I’m lucky enough to get review copies from publishers. Tucked between the pages will be a press release which normally explains a little bit about the book and the author, but often boasts about the fierce auction that took place in order to gain the rights to sell the book. I must admit that I’m often drawn to these books. If lots of different publishers are trying to get hold of a book it indicates that it has a certain quality (or at least marketability).
What interests me is that details of these auctions never seems to filter down to the public. Book covers don’t reveal the large advances paid or the number of publishers who fought over the rights.
Acquired in a fierce auction between twelve publishers.
would have far more impact on me than the backscratching praise that normally appears on a cover. I suspect that many other readers would be equally influenced by this information, so I wonder why this doesn’t happen.
Details of auctions are occasionally seen in news articles – for example, I found this one on the Guardian website:
Simon and Schuster fought off eight other publishers to land The Age of Miracles, a debut by American Karen Thompson Walker, in a five-round auction which went to sealed bids. Literary agent Cathryn Summerhayes, who handled the deal, called it “the most competitive auction I’ve ever had the opportunity to run”.
But normally the general public will be unaware of these of battles over books.
Are you more likely to read Every Contact Leaves a Trace if you know it was acquired in a “keenly fought auction” involving 5 publishers?
What about Tigers in Red Weather by Liza Klaussmann which was acquired in a “hotly-contested auction”?
Do you think the number of publishers involved in an auction is any indication of quality?
Would you like this sort of information to be more widely available?
Are you more likely to read a book if you know lots of publishers were interested in it?
The brain, it seems, does not make much of a distinction between reading about an experience and encountering it in real life.
At first I dismissed this as nonsense. I have read lots of books about the Holocaust, but I can’t imagine this comes close to the true horror of being there. I know that many people avoid books with a darker subject matter and I wonder if this is because the effect is stronger in them. I think I’d avoid dark books if my brain ended up thinking I’d been caught up in such horrific events. Surely I’d have a massive case of post-traumatic stress disorder if this research was true?
Just like the body, the brain needs to be kept agile. Just like a muscle, it needs to be used in order to develop and remain healthy. Specifically target your brain health by frequently presenting it with new cognitive challenges. Work a crossword or Sudoku puzzle. Memorize a new poem, speech, or passage from a book. Play games that challenge your memory or require problem-solving skills. Research has shown that regular mental challenges produce a healthier brain, and this leads to a slower cognitive decline – even when dementia’s impact on the brain is factored out. Think of things that you do every day without really having to think about what you’re doing – and do them differently. Instead of moving automatically through your routine, work your brain in order to keep it really healthy and to help improve its ability to change to the constantly altering world. The brain we have depends to a large part on what we ask it to do. You can check out here for more detail about the brain health treatment.
We remain in the process of understanding exactly how the brain and nervous system function, and which aspects we can shape and control. It’s an exciting field of research that is giving us new ways to impact on everything from memory loss to mental health to IQ. As our understanding continues to progress, it is certain to offer us many new ways to improve the health of our brain – and our quality of life.
The research also claims that reading helps people to understand the thoughts of others and can change the way we act. This I can believe.
Reading about the same event from multiple perspectives has definitely increased my tolerance for different behaviours. I am far more likely to have empathy with those on both sides of any given argument than my non-reading friends.
I have always favoured books containing vivid descriptions. The research suggests that is because they affect multiple areas of the brain.
Words like “lavender,” “cinnamon” and “soap,” for example, elicit a response not only from the language-processing areas of our brains, but also those devoted to dealing with smells.
This makes a lot of sense, but also makes me wonder why some people enjoy simpler books that don’t contain these trigger words. I like to be transported into the lives of other people and this is far harder if I can’t picture their surroundings.
Is it worth skim reading a section of any book your thinking of reading to check for words that affect multiple areas of the brain?
The interesting thing happens when I try to remember books that I’ve read and compare them to real life experiences. With recent events the difference is massive, but if I think back five or ten years I realise the research might be true. Over time the details from both books and real life fade to leave very similar impressions. I can imagine exactly what life is like in India, despite never having been there, and I think I know what it would be like to live in Victorian London. Sometimes I’m sure I confuse some of the more realistic scenes from books with those from my own life.
So the big questions are:
Do you think reading about an event as good as being there?
Does the author have to be especially talented to manage this or will most writing achieve it?
The problem with abandoning books is that you don’t get to find out what happens in the end. That sounds obvious, but, particularly in the case of popular classics, this really bothered me. I initially found it very difficult to abandon these books, wasting days of valuable reading time ploughing through to the end. There are a few solutions I’ve utilised in the past year, but you’re probably not going to like them:
Skim read the dull sections
Ask someone else what happens in the end (Twitter is particularly useful for this!)
Read the plot summary on wikipedia
Watch the film version
Over the course of the past year I’ve used all these tactics at some point and now have a vague idea of what happens in a large number of books that weren’t to my taste, freeing my time to enjoy those books that do capture my imagination. I’m sure that some people will be appalled that I advocate skimming the classics, but the reality is that there are far too many to read in a lifetime and so I’d prefer to dedicate my reading time to those that are enjoyable.
