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Jumping In The Cold Water

It’s happened again. If you read my preview of Dog Soldiers the other day, you know that I know nothing about this novel.

That’s happened more times that I would like to mention since I started this blog—though I probably mentioned it anyway. I’d like to think that I’m pretty open about my ignorance.

All of this being ignorant about certain novels stuff got me to thinking—if I had never started 101 Books, would I have ever read any of these authors? It’s doubtful that I would have any idea about Dog Soldiers or Robert Stone.

How many times in my life have I gone into a bookstore or on to Amazon and bought a book that I’ve never heard of? I can probably count the times on one hand.

My research tells me that the internet is comprised of 50% cat photos and 50% book reviews. When we readers want to know a little about a book, it’s easy to find out before we make the purchase.

There’s Good Reads and Book Riot and HuffPost Books and Amazon reviews and on and on. We have book reviews oozing out of every tube in the underground tunnel of communication that is known as the internet.

So does anyone actually go “cold” into a book these days—without ever having heard of it, without ever having read a review or read some other piece of work from the same author?

It’s kind of fun, honestly. My second favorite novel to this point, I, Claudius, was a book that I knew nothing about before reading it—hadn’t even heard of it. That’s like busting open a piñata and discovering that it’s filled with 500 Reeses cups.

So, again, I ask you—is it just me? Am I the only one left? Or do some of you occasionally jump into the proverbial cold water?

If so, what makes you pick an unknown book—the design, the title, the backcover blurb?

Enlighten me.

(Image: dr_relling/Flickr)

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28 Comments Post a comment
  1. q #

    I did that just last night–went to Goodwill and picked up a few paperbacks for a buck apiece. We shall see what treasures I’ve unearthed shortly …

    Like

    March 1, 2012
  2. Usually it is by the plot summation and maybe reading a random page or an excerpt. Best random book Drinking: A Love Story by Caroline Knapp. Knew nothing about it and loved it.

    Like

    March 1, 2012
  3. I’d say that about a quarter of the books I’ve read were book I knew nothing about – other than the cover I saw on the shelf of the library, or on display at my local bookstore, or in the hands of a fellow bus rider. That’s one more reason I prefer physical books over digital copies.

    Like

    March 1, 2012
    • Wow! From these comments, I’m guessing it’s more common than I thought.

      Like

      March 1, 2012
  4. I love reading physical books just for the discoveries. It’s hard to discover things via e-book. I do often buy books of authors of which I have never heard. If the cover catches my eye AND the title is interesting, then I will pick it up and read the plot summary. If it still sounds interesting, I will look for an excerpt or just flip through it to see how it is laid out. If it passes all of those tests, I will buy it. Although I must admit, I normally do this in the clearance section of Barnes and Noble and not in the shelves of regularly priced books. That would take too long!

    Like

    March 1, 2012
    • Margaret Atwood said something about how ebooks take away from the experience of serendipity in a bookstore. I would agree with that.

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      March 1, 2012
  5. Our city library has an annual book sale in September. Imagine a basketball court covered with 100+ folding tables and each table covered with books. And the only organization to the books is by broad category (fiction/nonfiction/children). I picked up a paperback there a few years ago (for $0.25!) just because the cover was interesting and because I’d always wanted to try reading one of those massive fantasy novels (where 600 pages is considered short). I loved it and went on to buy and read the next 11 or 12 books in the series.

    Like

    March 1, 2012
  6. Although I don’t do it much anymore, I used to be a browse-aholic and found one of my favorite authors that way – Patrick McGrath. It was the cover that attracted me to the book (Spider, 1991 Vintage Crime edition) and then the synopsis. It was wonderful and I’ve been an ardent fan ever since. Ditto for a Raymond Chandler anthology I got at a library book sale. I knew vaguely who he was, but had never read any. Instant fan. And like Andrea Ward, I’m more apt to do this now at the bargain bins or charity sales. So fun. There are duds there, too, but luckily it isn’t a $25 dud if you know what I mean.

    Like

    March 1, 2012
  7. Teresa #

    It took this blog and the Time 100 list plus a local book club to get me out of my comfort zone with books. But now I am loving the discovery of new authors and experiences.

    Like

    March 1, 2012
  8. Reblogged this on Inkings and Inklings.

    Like

    March 1, 2012
  9. When I was still working in a bookstore, I tried to start reading from authors A-Z. I didn’t get very far, but it has since convinced to always pick up a book I’ve never heard of – I’ve yet to be disappointed!

    Like

    March 1, 2012
    • I forgot that when I used to work at Barnes and Noble I would occasionally just pull something off the shelf because the cover looked nice. Your story reminded me of that.

      Like

      March 1, 2012
  10. Lisa #

    I will pick up a book I’ve never heard of if I’ve heard of the author. Does that count as random? At the local library I was walking out and saw a large print version of the book “Babel Tower” by A.S. Byatt sitting on the shelf. I checked it out because I had recently read “Posession” and loved it. I started reading and was entranced. I finished the entire novel before I even realized that it was the second book in a series about one character. So yes, I rarely but occasionally pick up a book at random and discover a gem.

