Tuesday, March 25, 2008

My fool-proof method for picking out a book.

Even though I have a stack of books at home to read, I still can't fight the lure of the Recreational Reading section in the university's library. I'm not sure who does the buying for that section but in general they do a good job at casting a wide net. There's almost always something worth reading and for me it's like being faced with rows of bulk candy. I can't just get gummi cola bottles, you know? I want gummi cola bottles, and gummi fruits, and chocolate-covered bears and jordan almonds and non-nonpareils and caramels. I WANT IT ALL. (Fuck, now I want candy.) Or, like today, I want something I can't quite define. I'm not sure if I'm in the mood for fluff or a mystery or a historical drama or something thinky. I just finished a sort of thinky book that was fairly disappointing, so I don't want to do that again.

I pick books the way you never should pick books - by title, by cover, and (pay attention! This is important) by author photo. Seriously. I can't read a book if the author looks like a completely douchebag. Have you ever taken a look at John Grisham's photo? Doesn't he look like an ass? I didn't read him for years because of that photo. Another one is Patricia Cornwell. She looks like she'd beat you with a wire hanger if she ever got the chance. I'm just saying.

Now, I get that by using two uber-popular authors my photo judging is not really the best method, but it helps weed out the potential time-wasters. Here are some other easy ways to weed out books:

- Pink cover. Or a cover with a photo of a red bra in a jar, which I saw today. I don't even know the title because, dude, does it matter? I am a grown-ass woman and cannot be walking around with a book that has a photo on the cover of a red bra in a jar.

- Fictional mystery/thriller/romance involving a non-fictional historical person. I just can't wrap my head around a thriller starring Charlotte Bronte, Marie Antoinette, or Jane Austen. I'm sure some of them are just fine but it weirds me out when authors can't make up their own characters and also needs to give these poor dead folks a murder to solve. That said, I have no real issue with straight-up historical fiction as long as it's not boring.

- Embarrassing title. Two I saw today: I'm Not Julia Roberts and Bright Lights, Big Ass. Fun reads, I'm sure, but I can't carry this stuff around, I just can't. Please see statement above about being grown.

- Any book who's description starts with, "Red-headed witch Rachel Morgan has a demon after her, but that's just one of her many troubles in this action-packed sixth installment of Harrison's Hollows series." We have several problems here. 1) straight-up fantasy/sci-fi, 2) series book, 3) not the first in the series. I'm okay with a series (thought not a straight-up sci-fi series) but I can't just jump in on number six. I need to start at the beginning. I should also point out that I like science fiction as long as I don't realize it's science fiction.

- A collection of short stories. I don't do short stories as a general rule. Not because I don't think short fiction is good, but because I am always left wanting more. I need a NOVEL. I need to get invested in something that will last longer than a few minutes of my time.

Okay, so with all this criteria, I ended up with two books but really only wanted one to read, because I'm currently reading two other (non-fiction) books. I need some fiction to balance things out. I chose The Crazy School and In The Woods. The only way I can truly decide which was going to be this week's winner was to sit down and read the first chapter of each.

The Crazy School
has short, snappy chapters and I liked the main character okay. The general story sounds intriguing, though the story has bitter overtones which I wasn't sure I was in the mood for. Also, it was pretty obvious that the main character was the author, which seemed a bit weird, somehow. I read two chapters right quick anyway and would have been happy to keep going. It was interesting.

In The Woods was a bit more challenging with the language, but I really liked that. I read the prologue and most of the first chapter and decided pretty quickly that the main character looks just like Clive Owen. NOT BAD. And I like him, the main character I mean. He's got a story to tell. It's a thriller, but also clearly has deeper themes. The prologue description of summer was the kind of writing I want to read over and over, prose-y poetry stuff.

I chose the second one. I'll let you know how it is when I've finished. So tell me, what are you reading right now?


  1. I just finished "The Time Traveler's Wife" by Audry Niffenegger. It was one of the best books I've ever read. It's not really science fiction, it's described as being a medical condition. Once you suspend your disbelief and wrap your brain around that concept, it's fantastic!

    Nancy in CT

  2. I read that a few years ago and loved it. It's exactly the type of sci-fi I like.

  3. Believe it or not, I'm reading Stephen King's Duma Key. It's actually pretty good so far (I'm about 150 pp into it) and doesn't have all the annoying touches the last one had.

  4. I'm not reading anything right now because apparently I don't like to read anymore or something.

    But I wish you would put aside your "no short story collections" rule and read Interpreter of Maladies if you haven't already. If you don't absolutely love it, I will fly to where you live at my own expense and you can punch me in the gut as hard as you like.

  5. I also LOVED Interpreter of Maladies. It was our first book club book. Right now I'm finishing up Geek Love, which is making me have nightmares about giving birth to monsters.

  6. Just finished the unintentionally hi-larious Riddle of The Traveling Skull a recently re-released 1930's mystery novel. And I'm about to start Chabon's The Yiddish Policemen's Union.

  7. You didn't miss much by not reading those Rachel Morgan books. I do like sci-fi/fantasy AND I LOVE series books and I read 2 of these and just didn't like them. If you're gonna read series sci-fi, check out the Southern Vampire series by Charlaine Harris. Light, fun, interesting. I also love Laurell K. Hamilton's Anita Blake series but that's not for the faint of heart. :)

    As for what I'm reading now: I just finished 2 of the Elm Creek Quilt books (again with the series.) I have The Yiddish Policmen's book your other friend mentioned, but on CD in my truck. Haven't begun it. I think the next thing I read will be "Gods Behaving Badly."

  8. Man, y'all got some serious reading comprehension problems. I don't read sci-fi series books and I don't do short stories! CRACK IS WACK.

    (But I might make an exception with Interpreter of Maladies just to see if Sara will really come fly out here because that would rule.

    Also, thanks for the recs, you guys. Even if I won't read them.

  9. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  10. I completely agree about pink books and books with embarrassing titles. But you sound like a person who might enjoy reading The Sweet Potato Queens' Book of Love by Jill Conner Browne, even though it has a hot pink cover....
    Hoping that you'd enjoy doing a meme, or at least be flattered to know I read your blog, I tagged you today at http://necromancyneverpays.blogspot.com