Sunday, April 10, 2011

You can't judge a book by its cover

But we all do anyway. There are too many books out there to waste time on duds. Have I missed some good books by sticking to these rules? Maybe, but I have read more bad books by ignoring them.

So how do I pick my books?

A dragon on the cover is generally a good start. A guy challenging him with a glowing sword helps to. Cover art is the earliest clue to the genre of the book. Pink turns me off, its a romance novel, but the same thing draws my wife in.

There are other more subtle signs on the cover. Well known authors use almost blank covers, the idea being that everybody knows what they write about. As a general rule the more prominent an authors name the better, I have no idea why this is the case. I like to see 'book on of the xxx series.' I'm not going to pick up book seven of a series without the others, regardless of where the book number is hidden. You can always tell by looking at the list of 'other work by the same authour' usually in the first few pages.

Everything checks out? I turn to the first sentence. The easiest to spot is plain bad writing. The occasional lapse on page two hundred is allowable. But on page one? That means it will also be on page two, three, four... Cliches in the first sentence also make me wary, but clever cliches drag me in.  'He was as dead as a doornail, now why a doornail is more dead then any other nail is beyond me, wouldn't a coffin nail be more dead.' (A Christmas Carol) Not quite the exact wording, but I read the rest of the book, and remember it well.

I need to find some reason to move beyond the first page. I don't want to know every characters detailed history. I don't need to understand intimate details of the plot, or be 'hooked' in the traditional sense. I just need to know that the author is capable of entertaining me. A favorite author gets much more leeway, they have already proved their value.
If the book has made it to this point its pretty safe. But it still has to deliver on its promises. There is nothing I can't stand more then abused suspense. The character gets kidnapped in the opening pages, I'll read the first chapter wanting to find out why. But suspense can only carry a reader so far, at some point questions must be answered.

What about a satisfying ending you say? To be honest I couldn't care less. Once I get to page three hundred and fifty I'm going to read the last bit, regardless. A good ending is like dessert, nice to have, but secondary to the actual meal. That said if any one pulls the 'read the next book to find out what happens' trick I won't be reading the next book.

I'd be interested to find out what things others look for in selecting books to read.
BM out

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