book I need to process, so I give it about half a day to ponder it.

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  16. I try to write about books sooner rather than later. I doubt I’ll ever finish a book and get right up to write the review, but I try not to wait more than a few days because then the details become hazy. I also find that I think of things to write while I’m reading, but I never actually write them down. If I sit down to get the review done sooner, I often remember these details and I think my reviews come out better.

    I am also surprised by how a book changes in my consciousness after I’ve read it, but at that point I’ve lost so many other details that I think a review would be pointless. I rarely reread books these days, but I think when I do I’ll write a review anyway – just to see how my feelings compare!

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    • Sometimes the details aren’t that important in the end, I think… though they certainly make for better reviews, our reactions are just as important as all the trivia associated with a novel! Books definitely change in my consciousness, too.

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  17. hey Meg, that is a really interesting observation about feeling one way immediately after reading something and then letting it sit with you for a while a noticing that your feelings surface, evolve and change.

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  18. I review as quickly as I can after I finish the book. I actually start my post when I start the book capturing the photo and then draft it. As I read things that catch me I add them to the post such as “page 192 – important turn, blew me away…”

    kind of notes to self so I dont forget the details.

    I like to write my reviews just like I would talk to a friend about a book I just read – sometimes I gush and thats ok 😀

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  19. I tend to write reviews as soon as possible, because I worry about my memory springing leaks. 🙂 However, the more amazing the book, the more inclined I am to let it simmer. And I’ve often found my feelings about a book continue to change after I’ve finished. Which is the more “honest” review — the one that’s written before the story has cooled in my mind, or the one that’s germinated for a while? I don’t know.

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  20. I’ve been struggling with this too! I often try to do it right away, because, as sad as it is, once I move on to the next book I forget the other one! I mean, of course I remember some things, but say I have to do a review for three books back, I have to look at the book again. Sad. Sometimes I think I should take more time to THINK about a book when I’m done instead of immediately picking up the next book and obsessively beginning.

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  21. Great post! I actually do both! I write my review right away but I don’t post it right away. I have a backlog so that when I am ready to post my review I can re-read it and see if I still feel that way a week or so later. Sometimes after sitting on it for a bit my feelings really change…and sometimes they don’t! Either way, by that point I know that is what I want to say!

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  22. Hm, I have thought about this frequently and I don’t have an answer. I don’t want to go back to old reviews to change them but it can be embarrassing to see how enthousiastic you were about a book that you don’t think is anything special 3 months later.

    I’m trying to accept that this is a problem that comes with reviewing and not let it bother me too much.

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  23. Thanks everyone for your thoughtful comments! I’m already looking at things differently — and seeing that there’s no right or wrong way to go about things. For now, I’m sticking with my “gut reaction” book reviews… but we’ll see how things even evolve with that in the future! 🙂

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  24. I tend to write my review fairly shortly after reading the book, within a day or two. My memory pretty much sucks and I’m not one to take notes while I’m reading, it just interrupts the story for me, so I need things fresh in my mind.

    In general, though I don’t look back and think “Oh my gosh, how could I have felt that way?” My feelings are pretty consistent over time, with the exception being like if I read it as a kid and am not reading it again at a totally different point in life.

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  25. If I’m really enjoying, or disliking, a book I’ll try to write down a few thoughts as soon as I finish and sometimes even as I’m reading. That’s usually just extreme cases though. Mostly, I like to wait a day or two before writing the review so my thoughts can simmer. Much longer than that and I can’t remember details.

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  26. As much as I love reading, and writing…I find that I struggle writing book reviews. I think it’s because I normally end up waiting a few days after I’ve finished reading it (and have already moved on to the next book)…I’ll remember whether I’ve liked it or disliked it but unless I didn’t like it, I can’t put to words exactly why I loved or at least enjoyed a particular book.

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  27. i write my reviews whenever i have a minute–sometimes right after reading the book and sometimes a week or so later. i tend NOT to read any reviews of the book before i write my own to avoid even unconsciously skewing my opinion.

    i’m not a gusher by nature and am more reserved with my reviews. my husband thinks i just gripe about every book i read, but a 4.5 or 5 bookmarks (stars) for me is like book nirvana…and it’s hard to find!

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