Sunday, 28 November 2010

The Lag

I am sure you know what I am talking about....that period of time between posting your review and then the first thought of 'my feelings have changed'.  I used to write reviews immediately after finishing the final page of a title and I would be happy with the review.  These days I wait a couple of days, mull over my thoughts and post.

The Lag is a somewhat recent development that has affected my reviewing over the past year.  I have a reputation for being 'harsh' or (as I prefer) critical but if I changed my reviews after the lag they would in some cases be worse.  The more time for thought, the more analysis goes on.  I am an analytical person.  I analyse everyone and everything but I am worse on myself.  With people, I analyse people's body movements, their tone, their phrasing etc which isn't all that different to how I approach reading a narrative. It hurts the brain.  I blame my mother.  I come from a  long line of overly analytical broads.

Back to blogging...  Being analytical has been a great tool professionally and blogging but it also robs some of the joy.  Even books I really really enjoy, I have irks.  That isn't the case for all of them though - some books escape judgment and just are.

For a real life example - I viewed the Emma Stone movie, Easy A, last week and upon finishing it found myself quite enamoured.  Two days later I had issues.  I listened to the podcast (download here) featuring the screenwriter and fell in love with his ridiculous funny career and his influences and liked the movie again.  Writing a review immediately after reading a book means that you are in the zone.  You're still (hopefully) unaffected by outside influences eg online reviews, friend's opinions etc.  While in the case of Easy A I was unduly influenced by an extremely charismatic and hysterical gay screenwriter, I am normally thwarted by my own thought processes.

Emotional resonance of a title is something that is clarified with time away from the book.  I read a book a few months ago that is getting widespread praise across the blogosphere.  At the time it really hit me hard.  I wrote an email to the author expressing the personal impact of that book.  A week later my feelings on the book turned.  Yes it was VERY emotional but nothing about the book stayed with me.  The construction of the book wasn't bad but it wasn't extraordinary either.  The material, the style, was elevated by the emotional context of the story.  Three steps removed and it wasn't as jaw droppingly impressive in my eyes.  I haven't reviewed it.  I don't think that that would be fair.  In this scenario, and most in my case, lags are helping in me removing myself from the initial hype - whether outside or internal.

While we are all very used to the hype we are exposed to from other bloggers, we don't often think about our own.  Most of us refer to it as a gush fest, we pass on our love for a title to others.  We have all done it and it is a great things - to share the book love.  But sometimes our initial impression and love of a book can be shaky.  There are books I enjoyed immensely and hyped it up in my mind.  When I re-read it I would think 'was I on crack?'  This doesn't mean that the content was horrible and I didn't see it, more likely a premise swept me away or the anticipation of the climax.  I find that a unique perspective or style can sometimes blind me more than anything else.  But with distance, I realise that my mood or another factor had blinded me to less than stellar aspects.

I've become increasingly aware of my tendency to do that.  This past year I don't tend to tell people when I have immediately finished reading a book that I liked.  I give it a couple of days to breath.  I don't want to sound wishy washy or worse, a hypocrite.  Most times, even if I love the book, you can't tell.  I am stone faced and silent.  That's because I am thinking...not that I am a serial killer.

This was a problem a few months back while in NYC when I was handed a book not yet released as an ARC.  I was one of the first people to read it - big honour.  Except the author witnessed me read the WHOLE thing.  I don't know who found it more uncomfortable, me or the author.  I might go with the author as I would laugh and they said something along the lines of 'it's not funny ' completely confused by my reaction.  Which they were right, it wasn't a funny book.  But there was a sarcastic line that was worthy of laughter.  I repeated the line to the author and they nodded slightly in understanding.  Awkward!  (Seriously, it could be a reality television show.  Plonk an author and a reader in a plexiglass cube and see what ensues!)

Later the author busted me crying my snarky, cold heart out.  I suspected this might have pleased them but I am not entirely sure.

Afterwards I was faced with talking about the book with the author.  It was a great book.  Very different from what I expected but in a great way.  I was so cautious with what I was saying, not because I was nervous about being honest but because I was still processing the story.  I ended up sounding less than convincing in my thoughts.  It would have been wholly unsatisfying experience for said author.

