Ever wonder how library staff can know so much about so many books? Yes, people who read a lot in their spare time are often drawn to library work.
That said, I guarantee you that no one you encounter in our libraries has read everything on the shelves. The secret of getting to know a large collection of books without spending several lifetimes reading them is the “quick dip” method. You can even use this method yourself to help you make better reading choices.
– Judge a book by its cover – You have probably been hearing the contrary your entire life but when it comes to actual books (not people), it is often (but not always) safe to judge a book by its cover.
Marketers and book covers designers exist to sell books so keep in mind that just because a cover looks good doesn’t mean the book will be good. That said, a lot of thought goes into a cover art with design elements carefully chosen to signify tone, genre and their appeal to prospective readers.
For example, if gilded lettering is used, the book will probably be glitzy. If there is a woman’s accessory on the cover (a shoe, handbag, et cetera), you are probably looking at chick-lit. If the cover is dark and spooky, the novel will probably have an ominous tone. If there is a gun on the cover, you are looking at a book aimed at a male audience. If there is blood, you can be sure there will plenty more where that came from. A well-established author will have his/her name featured prominently, whereas the name of a debut author or someone more obscure will barely be noticeable.
– Turn the book over – Blurbs can be misleading (not every book is actually “the next Gone Girl”) but they should be able to tell you something. More importantly, take a look at who is writing the endorsements.
Publishers will seek out like-authors to write these little reviews. For example, The Troop has an endorsement from Stephen King that reads, “The Troop scared the hell out of me, and I couldn’t put it down. This is old-school horror at its best. Not for the faint-hearted, but for the rest of us sick puppies, it’s a perfect gift for a winter night” – so if you are a “sick puppy” who enjoys Stephen King, this book is probably a good fit.
– Take a look inside – Is the print an adequate size for you? If not, you may want to consider a different format. Is there a lot of white space? If so, it is probably because there is a lot of dialogue and it will be a quicker read. If there is a lot of dense text, it will likely be a slower, more descriptive read.
– Read a few lines – How’s the heft? If it is going to be physically uncomfortable for you to read then that is probably a bigger deal breaker than the book’s contents. What does the first paragraph tell you? Is the book written in first-person? If so, you are probably looking at a more character-driven novel. Note the language. Is it vulgar, pretentious, flowery or simple? If the book lacks clarity or you hate the writing style, put it down and move on!
As always, if you need any assistance selecting a book, library staff are happy to help!
Catherine Coles is manager of library services for L&A County.