Buying a book is a bit like buying an orange. You don’t really know what’s in it until you get it home and peel off the cover. You can see the skin of course and, in this creaky analogy, that includes the blurb on the back of the book. And you can sample a book if you are standing in that threatened establishment – the bookshop - or even download a sample chapter if you are considering an eBook. Nonetheless, you have to burrow pretty deeply into a book before you’re sure of it. Like an orange with a rotten segment - a bad ending could spoil the experience.
I was a science fiction fan as a teenager and peaked at a book a day until I moved on (that’s peaked with an ‘a’ by the way). I can’t remember, but I guess I started with the big names: Asimov, Clarke, Bradbury, and then branched out. I soon had a favourite publisher – Gollanz. How I loved those bright yellow covers and, you know, they never, ever had a picture on them. I mostly borrowed books from the library though I did buy some. Finding new authors was easy: I simply went to the SF section and leafed through the selection.
Now my fiction reading is less specific: I like a good novel. My favourite writers from past and present include: Graham Greene, George Orwell, John Fowles and Douglas Kennedy. However, I know that there are good authors out there who are not necessarily being pushed by the big publishers. So how do I find them?
Buying a book is a two-pronged investment: first you have to buy it, and then you have to spend a lot of time reading it – even if it turns out to be a dud. I suppose most readers are conservative: only reading authors they have heard of, or books from the Booker shortlist, or stuff reviewed in the Times. Perhaps the most powerful route is through recommendations from a friend or colleague.
I bought a Kindle book by accident recently. Pressed the ‘Buy now with I-click’ rather than the title and ended up with Nuptials for Sale by someone called Virginia Jewel. Not my sort of thing, but it was all right – a bit raw perhaps. It only cost me £2.50 so no great loss. And you never know – a random click of the ‘buy it now’ button might lead to an undiscovered work of genius, or not.
‘Course I am biased in this. All authors want readers to choose their books and most are in a state of depression because no one does. Nonetheless, I am really interested: how do you choose the books that you read?