Judging a Book by Its Cover

I read.  I kind of read a lot.  There’s a lot out there to read.  My nook*?  Makes it even easier to ingest a billion and one books.  I’m not any faster of a reader, but it’s a lot easier to pick up a little reading here and a little reading there if I can just throw 100+ books in my purse all at once.

But there are a gazillion more books out there than I’ll ever be able to read.  So out of all the books in the world, how does one choose what to read?

For me, it’s word of mouth probably more than anything.  If someone tells me they read a really great book, I’ll probably try reading said book.  People tell me about the books they’re reading every so often, because book lovers like to talk about said books, but it’s not like I have recommendations beating down my door.

From there, I typically take those authors and read everything by them I can get my hands on.  I have read all but two books ever published by Tom Robbins (though finding him was a fluke, read on).  I am making a considerable dent in the works of Terry Pratchett, but that man is such a prolific writer, I don’t know that I can read them as fast as he can write them.  You’ll find a lot of Nick Hornby, Douglas Adams, and Bill Bryson in my collection (side note, it is an amazing distinction for Mr. Bryson to grace this list, because he brings as much life to his nonfiction as all the previously listed fiction authors, and I find that’s hard for people to do).

But as much as I love these writers (and others whom I’ve not mentioned), I can’t read the same thing back to back to back.  And eventually (except in the seeming case of Mr. Pratchett) they’re going to run out of books for me to read.  So I need one more tack.

And, yes, it’s judging books by their covers.  Which I’m pretty sure everyone who reads does.  You can’t help it.  The cover is like an advertisement.  You have one second to grab my attention or I’m long gone.  Like anything else we consume, if you don’t already have the clout of coming highly recommended or a proven winner, you really need to sparkle.  But the problem lies in the fact that what catches my eye, may not catch someone else’s.  In fact, it’s pretty much a given that it won’t catch everyone’s.  The trick for publishers is to find that fine line where the cover catches the eye and gives a general vibe as to what the story is about.  And it’s that second part that’s really more important.

For instance, I’ll show you two covers, one that would attract me and one that wouldn’t.  To keep it fair, I’m going to use covers from an author I already know I like, so I’m literally only judging the covers.

In this corner, we have The Queen of Babble by Meg Cabot:

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I can tell by the fact that the cover is colorful and cheeky that it’s going to be a lively and funny book.  It’s fluffy, too, so it’s obviously going to be chick lit, but not like a bodice ripper or anything.

In the other corner, we have Every Boy’s Got One:

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This corner looks like bubble baths and Lifetime movies.  And while I don’t hate either of those two things, they don’t scream good reading.  To me it looks like a silly little lady story.  If it weren’t Meg Cabot, I wouldn’t give it a second thought.  But it is, so I’ll probably read it eventually.

The spine is even more important, but much harder for me to pin point, so we won’t even go into that, but if a cover is graphic enough for me to pick it up or click on its link, it now has maybe 30 seconds to wow me.  That back cover better have a damn description of the book.  I don’t want to read an excerpt from your last book.  I don’t want to know what so-and-so said about your books (Unless you’re Jenny Lawson; the quotes on the back of Let’s Pretend This Never Happened** are freaking hilarious).  Give me a plot summary and make it juicy.

Now, there is an exception to this.  It was brought to my attention that some books have summaries on the copyright page.  But still, those summaries are usually not terribly flashy and also usually in much smaller print.  Plus you have to open the book and find the page, and ain’t nobody got time for that.  That eats into the 30 seconds I could be using to read the summary.  Just sayin’.

So… Read any good books lately?

*I’m not being paid to endorse nook, I just happen to really like it.

**Linking to Amazon just so you know I’m not playing favorites 😀

I almost don’t know how to read these numbers

The American Dream

The American Dream

I’m reading Bill Bryson’s I’m a Stranger Here Myself.  It is, in fact, a pretty awesome book for a number of reasons.  First, Bill Bryson is a great writer.  I first encountered him when reading The Mother Tongue for a liguistics class in college.  He’s funny, insightful, and wicked smart.  Second, it’s a collection of newspaper columns he wrote after returning to the US after 20 years in Britain.  This means that I can read “chapters” quickly and find a stopping point easily.  I feel as if I’m flying through this book because I’m already on 14!  Fourteen!  With no effort at all!  Third, it’s giving me a new way to look at everything I take for granted.

“Chapter” 14 is called The Numbers Game.  It’s about large numbers.  This book was published in 1999, but presumably these columns were written around 1996.  In this chapter he mentions the National Debt Clock in New York.

national_debt_clock

If you remember, last year the clock had to do away with the dollar sign in order to add another diget.  If you don’t live in New York, you can keep track of the National Debt here.  When Bill wrote his column, the national debt was $4,533,603,804,000.  The debt has nearly tripled in 13 years.  Sort of takes the guessing out of why everyone is in finacial freakout these days.

This debt includes everything–not just credit cards.  I’m sure my personal debt is far lower than most people’s.  I have no credit card debt, and have never in my life carried a balance more than a couple months.  I do have student loans, and while I think they are completely excessive (by my standards), I know that they could be worse, and no one can reposses my education, blah blah blah.  But still, debt frightens me, and it frightens me even more to see a number as huge as $11 trillion.  Trillion.

I’m going to bury my head in my book again, and hopefully speed through the trillion chapter.  It would truly be lovely to see that dollar sign come back to the clock.  Think it will ever happen?