Friday, June 26, 2020

Read All About It

How do you decide what to read? Word of mouth? Reviews? Browsing in bookstores? Etc. And what’s the most important factor in your decision?

By Abir


Happy Friday everyone! I’m in a good mood this week. I sent off the first draft of my new book to my editor a few days ago and while it’s a bit of a dog’s breakfast, I’m sure she’ll come up with ways of making it better. She is, after all, a miracle worker.


Right! So on to today’s topic. How do I decide what to read?


My reading decisions can be summed up under the following headings:


1.     Crusty old coot afraid of change

2.     Nerd Alert!

3.     Aww do I have to? Yes, we’re paying you.

4.     Oooh, nice cover!

5.     Man, moral obligation.

6.     Ok, shut up already, I’ll read it.

7.     Just me, jumpin’ on the ole bandwagon


The above are in no particular order, other than the order in which they popped into my head. I could rearrange them into something more meaningful, but I feel it’s important that we have  some secrets.


Number 1: Crusty old coot afraid of change


I’m only forty six. That’s no age at all. I still have half my life to look forward to, assuming my wife doesn't poison me for the life insurance (If I die under mysterious circumstances, I want you to bring this article to the attention of the police, ok?), but the thing is, these day’s I’ve become a bit of a crusty old fart.




I’m like old grandpa Simpson. I love authors that are familiar to me. So any time, Ian Rankin, or Val McDermid or Ann Cleeves or Martin Cruz Smith or one of a dozen authors releases a book, even if it's just Inspector Arkady Renko investigating the intricacies of the Russian tax system, I’m there at the front of the queue throwing my cash at it.




Number 2: Nerd Alert!


There are certain things I will be drawn to like the Starship Enterprise caught in the gravity well of a black hole. This includes a lot of Star Trek Fan fiction, much of which is pretty dire, but some of which is really really good! I’ll still read the dire stuff, because Star Trek.





Also under Nerd Alert comes a lot of non-fiction, firstly, the Brain Bursting Science books. I love anything to do with quantum physics, especially if it’s been dumbed down to the level of a six year old. Even if it's more complicated, I will buy a book by the likes of Professor Stephen Hawking, read the first seventeen pages, at which point the maths and the physics gets too complicated and my brain melts. But I’ll keep reading for another forty odd pages, basking in the glow of Professor Hawking’s intellect and feeling smug that I’m still reading words but understanding nothing.


Third sub-category of Nerd – the History Books. I love history. I will literally pick up any history book I can, the more obscure the subject matter, the better. This enables me to be the life and soul of dinner parties, keeping everyone riveted by my discourse on subjects as diverse and vital as the Classical Greek period, and the Chaco War of 1932 to 1935 between Bolivia and Paraguay. (Spoiler: Paraguay won on penalties).


Number 3: Aww do I have to? Yes, we’re paying you.


Right so I’ve been lucky to judge a number of literary prizes over the years, and this entails reading a lot of books, many of which are about as far from my comfort zone as you can get. I once had to read a book written entirely from the point of view of a swan. It was actually pretty decent, but it has left me with an innate hatred of Canada geese, the sworn enemy of the magnificent swan.


The point is, these competitions have forced me to read lots of stuff I would have simply walked by in a bookshop, and quite often the books have been great, and they’ve broadened my horizons.



Number 4: Oooh, Nice Cover!


I know. I know I shouldn’t. I know it’s a bit shallow and there’s even a damn proverb warning against it, but on many occasions, I have bought a book because of the cover. I’m a sucker for any cover which has a pop art feel to it, or a comic book vibe. I think this may be due to deep seated Tintin related psychological issues buried in my childhood. (On a side note, As I get older, I begin to realise what a racist and tin-pot fascist Tintin really was. Way to go, HergĂ©. Thanks for ruining everything.)



Number 5: Moral Obligation


Here’s the thing about being an author. You send your books out to other authors to read and hopefully they’ll like it and give you a nice quote, and similarly all the other authors are sending you books, hoping for the same thing. The problem is the average author receives fourteen thousand such books a month and is only able to read at a fourth grade level. This means we need to be selective in what we read and what we blurb about, otherwise the whole of an author’s existence would be taken up by reading books that are sent to them with little notes from publicists saying things like 'this debut set in the cut-throat world of focaccia-baking is the best thing since sliced bread!'.


‘So Abir,’ you’re no doubt asking, ‘how does a writer of your astounding mediocrity and limited reading ability decide which such books to read?’ To which my answer would be, ‘Thank you for asking, and simple, I read those books by authors to whom I’m most indebted to. So if an author has been kind enough to read my work and give me a quote, they’ll go straight to the top of the pile; if an author is someone I know personally and like, they’ll also go up near the top; and if an author is someone I owe money too, I shall definitely read their book and praise it to the stars on the understanding that certain financial obligations could be forgotten about. 


Number 6: Okay, shut up already. I’ll read it!


There are a number of people whose opinions I trust when it comes to book recommendations, and if they nag me for long enough, I’ll always go out and buy the book they’re banging on about. People in this group include, but are not limited to:


-        My agent. He will say something like, ‘You should really read that. It’s brilliant. If you wrote something like that, I could definitely get you six figures.’ I think it’s all mind games to make me feel bad.

-       The other members of my podcast group, The Red Hot Chilli Writers. They are all British Asian Writers and they’re all brilliant. If one of them recommends a book, I’ll probably tell them I read it.


One person whose recommendations I will NEVER follow though is my wife. She has no business reading other peoples’ books in the first place. Having the gall to then recommend them to me just feels like a betrayal.


Number 7: Jumpin’ on the Bandwagon


You know how there are some books which everyone tells you are brilliant, the whole world loves, and you’re like, ‘no, I’m not going to read it. It’s overhyped and will probably leave me feeling broken and empty inside once I’ve finished it’, but then, after it’s been top of the charts everywhere from Afghanistan to Zambia, you decide, ‘Well, I might just see what all the fuss is about,’ and then you buy it, and The Silent Patient is absolutely bloody amazing, and you think, ‘why didn’t I buy this before?’ – That.


So there you have it. These are the ways in which I choose books. Some people may think that this is less than optimal. Those people are wrong.


Have a good weekend everyone. And stay safe.


Paul D. Marks said...

I love your system, Abir. And you made me laugh. And sometimes covers do have a certain feel to them that draws us in. Sometimes we're glad and sometimes we regret it, but we still have those covers to look at.

Abir said...

Cheers Paul! Yeah, I'm a sucker for a good cover. It's all them bright colours!

Susan C Shea said...

" But I’ll keep reading for another forty odd pages, basking in the glow of Professor Hawking’s intellect and feeling smug that I’m still reading words but understanding nothing." That's so me! And the reward is once in awhile some tiny snippet sneaks into my brain and I manage to capture and hold it for a few seconds. Another good post, Abir.

Frank Zafiro said...

Fellow Trekkie here, Abir.... I even read the Shatner novels.

Abir said...

Hi Susan! Yes! We are improving our minds, a fraction of a percent at a time!

Abir said...

Hey Frank! Me too! I even read a good one once!