Ya’ll know I love reading, right? LOVE it. And I *adore* books. Holding books. Sniffing books. I may’ve even cuddled a book before. In our house, we regard books like fine china. Carefully placed on a special shelf in a particular way, there for anxious hands and adoring eyes. Yes, yes, come look at them. Aren’t they exquisite? Aren’t they divine?
I’m dumbfounded by people who (claim they) don’t like to read. I’m like: What the hell is wrong with you? Seriously. That’s like saying you don’t like being transported to magical places. Faraway lands. On grand adventures. In other people’s minds. Through the portals of time. While getting smarter . . . For free.
Seriously, what’s your deal.
“It’s boring,” they shrug. (excuses!)
“You’re just not reading the right book,” I say.
And I stand by that. You ‘reading is lame‘ people come see me at the library. I’ll connect you with something GOOD. But ahhh . . . how do we determine what’s good?
As an author and librarian*, I am utterly entranced by people’s book choices. Why do people read what they read?
Lucky me, the receiving end of our library book drop gives me delicious insight. Hundreds of books slide under my eyeballs during check-in, so I see what’s trending. What’s popular. Which books have 8 month waiting lists –and sadly– which books never get touched.
I’ll go ahead and admit I feel genuine –and I mean real sorrow for books that never get checked out. It’s like the kid who never gets picked for teams. Or the watery-eyed pup on death row. Pick me! Pick me! they scream silently. But no one hears.
Unloved books –like unloved dogs– go bye-bye.
You think about that.
So ya. I see obvious trends -and frankly- some really weird shit at the library book drop. Seriously. There’s something out there for everybody.
Dragons in space. Murder mysteries starring llamas. Amish Romance. (Amish Romance?!)
Yes, anonymous fingers of every description return books through a slot in a wall, where
by my side.
I reach over, grab the books, check them in. One paperback feels thin and feathery–obviously read often. I examine the cover: A fresh-faced, bonneted girl gazes longingly toward a haystack.
I’d never read this, I
But then 5 more pile in.
More zipperless love. More haystacks.
Then again the next day. And the day after that. (So much LOVE in these BARNS, ya’ll!)
And I think: Am I missing a good read because I’m being a judgmental turd?
Prime example: Tony Hillerman.
Super popular author.
His books slide down that chute all the time. But I’d never read one. You know why?
I don’t like peach, turquoise, cacti, Native American blankets, or anything feigning desert chic.
Ixnay on the outhwesterndecorSay.
And virtually ALL Hillerman’s covers are animal skulls, adobe buildings, desert skylines, and tribal insignia.
On my own, without provocation, I’d never read his books. SIMPLY because of the covers. Which I’ll admit is stupid — cemented by the fact I recently checked out a book JUST because it had an English cottage on the front, fairies on the inside flap, and “Garden” in the title. —But was it a good book? ( Meh.) But I gave it a chance JUST because of the cover art.
And that’s lame. Because I know very well the bodily fluids that go into writing a book. It really is a baby. And someone’s gonna neglect your infant on the shelf because they don’t like turquoise and peach?!? What a butthole!
Thus a little challenge formed in my mind.
How important is cover art?
And more importantly — how many GOOD, even awesome books sit untouched because of a crappy cover?
Only one way to find out.
1. Blindly pick a book.
2. Read it.
I asked five voracious readers to help me out. (Not sure what kind of hypothesis I could form with a control group of 6, but dang if I wasn’t gonna try.)
I love portal stories, time travel, spy thrillers, books about WWII, biographies, historical fiction, and true-crime. I’m not likely to pick up anything with spaceships or dragons on the cover and I’m not into chick-lit, romance, or westerns. I like covers depicting people and places I like visiting– English cottages or the Eiffel tower will get my attention, and I easily ‘go down the rabbit hole’ with whatever I’m obsessing over at the moment. The Paris Wife by Paula McLain made me want to re-read Hemingway. Then Hemingway got me digging the 1920’s so I added Cole Porter to my Pandora. What’s popular at the library influences what I read next. I also refer to Goodreads a lot.
