Tuesday, August 29, 2006

How do you pick a good book?

(NB: I am talking about fictional works, that is, novels.)

This post is the first of a two-part post on “What are the signs of a good book?” I decided to break the post into two (with one focusing on picking a good book and with the other (the next post) focusing on the reactions to a good book), because I noticed that most books I read are good books. Consequently, it occurred to me that, on some level, I read only books that I predict would be good. I am selective in what I read, particularly because I don’t have that much time, since my school work is so jealous and demanding that it threatens to limit my time and effort with anything that is not it.

So how do I pick my books? The words below reveal my list of steps, which I suspect is not unique to me.

Before I buy or borrow a book, the first thing I look at is the back
cover, in order to determine whether the book’s content appeals to my mind—and this is why it annoys me when I see a book whose back cover consists solely of what people thought about the book; there is no brief synopsis, no nothing. For authors that I already love, this might not be as offensive, but it still is offensive. Don’t assume that I’ll like a book solely because someone said good things about it or because I liked an author’s previous books.

This step in the good-book-picking applies even when someone recommends a book. If the person who recommended the book is someone whose opinion and insight I value, the duration of Step 1 is considerably shorter and the book more or less automatically proceeds to Step 2 and Step 3.

I read a few pages of the book. What I am looking for now is the writing style of the author, to see if my mind can stand the voice and narrative style of this new book. I tend to like books that speak in a “literary” way, where ideas are not written as they are (or in a plot-driven sort of way), but are written in a state of comparison or exaggeration, so that I see old ideas in a different view, however subtly different that view might be. I also like books with an insightful flair. When I read a couple of pages or so of these kinds of books, I get a sense that I am going to learn something, that I am going to be required to examine my world view, my approach to my life or the life around and outside of me.

I determine whether I am going to buy or borrow the book in question. This decision is primarily determined by the price of the book and my budget at the time. However, there have been times when a book’s appeal to my mind and heart is so urgent that I find myself mentally hungry for it, and I, consequently, override any objections induced by the price. This hunger is prompted mainly by the expectation of how much I am going to love or learn from the voice of the book.

I read the book, which I suspect will be “good.”

That is it. That is my four-step examination of a potential read.
My next post will talk about how I react when I read a good book. Stay tuned.

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At 30/8/06 1:29 PM, Blogger Lotus Reads said...

Hi, Rosemary!

I'm glad you decided to write about the selective process you use while choosing a book. I have to say, mine is very similar to yours, but, BUT, (and I know they always tell you, never to judge a book by its cover) the cover, the font, the quality of the paper - in other words, the book must also be aesthetically pleasing for me to want to read it. If the cover doesn't please me, but the book does, I will probably look for another edition - I won't abandon reading the book! :)

Looking forward to your next post!

At 1/9/06 6:28 PM, Blogger Rosemary Esehagu said...

Hello, Lotus.

It is nice to have you back. I trust your vacation went well and that Aug. 25th came too quickly.

I totally understand your issue with a poor cover. It takes a way from loving a book if its cover is unattractive or repulsive. I have to admit, I have seen some books that because of their covers (i.e. covers were unattractive, poorly designed, sexually graphic, etc) I wouldn't even bother picking up.

Sometimees (not always), the way a book looks on the outside can tell you a bit about what to expect on the inside.

At 5/9/06 10:53 PM, Blogger SS said...

Hi, Rosemary

I enjoyed your post! I hope you don't mind that I linked to it on my own blog. I go through a whole process, too, including--and I know I probably shouldn't--judging a book by it's cover!

At 7/9/06 6:34 PM, Blogger Rosemary Esehagu said...

Hello, Soul Sister.

Thanks for dropping by, and I am glad you enjoyed reading this post; it is always encouraging to know that.

I should clarify the issue about the front covers. It is not that front covers play no role as I decide on picking a good book. Front covers are like filters, separating the potentially good from the potentially bad. The decision about whether or not the book’s front cover is appealing is like a reflex response; the decision/response is instantaneous. Rather than try to decode this complex decision process, I let it be assumed in Step 1: For me to look at the back cover, the front cover must be agreeable.

There isn’t too much shame in judging a book by its cover. Publishers, knowing people's visual nature, should put this into consideration and make it work to their advantage.


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