Friday, February 27, 2009
I admit, shamefully, I am shallow when it comes to introducing myself to new authors' work in a bookstore. I'm not talking about word-of-mouth books, or the book reviews we all read and think I must read that author. I'm talking about wandering into a bookstore with no book in mind, stumbling onto a narrow spine which has never had its cover turned toward the aisle, or a little 'Recommended Reading' note inserted under its base. For this purpose I have devised a system, albeit a shallow system, of adjudication.
First. Covers. Recently at a party a friend leaned over the table, wine on her breath, and whispered a dirty little secret. She bought and read books based on their covers, wasn't she horrible! Well, no, I told her. I did too. Is the cover shiny? Yes? Then no, I won't read it. Is it a rip-off of J.S Foer's covers? Oh that glorious freehand anti-font. Oui? Then no, I won't pick it up. Does it feature pastel flowers or a photograph of a troubled teenager? Again, not a book I like touching my precious fingers.
Second. The blurb. Either it sounds interesting or it doesn't. If the blurb is only praise and quotes from reviewers or other authors in their publisher's stable, count me out. I don't need someone to tell me I should read a book because they liked it. I flip that book over to see if it might appeal to me.
Last but not least, it must pass the random flick test. The writing must be up to scratch. Not just the first page or the first overly-written three chapters. Come on writers, we're all guilty of slacking off immediately after the words Chapter Four. If it is well written, and it is under $30, it is likely I'll buy it.
Which brings me to Susan Hubbard's The Society of S. Despite the Zorro-esque cover of the golden S and featuring Society in its title, I let slide my first rule. Afterall it was matt black, a colour (or non-colour) I respect. Onto rule two. The blurb sounded familiar to my novel, so of course I was both impressed and nervously curious. Rule number three passed when I read a page 2/3s in and it wasn't blooming adjectives and it was written in convincing first person.
I was ultimately deceived. My formula wasn't fail proof. Gasp! Clutch my heart! The novel I thought was about a thirteen-year-old girl and her mysterious scientist father, was in fact about vampires. Since Stephanie Meyer's onslaught of everything vampire I shuddered, and admit thinking I'll finish this but I'm not going to tell a soul. Thankfully commonsense prevailed and I no longer care if people know I've read one of those books. After all Dracula remains one of my favourite books in terms of atmosphere and style. Far from cliche-land, this novel is shaping up to be one of the best YA books, realist or fantastical, that I've read since Meg Rosoff's How I Live Now. So, perhaps my system does work. It just allows for hidden surprises.
Wednesday, February 11, 2009
Isn't it awkward when the friend, who is oh so generous, gives you a 'you-have-to-read-this' book? Undoubtably it will be a novel of somewhat questionable writing and most likely filled with a wandering plot that makes you question the publishing industry and characters drawn so thin so can see through them and their families three generations back. Alas, you feign a smile and politely say, 'Oh...thank you' and before you know it you've laid the brickwork for a series of long nights, struggling to finish a few pages before delving into the book you picked out, the one you enjoy, the one taunting you on the bed-side table.
I have recently received such a novel. This time from a friend who usually recommends great books. He introduced me to A House For Mr Biswas, which is now a favourite of mine, so I had every intention of reading the dull, water-warped pages of this 'have-to-read- book', which shall remain nameless for the time being. He had scanned his shelf before our meeting in the city, and thought 'Yes, I bought that years ago when I was in Ireland. It is one of my favourite books. I just forget what it is about' then later told me this as he passed it to me.
I wasn't going to let the one Euro sticker on the cover deter me. Some people just don't have taste. However, the first page was traumatic. Adjective and adverb city! And not just the good old JK Rowling romp through adjective town either. To top it off, it was written in that ever so annoying Old English style (yes, I wrote that on purpose) that leads you to think for the first thirty pages it is set in the 1800s until the protagonist mentions Nixon. Why do authors do this? People from the 1800s aren't reading your book, we are...hopefully.
Tonight marks the fourteenth night of those horrible words and the plot is wandering on one foot, drunk on too much of its own ale, blinded by the umpteenth adjective, searching for a place to lay down and die. I highly suspect this will take place soon, if not, I'll have to shoot it.
Of course there are exceptions to the 'you-have-to-read-this' book lend, but they are exceptions.