The longest lag would be that of Forever by Judy Blume.  I read it as a child (and got in BIG trouble at school for proliferation of unsuitable material) and loved it.  It was informative and entertaining.  There were moustaches and hooked rugs.  While I appreciate now that Forever isn't the gold standard of YA literature, it's impact surpasses the turn of phrase and the 70s overtures.  It is important because of what it imparted to its readers, how it informed young girls and better yet, made them wary of guys who name their appendages.  The Lag might have helped me see Forever in a different light but it gave me a better, new appreciation of the book.

What about your lag?


Amy said...

Adele!!!! This is such a great post! I am a big believer in the lag. I don't analyze books quite as much as you do, but I do think some books can be wholly pleasurable upon reading that later lose their shine and some books can be a bit more work and slow going and once the ideas have had a chance to marinate the book takes root in my heart and grows.

Sometimes it is impossible to know of course, how much a book will stay with you, but I do think giving it a few days can help perspective. And yes, I can be influenced by what other people say. I had a similar movie experience this year, I LOVED The Kids are All Right, then listened to a bunch of criticism that made it less shiny than read interviews with the writer that made me feel like it was okay to love it again.

Anyway love the term the lag! ;)

Audrey (holes In My brain) said...

"But with distance, I realise that my mood or another factor had blinded me to less than stellar aspects." wow, i know *exactly* what that's like (along with books being insanely overhyped in my mind, or overhyped in the blogosphere) Sometimes I just end up focusing on that single aspect (writing style, usually) that causes me to gush non-stop. Only a week later when im looking back on my review do i think 'actually, that book wasnt *that* amazing...'

I still write reviews immediately after finishing a novel, but there's pros and cons to this for sure. For one, you may still be a 'hangover fog' obsessed with the way the author had unveiled the climax or presented a huge plot twist. Or you will still be in a deep emotional state that actually helps you connect and convey your thoughts into a review better..

Oh, and your NYC reading experience would be... somethin' else. I don't really know what I'd do if I were in your position.

I might even opposite-lag, or anti-lag (find a book okay first time around, but amazing after rereading it) Jellicoe Road (hopefully that's understandable) and The Book Thief definitely come to mind.

Anyways, stupid ramblings aside, this is an awesome post on a great topic. "Lag" is a very fitting term. And you did put it way more eloquently than i could ever dream to :p

Jordyn said...

I LOVE this post, as I do all of your posts, but somehow this doesn't really happen to me. And now I'm thinking maybe it SHOULD and maybe there's something wrong with me. I always write my reviews very soon after finishing the book; usually it doesn't take TOO LONG for my feelings to have "settled" -- a couple hours, a day maybe -- but I generally schedule the review for days or sometimes even weeks in advance, just in case I feel the need to change anything.

But that hasn't ever happened.

The truth is that as much as I analyze books and writing, it doesn't usually change my opinions much. I'll be interested to see the other comments on this post and see how much in the minority I am.

Alwyn said...

My lag goes in the opposite direction. When I love a book or get really excited about it, I am generally able to be quite rational about it at the time of reading. Then comes the lag of a few days after finishing and as I become frustrated that I don't have any more of this book to read I just get more and more enthusiastic/obsessive over it.

For instance I loved Ally Carter's "Heist Society" when I first read it, I finished it in the space of a few hours after desperately trying and failing to pace myself and make it last (like a particularly good dessert). However it took a few days of me trying to read another book that was underwhelming, and still having it on the brain to begin mentionning it to friends who I thought would enjoy it, and stating in the emails to the others that if I wasn't able to find a job I was forming a gang of professional Art thieves and start handing out the jobs to these various friends. But then again I think when I love something (Book, TV or Movie) I am very willing to overlook or forgive any flaws, which is why, for me as time passes, I only get more excited about things I loved rather than more critical.

(Incidentally I would Love to see you review "Heist Society" as I would be so interested to see how it stands up to critical review rather than just my gut reaction of "This is awesome! I must use my History of Art degree to rob the Louvre immediately!")

literarywife said...

Understanding lag and why it happens and the fact that it does happen, has made me re-evaluate my timing in reviewing books. Initially, right after reading the book, I will mark it with stars on Goodreads, just to remember my initial evaluation, but then I add it to my stack to be reviewed in the next week or so. Thanks for addressing this issue and understanding human nature ; )

Lauren said...

