Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Why Do You Read What You Read?

One thing I've been thinking about the past few days is the selection process of reading. What makes you as a reader pick a book up off the shelves (either to buy at the bookstore or to check out at the library)? When standing in front of several shelves of books (or boxes) what makes you pick up one book rather than another? What makes you give a book a chance? Is the author the drawing factor? Do you have your favorites and stick with those? Those trusted and few that you've come to love. Or do you seek out new authors? Does one's bestselling status (or lack thereof) matter to you in the selection process? Or is it all about the cover? Do you judge a book by its cover? Does it lure you in? Does it make you curious enough to pick it up? And what role does the title have in catching your interest? Do *unique* titles like Ally Carter's I'd Tell You I Love You, But Then I'd Have To Kill You work for you? (Or how about Louise Rennison's Angus, Thongs, and Full-Frontal Snogging?) Do these titles make you curious? And what roles do reviews play? Do you pay more attention to your friends' recommendations? Other blogs? Customer reviews on Amazon and the like? Or do you follow the respected opinions of professional reviewers? Does a bad review or a good review color your opinion or perception of a book? Or do you judge things for yourself? Of course your selection process is going to be different in the library than it would be in the bookstores. When no money is involved, it is easy to take a chance on a new book or new author.

This probably shouldn't fascinate me as much as it does. But I find it all very interesting to try to puzzle out why certain covers appeal to me more than others. Why certain titles catch my fancy, if you will, while others turn me off a book. It's all very personal. What works for one, will work for another. There is no pleasing everyone. Another secret: I am fascinated by comparing book covers between American editions of books with covers from around the world.

These are the American editions of the Uglies trilogy by Scott Westerfeld. They are the covers that I was "hooked" by if you will. I picked up Uglies thinking that it would be a stupid book. The cover didn't particularly appeal to me. I didn't understand it. I took it home with me (borrowed from review center) but my expectations were low. But I was wrong. It was wonderful. So wonderful that within days of reading the borrowed copy, I went to the store and bought my own copy. It was a must-read. After I had fallen in love with the first book, the rest of the covers didn't matter to me one way or the other. But look at the UK cover art. Very different. Different in a good way, I think. The first two definitely have the Barbie-vibe going on. I like that. Specials didn't thrill me as much (the art for the UK edition) but the first two really caught my eye.

And here is the Polish edition of Uglies.

And the Japanese edition of Uglies.

In the end, all that matters is the writing. It is not how attractive a book cover is (or isn't). Or how catchy the title is that is important. I have learned through the years that you can't judge a book by its cover. You've got to be willing to take some risks. That ugly cover may be hiding a true gem of a book. Like the ugly ARC cover of Lightning Thief. Or a truly beautiful book cover may be hiding a mediocre book. What irritates me most are book covers that are false advertisements. Covers that promise one thing, but fail to deliver. Covers that fail to reflect the heart and soul of a book. Books have a way of surprising you one way or the other.


Anonymous said...

I think book covers can and do play a big role. That's understandable. That said, generally I only avoid books that have covers that I really dislike - that give me a certain feeling about the book. When I test that and go ahead and read anyway, it generally turns out that I'm not fond of the contents either.

When I'm selecting books I have favourite authors whose books are largely automatic purchases. Then there are recommendations from friends/family/blogs/blogs of favourite authors. Then there are the books that just jump off the shelf.

Unknown said...

Unfortunately (or fortunately) I do judge books on their covers when shopping in book stores or browsing in libraries. The cover is the first thing I see, instantly making me pick a book up. That being said, I also read the titles and if one appeals to me, but the cover doesn't I'll still pick it up. First impressions seem to be a lot more important than we think when choosing books based on nothing more than sight.

However, I do get a lot of recommendations from bloggers. Since I started blogging a couple of months ago, my TBR list has grown enormous and I'll pick those books up no matter what the cover says to me or the title makes me feel. When reading a description of a book from another's point of view, the appearance simply doesn't matter. When searching on one's own is when it becomes a factor.

Becky said...

Very true, Amanda. I typically have these guidelines at a library.

Does it look new? 2007? 2006? 2005?
If it looks like it might be *new* then I'll pick it up and look at the cover. I'll read the title even more closely. I'll look at the author. I scan the shelves first to see if anything new looking pops out at me.

Does it look interesting? good? Does it have a cover or title I can't resist? For example, when I read the title IF I HAVE A WICKED STEPMOTHER, WHERE'S MY PRINCE? I knew I needed to pick it up off the shelf. I was not familiar with the author. I had not read any reviews. I hadn't heard anything good or bad about it. But the title intrigued me. It helped (partly) that the cover was fun and purple. I love purple. But it was really the title that grabbed my attention. If I have time (more than ten minutes) I might browse the aisles of the YA section scanning the titles and authors. If I don't have long, I'll just look for things that *pop* at me when I walk by.

I do have a few authors I check for. I rarely look at the online catalog while I'm actually at the library. That is a pre-library activity that I do either that morning or the evening before. I'll have a list of authors to check.

Carl V. Anderson said...

I have favorites, of course, whose books I will just buy no matter what. By and large, however, all my book buying/reading choices are influenced by cover art. If a book cover appeals to me, I'll pick up the book and look at it, thus increasing the chances that I'll take it home. Some of my favorite books over the years have found their way home with me simply because I loved the cover art.