Friday, February 15, 2013

where do you flip?

{Eureka Bookstore, Eureka, CA}

I have a customer who comes into the store once or twice a week, often asking for book recommendations or new authors to try. He has literary tastes vastly different from my own, but I always tell him the latest book I've read or new titles I've read about. Generally, my recommendations are enough to get him started, but occasionally, he'll ask me to point out a particular passage I've enjoyed. One passage, he says, is all he needs to decide if a particular author or book is right for him. 

As a reader, my customer's tactic is one I've never used myself. When I buy books, I buy based on cover designs, reviews I've read online, or running lists of titles I keep on my phone. I'll go through a store and end up with a stack of five or more books, then plop myself down in the children's section to do some serious eliminating. I choose books based on what I already own, what I'm currently reading, and the descriptions on the back of the book. Occasionally, I'll read the first chapter, but I rarely, if ever, skip to the middle to glance at the prose, and I never, ever flip to the back. (What worked for Harry Burns does not work for me.)

My customer's tendency to pick a random passage and just start reading got me thinking, though: How do you pick the books you read? Do you like to sit and sample random passages, or are you a gut impulse buyer? If someone were to ask you for a favorite passage of a book, would you be able to find one? 

I was stumped last week when this customer asked me to point out my favorite passage in Maria Semple's Where'd You Go, Bernadette? I really enjoyed the book, but could not, for the life of me, point out one particular passage I loved. To me, good books weave together chapter by chapter, and it's almost impossible for me to point to one page or paragraph that defines whether I'll like it or not. It would be much easier, I think, to point out the passage that made me dislike a particular work. 

So what about you? I want to know how you buy and recommend books. Are you like my customer, who prefers reading a paragraph or two before fully committing? Could you point to a favorite passage of a book if asked? 

As always, this curious mind wants to know...


Chet said...

I buy books based on my ever growing amazon wish list...

I most certainly could pinpoint my favorite passages form almost every book I've read. I circle the page number or bracket the text or underline it.

The Judge's speech on man's addicition to war in McCarthy's Blood Meridian pp. 259-261 is some of the best dialogue/prose ever written, in my opinion.

Angela said...

I agree with you. I can't just judge a book by one passage, I have to read through the whole thing before I can decide if I like it or not. I choose books based on what I've heard from others... I can never stop a book in the middle I have to read the whole thing even if I'm bored with it... I always hold out hope that it will get better. :)

Annie said...

I buy books the same way you do. Although, if someone put a good passage down in front of me and I liked it, I'd probably want to read the book it came from, too.

I recommend books that are well written and have good plotlines, strong characters, and intriguing development, and that challenge me on intellectual and/or spiritual levels as well.

Sarah Elizabeth said...

I usually grab a stack of books in the bookstore, plop myself down somewhere, albeit gently, and then read the first two or three chapters before I decided whether or not the novel needs to be added to my ever-growing TBR, or if it just *needs* to come home with me right then and there.