Thursday, November 9, 2017

To Read or Not to Read

How do you pick what book/s you’re going to read? Is it the cover? Awards it’s won. The author. Genre? Word of mouth? Reviews (pro and customer)? Someone you know? Anything else?

By Jim

The very first thing I look for in a book is my name on the cover. If it’s not there, I can tell you I’m pretty disappointed.

Oh, wait. I think I misunderstood the question.

When there’s time, I like to read all different types of books. Usually it depends on my mood, but I love mysteries, thrillers, historicals, so-called literary novels, and of course the classics. I don’t read much non-fiction, unless I’m researching for one of my own books. Neither do I read a lot of romance, fantasy, or science fiction, but I’m open to them. There’s great, good, average, and bad writing in all genres. I don’t like to prejudge. But here we’re talking about how we choose a book, not necessarily what we should read in order to be a well-rounded reader.

In recent years, I’ve read significantly less than I did in my graduate school days. I was forced to read then, and I can tell you that does not make the experience more enjoyable. Nowadays, I read friends’ books, books of note and best-sellers in my genre, and anything else that strikes my fancy. If a favorite writer publishes something new, I’m all for it and will probably buy it right away. The same way I’ll return to a restaurant I’ve enjoyed. I tend to steer clear of the latest fads since I’m a notorious non-joiner.

Do reviewers influence my choice? Not the negative reviews.

I look more at the plot summary than I do the subjective opinion of a reviewer. People have different tastes, so I don’t expect anyone else to react to a book or a film or a dinner the same way I do. Now if a reviewer points out that there are lots of historical errors in the latest volume of the Adventures of a Victorian Dogcatcher series (I call dibs on that title, by the way), I might pay attention. But when a reviewer say s/he dislikes the characters, or that the ending didn’t work for her/him, I might just as easily find myself intrigued and more likely to read it.

The same is true for blurbs. I don’t believe they sell books. They represent someone’s opinion, which I may or may not share after reading the book.

What about awards? Conventional wisdom holds that awards do not drive sales, and I would tend to agree. Unless the award or awards creates a buzz around a book. But a buzz flies dangerously close to being a fad, and you know how I feel about those.

I’ve found that recommendations from my friends—especially writer friends—are the most reliable. Maybe it’s because we read a lot and have gone through the process of creating books ourselves. So when one strikes us as remarkable for any number of reasons, we pay attention. I’ve discovered wonderful writers this way.

Which brings us to covers. Do I ever buy a book for the cover alone? No. But if it’s evocative (and I don’t mean precious or clever), I’ll read the synopsis on the back. I don’t mind plain covers, or fancy ones for that matter, either. But if a cover is going to pull me in, it better not be one of those literary-looking graphical designs with a handwritten title. Not that those books can’t be fine books. It’s just that cover itself won’t attract me.

(Photo removed)
Now THIS is a great cover. And a great book.

So what attracts me to a book?  Basically, it’s my mood at the time, a great cover, or the advice of a friend. Or, failing all else, if it has my name on it.


Alan Orloff said...

What a coincidence! I like books that have your name on them, too! (As do many people!)

James W. Ziskin said...

HA HA. Thanks, Alan! We miss you here.

Susan C Shea said...

Uh oh, does that mean the cover of my first French mystery turned you off? I live for the day when virtual reality or something else technologically beyond my ability to describe it means that when person A approaches a book, the cover magically (see what I mean about me and tech?) into just what person A loves. Then, when person B approaches, the cover morphs instantly into what she will be attracted to. Until then, it's such a crap shoot figuring out what cover works best. I like your covers and Terry's in part because they are thematically alike throughout the series. Seventh Street has some of the best cover art.