I've had this experience many times. (The lag, not the reading-a-book-in-front-of-its-author thing, thank goodness). I have mixed feelings about it, actually. I've contemplated which impression of the book is more true, the one I have right after finishing it or the one I have once the afterglow has cooled. I've had to conclude that for me, neither is more reliable than the other. It's like two people's description of the same event - there's always going to be a difference in perception.

So what I do now is note down the immediate reaction, and then try to leave it (usually) a couple of days before writing the review. Is it more accurate? I don't know. The joy of some books is in the moment, and the joy of some others is in mulling them over for weeks afterwards.

Liz B said...

Currently, what I usually do for writing reviews is write it up fairly soon after reading the book and then sitting on it for a week or so then going back and revising. I also try to stay away from other reviews during that period to avoid inadvertantly being "tainted" (ie picking up something and using it without realizing it), unless there is a particular issue or question I had and I look to see what others say. I do an almost argument in my head, using those other reviews, to revise those areas of my review.

For me, "lag" usually happens with books that I was a bit "meh" about (liked OK but not loved(, but stick with me. So I reread parts, revise, thinking "OK, what is my subconscious telling me about this book that I didn't realize/ appreciate" and again review accordingly. Sometimes (not always) I share that in my review.

While I'm the queen of overanalyzing, I think there is a place for books that, well, are Great at the time read but don't linger in ones head. For me, those are usually lighter reads or more relaxing, and sometimes I need that kind of read & don't want to think more than "OK this will be fun while it lasts."

THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT is an interesting example -- I just watched it. I think the characterization (and acting) is brilliant. But I also think in terms of plotting, it's a bit "meh". Reading other reviews of it will either help me realize just what made it "meh" or that I missed something and it wasn't as meh as I thought.

karen tayleur said...

Adele, maybe this is the downside of being a book reviewer? Someone reading for the sheer pleasure of reading is allowed to get excited and moved at the end of the story. We don't have to analyse the ins and outs of a poultry's bottom - we can just go with the flow.
However, I find there is also a downside to being an editor and author when it comes to reading for pleasure.
As an editor, I find it hard to turn off the editorial voice as it wants to rework an awkward passage of text, cringes at stilted dialogue or wants to tweak the grammar used.
As an author I find myself thinking - hey, look what they've done here, that's really clever, or I wish I'd written that.
What you do as a reviewer in your initial response is probably a reflection of how other readers will respond to a book, so not a bad thing surely?
I guess the trouble with posting blogs on the Internet is that initial reaction is there forever, even after the blogger has had a chance to review their initial response and would like to add a postscript.

Kathy Charles said...

Thanks for the link to the screenwriting podcast. Great stuff (as was this blog post).

Adele said...

Thank goodness I am not alone!!!!

And Kathy, the Creative Screenwriting Podcast is great....glad to help :)

bibliophile brouhaha said...

Fantastic post - loved it, and I am linking to it on my Thursday News Roundup. I usually take notes as I read, esp. in the beginning of a book. That drops off at some point, but I like to have my initial reactions down on paper to reference. I will post a few days after reading, but yeah, opinions percolate and change. It's tough, but a mixture of 'right after' and 'few days' after usually works for me.

-Linds, bibliophile brouhaha

Amra Pajalic said...

Interesting post, but I'm unsure if I agree. For me the worth of a book is the emotional journey while I'm reading it. Does it take me to a different place? Does it give me an emotional lift when I finish reading it? The fact is no book is perfect. They are all inherently flawed because the process of reading and writing is a subjective process.
While the strength of a book is judged by the impression it leaves, you're not going to remember the whole book. I am content if a scene stays with me, or a hint of dialogue, or a great line, because I am taking something away with me and every time I think of this book is like remembering a fond friend.
I think you need to re-think the lag. If you over-analyse everything it will always take you away from the emotion, and that's what I believe reading is about. The emotional connection. Apply this to anything and you'll get a negative outcome-romance, relationships etc. You end up trying to quantify and qualify something that has no real measure. It's only worth is one you apply to it.
As an aside-this is also the reason why I don't review. I don't want to open up my internal reviewer and read with a critical mind. I want to float on a cloud of bliss and just feel.