    Like

    March 1, 2012
  11. Becky #

    I’ll sometimes ask friends that I’ve borrowed books from to bring me a random book that they think I might like. This time around I was offered a book that I’ve vaguely heard of but know nothing about, and one I’ve never heard of though I’ve heard of the author. I hope my friend didn’t steer me wrong…

    Like

    March 1, 2012
  12. Books can be considered an investment in more ways than one: time, money, my subconscious, my conscious, etc. So, to research a book before I buy it really makes sense. Still, I find that a lot of the books I have researched before buying have not been the best books I’ve ever read. Honestly, I do better just reading the vague back cover of a book and then digging in. Better yet, some books don’t even have that. Instead, they have all those random people who’s names I am supposed to know saying how wonderful it is… Yeah. Instead of online researching, I go to Barnes and Noble and browse their discount shelf. I read the Birth Order Book last week from there. The title caught me. A pretty informative, new perspective read. Fiction-wise, which is more my area, I picked up The Thirteenth Tale, and, wow, that was a good read. The cover was not alluring and had little to do with the book itself, but the back cover blurb was interesting enough, mostly because of the keywords “ghost” and “lying” and “death.” A while back, I read Mercedes Lackey’s Obsidian Trilogy based off of the dragon on their covers. They were actually really good, despite whatever preconceived ideas people may have about the genre. The best blind reads are ones where people are like, this book changed my life, but they can’t say why…

    Despite all my babble here, I would say the most influential luring factor of a blind read are the keywords in the description. If they line up with an idea that intrigues me, a theme I like, or a general topic I know I love, I will pick it up and read it without much research.

    Like

    March 1, 2012
    • Yep. I’ve never written backcover copy for fiction, but my guess is that those guys are underpaid. That’s a tough job, trying to summarize 300 pages into two paragraphs without giving anything away.

      Like

      March 1, 2012
  13. There is a great difference between reading a book you never heard of found in the dollar bin at the Salvation Army and reading an unfamiliar book from the list of the top one-hundred books selected by Time Magazine. The odds of picking a good book from the bin are huge but the odds of picking a good book from the list are about one-to-one, which is a pretty good bet.

    I wouldn’t call being unfamiliar with the books on the Time’s list “ignorance.” There are many circumstances in life that leave gaps in our experience and our understanding. However, I hear too often that a reader would never have read such-and-such a book when that book has been a highly acclaimed work for years and years, translated into several languages, on several reading lists, available at just about every library in the country, and even had a Masterpiece Theater created from it that is still readily available at on DVD.

    A sign of the times is that many people see the movie and then decide to read the book and not the other way around. When I was a youngster, we read the Classics Illustrated first!

    Like

    March 1, 2012
  14. juneautumn #

    I hate it when I know everything about a book before I get to read it. It takes all the surprise and at some occasions I would probably read with bad thoughts in my head because some people thought that book wasn’t good. I like to discover them on my own. After reading, though, I search for other people’s opinions. Same with films. If a book was made into a film, I always try to read the book first.

    Like

    March 1, 2012
  15. I go into book buying cold a lot of the time because I find that online reviews tend more to online summaries, giving away absolutely everything I would have liked to discover for myself. A book usually has the cover, blurb, and first page to grab me before I put it down and move on. This is how I ended up reading M.T.Anderson’s Feed, a great novel which I actually read in the bookstore (over the course of several trips), then bought on payday. I like the sense of possibility on these trips. I am also proud to note that using this method I rejected Twilight no fewer than five times.

    Like

    March 1, 2012
  16. I do, occasionally, buy books that I know nothing about. I base those decisions on subject matter, the synopsis given on the back cover or inside flap, and wait for it… by the cover design. It’s most often the cover design that catches my eye first, and then I’ll pick it up to see if it sounds any good. I haven’t made a purchase like this in a while, though, because I’ve been catching up on stuff I’ve wanted to read for a while. I’ll bet this practice is more common than we think.

    Like

    March 1, 2012
    • It appears to be a lot more common than I thought!

      About cover design: Got a book from Amazon the other day with just a plain blue cover. No design. Nothing. That’s so disappointing. Something to be said for an artist who can capture the essence of a novel like that.

      Like

      March 1, 2012
      • Oh, wow… I’d be disappointed, too. Haha!

        Like

        March 1, 2012
  17. I love to just wander through bookshelves and pick up books at random. I think the most recent pleasant surprise I got was reading The Forgery of Venus by Michael Gruber. My mum gave it to me, and said I’d enjoy it. I did!

    Book covers are a not-at-all-guilty pleasure of mine. I love well designed covers.

    Like

    March 1, 2012
  18. I work with a bunch of voracious readers. We tend to share books – read one, take one, leave one. Our lunch room has a revolving stack o’ books. I pick one up every once in awhile and have yet to be disappointed in a book a co-worker has shared. Because of the diverse background of everyone at our little company, the book selection is broad spectrum. Biographies, graphic novels, sci-fi, crime drama, horror, philosophy…it’s all there.

    I also tend to wander through bookstores and flea markets for hours at a time, reading book jackets until I find one (or 2 or 3) I can’t put down – it could be the title, the cover art, story line – whatever keeps my attention.

    Like

    March 1, 2012
  19. I buy books “cold” on occasion. I will be browsing in a certain genre and then grab a book only because of the title or the cover. I don’t think it’s always bad to judge a book by it’s cover.

    Like

    March 2, 2012
  20. I’ve only recently started purchasing books online. At the starting stages of my reading, I always almost did it cold. And best book ever was Robert Ludlum’s ‘Road to Omaha’.
    I never knew anything about the author even though I was a big fan of the Borne series of movies. And now his book ‘Icarus Agenda’ is one of all time favorite including ‘Road to Omaha’.

    What made me pick the book? Frankly, I do not remember. But, definitely not the cover though. I guess it was just an intuition. Although sometimes, I do pick random book by the publishers.

    And after a long time, I have now purchased a random book online – ‘Narcopolis’ by Jeet Thayil. Hope its good read. This one, I picked it for the cover design. Very cool.

    Like

    March 3, 2012

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