Putting books back on shelves this morning, I picked up a title that sounded interesting, and turned to the back cover to read more. It only took a second to change my mind about taking the book home: the first three words in the publisher’s blurb were “A bittersweet exploration…”
As much as the cover is the first thing to catch our eye, the next thing that many of us judge a book by is all the stuff on the back – summary, blurb, review quotes, author recommendations – there seems to be no end to the ways a publisher tries to entice us to try a book. Sometimes it works really well, and I am off to the issues desk with my library card; other times it’s an instant turn-off: bittersweet is great if you are talking about chocolate, but I HATE the word when used to describe a book.
Likewise, the following collection of words and phrases: astonishing, inspiring, tour-de-force, luminous prose, enfant terrible, profoundly moving, rip-roaring, roller-coaster, homage, award-winning, groundbreaking, debut … ICK!
And what about those jacket quotes by other authors? Sorry, publishers, if that Twilight woman is involved anywhere, it’s the kiss of death for me (hur hur). Likewise, Mr Patterson and Ms Roberts – you can’t tell me they have time to read and recommend ANYthing, given how many books they are churning out themselves. And how do publishers figure out which authors to mention? And when? Big-name authors of 2011 may not survive into 2012, and if their fame is of the trendy and current variety, who knows how readers will feel about them in another five years?
Having said all that, however, there are also words, phrases and authors that will just about instantly propel me to the issues desk. Neil Gaiman, Stephen King, Cory Doctorow, China Mieville – if YOU recommend a book, I am absolutely going to read it, no matter what it’s about. Fairy tales and magic realism; words like steampunk, quirky, alternate; publishers like Angry Robot, and anything at all related to that odd sub-genre “New Weird”: all these are definite trigger words for a Yes! reaction, at the very least.
And yet these words and signals are all peculiar to me alone. For other readers, the very mention of the words “magic realism” are enough to make them run screaming to the exit, while a list of all the fancy-schmancy highbrow awards a book has won will make some swoon with delight (ooh, see my prejudice showing …).
Each to his own, though, I guess. And as long as Neil and China and Cory are recommending, and AngryRobot is publishing, I will be happy.
What words and phrases make you happy on a book cover? Are there authors’ names you look for in the recommendations? Or do you take no notice of all those words on the back, and just dive straight in?