My Book Picking Habits - or How I Find the Perfect Book
How do I find the Perfect Book?
Usually I don’t - there’s no great book divining rod , no game caller to shout out - your hot , your cold , basically it’s a pick of the cards. But after a recent spree in a used book store, I sat down to figure out my book picking habits.
Or why do I choose the things I do.
Occasionally I’ll go by word of mouth , though I was never an Oprah pick fan. Shivers of delight don’t roll down my spine when I find a book with an Oprah’s choice emblem ,which reminds me of those 90's video store staff pick shelves, always good for a warning - remind me never to ask Steve’s opinion on a movie. I’ve never been much of a joiner so those things usually put me off, even when I see a Stephen King blurb extolling the talents of a new writer, I can only think , lets hope his endings are better than yours.
The word of mouth thing, though is usually in reference to another book - I’m the type of person that when the band wagon comes rolling round and everyone’s jumping on, I kind of go what’s that noise , what’s all the commotion. By the time I’ve figured out what’s going on the hoopla is kaput. I didn’t run out and read a Million Little Pieces or Harry Potter , But I did read Sarah by J.T. Leroy , after it was mentioned in Entertainment Weekly. And when he was later exposed as a fraud I wasn’t all that surprised. I just laughed , what suckers us readers can be!
My favorite hunting grounds is this great used bookstore - It’s labyrinthine, packed into a musty old house , each room gutted for a special section , floor to ceiling shelves , stacks in front of shelves , wavering stacks , every time I’m in there I hear the avalanche of a stack falling - hands grope to catch it in time , they fall just like a rock slide with one lingering book that topples long after the rest have landed like a wait-for-me- trailing behind boulder.
With that in mind , my options of finding the book , the search for the perfect book are narrowed.
A spine alone has to intrigue me , has to yoo-hoo call to me. This isn’t easy. Do I go by
color - that has happened. A vintage book on the history of Bosie , Oscar Wilde’s ahem friend
was a lovely mauve and caught my eye. Sometimes it’s a title - Slanguage , Feminist in the Dark, The Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby, sometimes size does count - Movies and Methods was such a cereal box wedge that I had to have it or even a ridiculously tiny cube, nothing more than a stream of conscious list- 14,000 things to be Happy About. Sometimes even the publishing logo will flag me down - this especially happens when I’m seeking out books for my 80's ya series collection and I swoop down upon a First Love From Silhouette like a lost and found heirloom. Or maybe it’s just another Zebra Horror , or Taschen art book.
Then there’s the authors - oh ho! An entire row of Nabokov books - Pale Fire , Invitation to a Beheading , The Eye , Pnin, Despair , Laughter in the Dark, Transparent Things , The Gift all in a little bookshop loaded with pricey beatnik treasures. I can’t resist A Picture on the Wall as well , I spill my loot onto the counter feeling like pirate with his first mighty haul. Another bookstore another time - an entire row of J.G. Ballard, end of the world paperbacks. Couldn’t get enough of those. High Rise, Concrete Island , The Crystal World , The Drowned World , The Burning World , The Drought - awk I’ve been tricked - the Burning World and The Drought are one and same - oh, why did he have to go and get serious and win prizes , couldn’t he linger in the land of what if? There were so many apocalypses yet unturned - freezing and jellifying and liquifying.
That brings me to subjects - a huge quest for books pertaining to color and jewels or horror stories with hero’s stalked by lunatics in the woods, prairie romances, beatnik bios, a vintage guide to Baton Twirling. But all that of course takes time. I can spend hours in the bookstore crawling on hands and knee , shifting stacks of books like Jenga towers to find something of interest. I’ll pull books at random scan the blurb - but more often than not I scan the inside. This is where I get a little peculiar - most often I don’t read the first paragraph , I flip. If the book uses an extensive variety of words , I’ll buy it. Odd , huh? If it’s too low key for my taste - then I’ll go back to the blurb and see if the subject has caught my interest.
I’ve found many an interesting book this way , books I would’ve skipped
due to the back blurbs rather hohum description - case in point - The Girl in the Photograph by Lygia Fagundes Tells. Wow. The prose is jaw-dropping good. But to boil down the story with a description, it’s like describing Moby Dick as a story about a big fish - like , whoopee. Not exactly inspiring a wallet reach-for.
That’s my usual method for literature or general fiction but with genre I’m more la-dee-da. Sometimes a cover will nab me -a man carrying a female robot, like a bride over a threshold with a rose clamped in her iron teeth - must have, but most often it’s the plot. Marauding rats descending upon the survivors of a bombed world - how could I not snatch up James Herbert’s Domain?
However, new books are a whole new crapshoot. The cover art is much more symbolic , provocative - what exactly does this one promise I ask myself noting the doll-likeness to Mark Ryden. I move gingerly , take my time, unfortunately - they’re more pushy in the local Chapters - there is no crawling around on my hands and knees or skim-reading a chapter or two. Someone is always on the lookout for a potential buyer and she'll swoop down on you like some 18 century peddler, the only thing missing is a gi-normous bell to ring with her crowing Books for sale , lovely , lovely books for sale. Only last week I made my pick, We the Drowned by Carsten Jensen, when one of the ‘helpful’ staff darts over. She picks up a glossy paperback , and says in a conspiratorial manner , “These are on sale right now , all three for only...” She trails off as she holds up her book and I hold up mine. They don’t match. See , the problem is I’m next to the Fifty Shades of Porn display - which are everywhere mind you, and she assumed I was ready to ride the bandwagon. I’m not. She backs up real fast , practically apologizing. I say no problem - but in my head I’m thinking - go away , I’m a big girl , I can blunder through my book buying with out any help.
I’ve got the towering , double stacked shelves to prove it.
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