“I’ll read anything as long as it’s a good story. I dabble in sci-fi, but don’t really like mysteries because of all the death. I prefer artistic covers that look like they’d take you to different land. Graphic covers with murder weapons or body parts don’t allow the opportunity to wonder what the story’s about and I don’t read books just because they’re New York Times bestsellers. Often times I read what comes down the bookdrop just because it looks interesting. NPR makes good recommendations, too. I really like Cormac McCarthy.”
“I like fiction. Not necessarily chick-lit, but definitely ‘beachy’ reads –stories that take place in Nantucket. I really like Elin Hilderbrand. Discovered her by accident just because I liked the cover, and science fiction is my least favorite. I like light, friendly pictures, and I’m not likely to pick up anything with a submarine or spaceship on the cover. Most times, I pick a book because someone talked about it on Goodreads or Facebook.”
“I like thrillers, mysteries, serial killers –anything with forensics. John Green, John Grisham, all kinds of stuff, really. I’m not likely to pick up science fiction or grocery store smut. I read on my Kindle, so I read books based on their summaries. I would’ve never picked the stuff my Kindle recommends, but so far they’ve been really, really good! I’ll also read recommendations from someone I trust.”
“I like fiction, non-fiction, and covers that make me curious. I like reading about culture, the way people think, and about people who grew up totally different to me. I typically don’t like whodunnit murder mysteries but then again, I liked The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. I like artistic covers. Not realistic ones like with people with bonnets and things like that. They just look predictable. Nicholas Sparks gives me the heebie jeebies. I read recommendations from magazines, or sometimes I read whatever people are putting on hold at the library.”
“I read serious, contemporary, literary fiction, and more European than American authors. I’m disinclined to read anything by an author who’s written 50+ books. Not really into Amish Romance, horror, or espionage, either. Simple covers catch my eye. I’m put off by flags, or anything that looks like it’s trying too hard to appeal to women –like all those books you see at Target. I take recommendations from people I trust but I also give books the page 69 test. Authors work hard on their beginnings, but page 69? That’s dipping in for a mid-section sample.”
So the Fates had their way with us.
In the stacks.
Here’s what we drew:
Kate’s Progress by Cynthia Harrod-Eagles
Equilateral by Ken Kalfus
Against All Enemies by Harold Coyle
Ice Hunt by James Rollins
The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane
The Sweet In-Between by Sheri Reynolds
Interestingly, a little nice cross section of Adult-Fiction. Judging by the covers, we had:
2. Something Cerebral
3. Something Political
4. Something looking dangerously Sci-Fi
5. A Classic.
6. A Coming of Age Tale
Our initial reactions?
“That looks like a motorized penis,” Emily interjected.
“In which case it might be very enjoyable,” I added.
She’s a good sport.
We judged our covers, and now we’re reading. Were our initial reactions correct, or will these books surprise us?
I consulted Goodreads to see what other people thought about these same titles. Readers rate books 1-5 stars there, and here’s what I found:
Kate’s Progress by Cynthia Harrod-Eagles 3. 41
Equilateral by Ken Kalfus 3.31
Against All Enemies by Harold Coyle 3.70
Ice Hunt by James Rollins 4.02
The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane 3.18
The Sweet In-Between by Sheri Reynolds 3.33
Interesting. Motorized Penis book rated best, while a good ole must-read-this-in-high-school-or-you-can’t-have-any-pudding ranked fairly low. Hmmmm.
I’ll report back.
And there will more library challenges. Emily suggested we pick books exclusively by their covers on the next one.
I rather enjoyed the blindfold.
*Author’s note: I refer to myself as ‘librarian’ because I work at a library, but I’m not degreed in this field.
P.S. Wanna know what we thought of our books? Read HERE.