Saturday, 30 June 2012

Weekly Drudgery

Deciding What to Read

As authors there’s a certain amount of consideration put into trying to figure out how to make your book stand out, and be something people will want to read. There have been studies and surveys about how people are most likely to discover a new book. (Apparently recommendations from friends is high on the list). But the actual experience of deciding what to read can be so much more complex (and unfortunately for authors, random) than a study ranking single methods of discovery. So I thought it would be fun to chronicle my thought process during most recent outing to the local library. 

Reason for going to the library at all: The book I had out (Little Children by Tom Perotta, the reasons I had selected that one can easily be inferred by anyone who’s read my earlier review on The Sheltering Sky) was about to be overdue, so I had to return it.  

Thoughts while walking to the library: I should probably pick up something with really good prose, to learn from. That book on the new arrivals shelf with the numbers on the cover was supposed to be by some talented Japanese guy, I think I’ll get that. (1Q84 by Haruki Murakami, which I mistakenly had been thinking was by the same guy who wrote Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro, apparently being an American I think all talented Japanese authors are the same dude. Awkward.)  

Walking into the library: Some woman and her daughter were arriving at the same time I was. She started having a conversation with the librarian, so even though I instantly saw that the book I was looking for was not there I lingered around the new arrivals shelf so I could eavesdrop. While there I discovered that The Vow was apparently a book before it was made into a movie. My hand briefly went for it based purely on the instinct of being drawn to things I have a prior memory connection to. But then I remembered that I had zero interest in the movie so what were the chances I’d want to wade through it in book form. It turned out the woman’s conversation with the librarian was dullsville. So I moved on to the audiobooks. 
Our library has the saddest collection of audiobooks. I glanced it for something new, there wasn’t anything, so I moved on to the movies. Then quickly chastised myself: You’re here to get something with good prose. 

On to the fiction stacks. I aimlessly wandered into the third row, considered looping back around to the second row, but was blocked by the little girl I mentioned earlier. She came around the corner from the second row and gave me a strange expectant look as if to say: what the hell is taking you so long just pick something you idiot. (But that might have just been my imagination.) 

So I stayed in the third row, scanned the shelves to see if there were any authors I recognized. I was immediately distracted by a book that judging by the spine looked like it had a night sky on the cover. I pulled it out and much to my delight it not only had a night sky, it had vibrant green grass and a maroon bicycle. All it was missing was someone glamping (glamorous camping, google it, it’s awesome) in the background. I had pretty much decided on this book based on the cover alone. I opened it up, scanned the opening paragraph, they mentioned Biddeford, Maine, I’ve totally been there. I was hooked. Then I made the mistake of glancing at the book jacket description. Apparently the main character was some overweight dude who considered himself a loser. My elation at having chosen a book plummeted. Why on earth would I want to read a book about someone who doesn’t even like themselves, that doesn’t inspire much confidence that I’ll like them either. I put the book back. 

A few feet down the same shelf I saw Atonement by Ian McEwan. I’d seen the movie and loved it. Before I could pull it off the shelf I heard the little girl behind me, she was walking along the stacks dragging her fingers along the books as if it were a fence. Out from behind her hand I spotted Dr. Zhivago. (Side note: I have a bit of a thing for Russia.) I had made my choice. Dr. Zhivago it was! I picked it up and thought to myself: Bloody hell this thing is huge, (almost 600 pages). I sat it down and vowed to read it in the future when I had more time. 

I turned my attention back to Atonement. I flipped it open to see if the prose was as good as to be expected from Ian McEwan. It was. But I was saddened to see this copy, the pages were starting to separate from it’s binding. I remembered back to my experience with a poorly bound copy of Tender is the Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald. I ended up not finishing the book based solely on the fact that it was a hassle to hold. So I put Atonement back, but as I did I noticed on the cover it said: By the Booker Prize Winning Author of Amsterdam. Well, if I’m looking for good prose a Booker Prize Winner is a good choice. I found Amsterdam two books down the shelf, it was delightfully small, and properly bound. I didn’t even bother to look to see what it was about. I was off to the librarian to check the book out. 

So, in conclusion: there are a lot of factors that are out of your control that decide if your book will get pulled off the shelf, so your best bet is to make the inside as good as possible, so if it does get selected the reader will not only finish it, but recommend it to friends. (Oh and make your MC cool that always helps me pick things :)

1 comment:

  1. I actually like old books with pages loose. Makes me feel like a young wizard trying to read a magic tome. (My first LoTR copy was 30 year old hand-me-down of a friend).
    Ever since, I've mostly read fantasy.