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Random Thoughts: Re-reading and Re-rating

I’ve always had a love-hate relationship with the idea of re-reading books. Some books were just so amazing that when I went back for a re-read, whether it was immediately or months or years down the road, the experience wasn’t the same. Either the story felt too juvenile, I was in a different place in my life and I just didn’t connect with it in the same way, or the magic I felt with that first read was no longer there.

So, I’m always hesitant when I go back to re-read a book I’d loved. Always fearing that with this second read, I wouldn’t be surprised and caught up in the magic, but instead I’d notice the poor sentence structure, the continuity errors, the poorly developed characters, or the unrealistic situations the characters were placed in. And while that’s not always the case, there is always a chance that on my re-read, my rating would not be the same.

While there is the likelihood that I could enjoy a book more if, for example, I wasn’t in the right head space when I first read it, it’s not that common. It has happened once or twice, but that’s it. Because typically books I’m not in the mood for I don’t read until I am.

So, it’s more likely that upon re-reading a book I’m going to like it just a bit less. Especially if I pick it back up after more than a year. By then my feelings toward it might have changed. Or I might have discovered books in that same genre that were more exciting, more thought out, more captivating or just written that much better. Or I might have learned something about the author or authors that would taint my view of the book that I once loved.

Though, things are a bit different for a series. If a series gets better, I might be more excited when going back to re-read. I might find out new tidbits of information about the characters I missed on first inspection. I might fall in love with the series all over again, even deeper than I did the first time around.

Of course if the series gets worse, I might start noticing flaws I didn’t find during that first read. Or things I didn’t see as flaws until my dislike of the series colored my view of it. Or things that were once charming personality quirks might now be seen as annoying if the character has become unlikable.

So, it’s with great hesitancy that I approach a re-read. Especially as a reviewer. Because those books I originally gave four or five stars to might not get those same ratings when reading them for review. And whether it is because I’m now looking at those books more critically or they are re-reads that I just don’t feel the same about as I once did, a five star rating might drop to one that is three or four stars… or even lower.

Therein lies the conundrum. Is it fair to re-rate those books I re-read? Is it right to only re-rate those books I like more the second or third time around?

While I may not love the book as much as I did upon first read, it doesn’t take away from the fact that my first experience with that book was a positive one. Just because I am no longer as enamored, that doesn’t mean that I hadn’t gotten caught up in the story, hadn’t fallen in love with the characters or hadn’t been lost in those pages when first discovering the book. And while I might not feel that way anymore, I once did. So, is that experience any less valid? Any less important?

I say no. You can never recapture the same wonderment or magic from a first discovery. They say nothing beats a first kiss, well the same can be said for reading. A re-read can never replace that first introduction to the characters and story.

And you can’t recreate the exact feelings you had when first reading a book. If you read it during a particularly emotional period of time in your life, that book might have resonated with you and now that you aren’t in that same place, you might not connect to it in quite the same way.

Maybe you and the character were going through the same experiences, suffering the same heartache and loss. And on second read you were in a happier place and that similarity just didn’t exist. Therefore during the re-read you just didn’t enjoy it nearly as much and the rating might not be as high. You may wonder to yourself just why you enjoyed it so much because of the fact that you no longer had that emotional connection the second time around.

But, even if you say to yourself, “What was I thinking? There’s no way this book is a five star!” it doesn’t take away from the fact that you did think that at one point in time. So wiping out that first experience to replace it with the second doesn’t seem completely fair.

And the same is true of the reverse. Why shouldn’t that second read be counted? Isn’t the experience of the re-read just as important as that first read? What makes that second experience any less valid than the first?

I say it should count. I say it’s just as important and valid. I say a re-read experience doesn’t replace a first-read experience. But I think both experiences can be quite telling – about the book and the reviewer.

So, why is this a problem? Well, on the blogs it isn’t necessarily a problem. If you are a reviewer who likes to re-read and re-review their books, then both reviews can have a home should that reviewer want to have both. On Goodreads and Amazon and other review sites that’s where the dilemma comes in. While you can paste both reviews into the text area, even add an explanation that the rating went down or up on second or third read, you can only have one rating count for their ranking system. So which one should it be?

I’m just not sure. I think it depends.

For me, at least, unless the re-read pointed out major flaws that I just didn’t see because I was taking a mental holiday from my brain, I’d stick with that original rating if it was higher than what I thought with a re-read. I might point out at the top of the review that after re-reading the book I gave it a lower rating and go into the reasons why before I started my review. I’d probably remove my original review, if I had one, and just include the re-read review. If I had the original review on my blog, I might leave a link.

But if the rating went up with a re-read, I’d change the rating. Again, at the top of that review I’d note what my original rating was and why I increased it after the re-read before I include my review.

Is this fair and accurate? Not entirely. But I’d rather give a book that I either once loved completely or now love completely the benefit of the higher rating for purposes of those site rankings.

But what do you think?

Is there a better way to handle the dilemma of a re-read re-rate? How do you pick and choose which rating counts? Is a first read more important in your eyes or is a re-read one you value most?

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