A while back, Washington Post fiction critic extraordinaire Ron Charles tweeted:
Does being stuck inside writing a review on this gorgeous day make me even more annoyed with this tedious novel?
I was never able to determine which book Charles was referencing, but the comment left me wondering if a critic’s personal circumstances might impact his or her opinion of a book.
Did the fine weather and his unfortunate interior confinement impact Charles’ review of the book in question?
But are their more likely circumstances where a critic’s opinion could be influenced?
For example, does the last novel that the critic has read influence the review? If he has just finished reading a real clunker, does that give the next book a slight leg-up?
And conversely, what if the critic has just read what he considers to be the book of the decade? Will this influence his opinion of the next book he reviews? Could the next book hope to measure up to the previous book, and if not, will the review be inherently, if not purposefully, slightly less favorable?
The list of potential influences is endless.
Did the critic and his wife engage in verbal fisticuffs just prior to sitting down to read the book?
Were the kids’ report cards uncommonly glowing this semester?
Was dinner a disappointment?
Did the critic just have sex?
Did the critic’s iPhone refuse to sync, necessitating a trip to the Genius Bar?
Had the critic recently lost a lot of weight through surprising minimal effort?
Was the local 7-11 out of Chunky Monkey and Cherry Garcia?
Was the critic drunk?
Was his back sore?
Was his most recent performance review less than favorable?
Does the cover art on the book remind the critic of the girl in high school who dumped him for his step-brother?
Did his dog just die?
While I like to think that all book critics are impartial and souls, perfectly capable of excluding personal success and disappointment from their work day, it’s probably not possible. As impartial as they may be, a personal crisis tends to weave its way into the fabric of our lives, whether we like it or not.
So wonder how often a critic’s opinion of a book is slightly shifted by circumstance.
Can the weather or a technological snafu or the death of a pet change a review for better or worse?
If so, I offer this author’s prayer:
When it comes time to review my next book, may all the fine literary critics of the world be the slightly inibriated, suddenly svelt parents of straight A students who have been away at summer camp for a month, allowing the critic and spouse to eat Chunky Money ice cream and have sex on the dining room table after a more-than-satisfying late night dinner.