Thursday, June 28, 2012

How I Judge A Book (by more than its cover)

When wandering the bookstore aisles, what do I pick up? What do I put right back down, and what do I buy (later--nearly 100% of my book purchases take place on Amazon)? I wasn't fully conscious of my browsing process until I read a blog asking these questions. I knew I was a hard sell, but ... wow. I'm a hard sell.

Yes, covers and titles make a difference, especially to warn me away from the two genres I don't care for (romance and humor). If the cover and title appeal to me, and I pick up the book, what do I look for then?

These phrases cause me to put a book back immediately: "generational saga" and "quirky" and/or "winsome" characters. 

As for the first, I need a plot, or I get bored. I know that technically, these stories do have a plot, but ADD runs in the family. I can't finish sprawling family chronicles unless the family is Mafia or something. As for the second, I can never believe in those types of characters, so the bizarreness that other readers find endearing just irritates me. 

Sometimes, "quirky" or "winsome" doesn't have to be stated. I won't read a book with characters all named Bubba and Rosie Skye and Christmas Almost-Here. This might sound crazy to most readers, but there have been many instances that I rolled my eyes at the cutesy character handles on the back cover and put the book down without even reading the first page. For me, unrealistic/over-the-top names signal that the writer isn't taking his characters seriously.

Obviously, more creativity is allowed in speculative fiction, especially sci-fi/fantasy. Naming your alien "Jim" is pretty stupid (unless ... sorry, staying on topic here). But fantasy protagonists whose names are composed almost entirely of vowels and might be pronounced half a dozen different ways--to me, these smell like Mary Sues, and yes, I put the book down.

If the back blurb is interesting (and nobody is named Rainee Sue Day or Zaieqouxien), I read the first page or two. If I'm not drowned in adverbs/adjectives/gerunds, I open to a random page and read that. I also flip through without reading, just observing the white space. If nobody's talking, they're probably thinking too much. That will also make me put the book down.

Every once in awhile, a book doesn't let me finish my (insane, I know) process. I open the first page, and the protagonist reaches up and grabs me by the throat and pulls me into his head. I probably don't know yet if I like him or not. But if I'm wondering about him, and if I'm experiencing his world through his senses and his soul, then I'm in. I'll read this book. I'll even buy this book, just so I can walk out of the store without putting it down.

Now you know my process. What's yours? What factors cause you to pick up/click on a book? What factors cause you to put it back down, and what factors push you off the fence into buying it?

And does anybody out there have an idiosyncrasy, something you'll always read/buy or something you'll never read/buy? (Or am I alone with my character name compulsion?)