How to Choose a Book

I’ve been making a list of my  “book prejudices”. You know, those things that sub-consciously put you off  when browsing in the library or book shop.   Now I’m not talking about avoiding specific genre’s, but about those barely examined opinions that inform my choice.

I find the following judgements floating about in my sub-conscious mind:

  1. Written by more than one author is a very bad sign.
  2. Written by a relative of a favourite author – not good.
  3. If its got a overly puffy, neonified,  holographic or be-tinselled cover, its probably poorly written.
  4. Part of a very long series (“book 5 in the “Ladies of the Fearsome Tower” Epic Series”) – don’t bother.
  5. If the author has written too many other books I am often suspicious.  This one does not always pan out.
  6. The book is based on a movie or TV series.
  7. If the cover features quotes by critics comparing it to The Lord of the Rings, I am most doubtful.
  8. The cover features admiring quote from celebrities that are not writers.
  9. The cover features admiring quotes from anonymous sources. With many exclamation marks!
  10. The cover features admiring quotes that seem awfully like they might be quoted out of context…

OK.  So I read a lot of fantasy.

Any criteria of your own to add to the list ?  🙂

8 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. andries du toit
    Jul 13, 2009 @ 14:51:37

    I would add;

    Any books that are obviously flogging a dead horse, trying to squeeze blood from a stone, milking one more publication from an overdone oeuvre. This includes

    Books based on a dead author’s unpublished posthumous scribblings. (Yet more Tales of The Silmarillion Based on Rare Manuscripts reconstructed from JRR Tolkien’s compost heap)

    With very few exceptions, latecomer sequels to successful standalone books (4001: Beyond the Final Space Oddyssey)…

    Books by authors taking over another author’s world, either with their permission or ‘inspired’ by them (Zombie Dragonlords of Pern… Pirates of Earthsea… you get the drift)

    Books that clock in at more than 1500 pages per volume

    Anything by Robert Jordan

    Anything in the fantasy and science fiction section at Exclusives.

  2. mashadutoit
    Jul 13, 2009 @ 15:03:15

    yes – totally agree with those. 😀

    “Books based on a dead author’s unpublished posthumous scribblings.”

    Fits in with “written by relative”

    Books “taking over another author’s world can sometimes work – I quite like Joan Aiken’s Jane Austen books.

  3. Shanra
    Jul 13, 2009 @ 19:33:49

    Books “taking over another author’s world can sometimes work

    The same, though, can be said for all of the points you’ve made in the original list. Which isn’t to say I disagree with the list (I don’t – they make sense when put like this), but just that all points will likely have their exceptions.

    For me it tends to be vampire books as a whole. I’ve read… maybe two or three books that I liked and that’s including Dracula. It’s just personal preference, though. I don’t happen to think vampires or vampirism is particularly sexy and softporn (or worse, ‘course) is not something I particularly want to read. (That’s where the prejudice kicks in, see? Not every urban fantasy book is going to fit that mold, but I have to find the darned books that don’t first!)

    I am curious what your definition of ‘too many books’ is, though. Sometimes authors write a lot of books because of the kind of books they write, not because the books are of bad quality. It’s all good and well to say Jane Yolen’s written over 200 books, but you have to take into account that the majority are picture books and around 32 pages. That doesn’t automatically make Yolen a bad writer. Just one whose focus is on very short books for children.

    And what about anthologies? Do they fall under your first point or are they exempt since an anthology is not the same as a novel? *very curious about the nittygritty of the list, yes*

    I think… If I were to make my own list, I’d join Andries in putting ‘post-humous publishing of a well-known author’ and ‘anything by Robert Jordan’ on the list. And the only one I’d not be inclined to give another chance is Jordan because I don’t like his works to begin with.

    That’s not to say that I don’t have biases, of course. I’ve already mentioned my bias towards vampires and urban fantasy. The trouble is that most of my bias comes from the text or blurb itself and/or the author. I won’t pick up anything by Stephen King, for example, because I disliked the book I read that much. That kind of bias is far more difficult to put into words. Some others I have include first person. No matter how many good first person narratives I read, I cannot get over that initial sense of apprehension and I need to have either heard a lot of good about the book or already have bought it or be extremely interested in the book for me not to put it back down.

    Also, I skim over the non-fantasy section of bookstores because I read too little of it for something to truly catch my attention. I’m usually there when I’m looking for something specific. (Which the store then proceeds not to stock! Argh!)

    *ruffles hair* You do ask difficult questions, Masha.

  4. mashadutoit
    Jul 13, 2009 @ 20:06:09


    @Sharna – Well – the key for me is that these things are not thought through. I’m curious about my own prejudices. It would be silly to make a real list like this, because of the reasons you’ve pointed out.

    I only recently became self-aware of most of these judgements. I find myself going through books and then I suddenly hear this little voice grumbling in the background “what, two authors? Cant be any good”.

    When I look at any of these in the light of day, as it were, they dont stand up to any kind of examination – there are exceptions and contradictions all over the place.

    But anyway – *quickly consults subconscious grumbly voice* – apparently anthologies certainly don’t fall under the “more than one author” prejudice.

    And too many books would be more than five other books visible on the shelf. This is probably the one that I dont take that seriously – but its still there all the same…

  5. Megan Smith
    Jul 15, 2009 @ 05:34:35

    Great list! I totally agree with number six. If it’s any kind of TV/movie novelization, run screaming in the opposite direction.

    Ditto for “the cover features admiring quotes from someone other than Publisher’s Weekly or the New York Times Book Review.” It won’t always keep me from buying a book, but it will make me think twice.

    I went through a phase where I wouldn’t read thrillers written by men. I found the women characters were usually awful and highly offensive. I also went through a phase where I wouldn’t read anything written in first person. Don’t know why, I just did.

    I’ve long since grown out of both those phases and simply select my authors more carefully.

  6. mashadutoit
    Jul 15, 2009 @ 11:40:15

    “I went through a phase where I wouldnt read thrillers written by men. I found the women characters were usually awful and highly offensive”

    Isn’t that the truth!

    And I also find first person quite uncomfortable to read. Although it can be quite effective.

  7. Shanra
    Jul 15, 2009 @ 16:02:19

    “It would be silly to make a real list like this, because of the reasons you’ve pointed out.”

    Except of course in those cases were it isn’t. ^-~ And yes I think there’s a good chance at least some of your original points fall under that heading, for all I was trying to play devil’s advocate. There’s always going to be that one exception, but… If the prejudice holds up for you on a larger scale, it’s going to take more than the book itself to sway you into buying it. And, really, it should. (Unless the cover blurb sounds utterly awesome or something.) We all have different tastes and opinions, after all. I’d rather walk into a bookstore with a set of prejudices (however ‘silly’) and veer to books I know I’d like than spend a lot of money on a book it turns out I don’t like. All because I didn’t watch the warning signs. There’s another reviewer who talks about ignoring signs like the cover image in a review on a book. I could dig up the link if you’re interested.

    I did think of you the other day when I was studying a pretty glittery cover, though. ^-^ And right now one of the books I’m reading looks and sounds like chicklit when it really isn’t.

  8. Trackback: Genre Covers « Masha

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