My biggest abandonment dilemmas come from books that have both positive and negative attributes. The problem is that these often make the most interesting reviews and I enjoy thinking and writing about these flawed books. As I mentioned last week, these flawed books frequently stick in my memory and go on to become favourites. So for the time being I am going to continue reading/reviewing them.
I don’t have any qualms about abandoning boring books. Anything that fails to elicit a response (either positive or negative) will be abandoned. I’ve discovered that the more ruthless you are, the higher the overall quality of your reading will be. Earlier this month I read two amazing books. I then went through a mini reading slump where everything seemed dull in comparison. I ended up abandoning 6 books in a row, but that 7th book was outstanding. When reading books in quick succession the gems seem to shine far brighter and I’m so pleased that I’ve set high standards for my reading.
How This Affects the Blog
It amuses me to read the part in my post last January about my blog being a more positive place to be. I didn’t realise that mentioning all my abandonments would mean that the negatives would far out-weigh the positives. This is a reflection of reality as there are very few outstanding books in the world, but I quickly realised that it wouldn’t be right to mention all the books I abandon on my blog. I now only mention those where I feel I have something to add – the times when I find myself going against the tide of public opinion or find a particularly well written book that I know others will love.
I will probably not mention:
Books I give up after just a few pages and can’t really explain why
Books from debut authors, especially those that haven’t had much coverage
Older books that aren’t well known
My failed attempts to investigate unusual genres
I will still continue to give honest negative reviews and mention books I’ve abandoned (particularly prize winning books). I’m hoping the only difference you’ll see is the higher number of highly rated books.
I think the key is to be open to trying new things. I am often surprised by which books I end up loving. My battles with dull books have shown that you normally know which ones will work for you from the first few pages.
I have read lots of enjoyable books this year, but none stand out as modern day classics. I haven’t awarded my highest five star rating to any book published in 2011 and wonder if I’ve been reading the wrong books – or has it just been a slow year for fiction?
Will any books stand the test of time?
In ten years people will probably still read The Marriage Plot, but only because they loved Middlesex, and I think that Julian Barnes’ vast body of work will ensure that Sense of an Ending will still be read by a few people, but I can’t think of any book that will be remembered on its own merit.
Many years after publication I still push copies of books like Notes on a Scandal by Zoë Heller, The Book Thief by Markus Zusak and The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger into the hands of anyone who hasn’t read them, but in ten years time I can’t see myself being excited by anything published this year.
The entire Booker longlist will slowly drift into obscurity and enthusiasm for the Orange prize winning, The Tiger’s Wife, doesn’t even seem to have made it to the end of the first year. Perhaps we’ll just have to wait for paperback publication next year so that the real gems of 2011 can bubble to the surface through word-of-mouth recommendation?
Do you think any modern classics were published in 2011?
Do you think 2011 produced a lower standard of fiction than usual?
I have often wondered why I am attracted to darker books. Happy stories tend to bore and frustrate me – I prefer to read about characters battling against adversity or enduring situations that I hope I never come close to experiencing. I have often thought this behaviour to be strange so it was refreshing to hear Lionel Shriver talking about the subject at Vintage Classics Day. She also loves darker books, stating that it allows her to:
….experiment with emotion in a safe way.
When tragedy is present in books it intensifies all the emotions, increasing the significance of the happy periods and allowing us to see a greater range of the character’s personality traits. I love the roller-coaster of emotions produced when hardship is encountered and agree with Lionel Shriver that for a book to speak to people through the generations it must contain some degree of tragedy.
Can you think of any classics that don’t contain a tragic element?
What I can’t explain is why books with no happiness appeal. An example is Beside the Sea, a book in which all happiness is masked by dark sense of foreboding. It was one of my favourite reads last year, but it seems weird to actually enjoy reading something so devastagingly sad.
Why is reading about sadness a pleasure?
Do you share my passion for sad books?
Or, can you explain the joys of happy books to me?
Publishers want you to buy their books and so will do their very best to ensure that the blurb on the back of every book is well written and appealing. They can make even the most boring book sound great. Don’t believe me? Go and find a book that you didn’t enjoy and read its blurb. Sounds appealing doesn’t it?!!
The problem is that blurbs give little insight into what the experience of reading the book will actually be like. I recommend ignoring the blurb and turning straight to the first page of the book. Reading the first few paragraphs will give you much more useful information about the writing style and a better indication of whether or not you are likely to enjoy reading the book.
I have always known that I am terrible at selecting books simply from reading the blurb. In my pre-blogging days I wandered around libraries picking up books that had appealing covers and found a very poor percentage of them to be enjoyable. Now I have an array of wonderful bloggers to provide me with book recommendations I rarely read the blurb on a book, but last week I investigated the Waterstone’s 11 and noticed just how poorly my thoughts on the blurb matched with my enjoyment of the first chapter. If I had to rank the books based solely on their blurbs then Pigeon Englishwouldn’t have got near the top, but I only had to read the first few lines to know that it is a book I’ll love.
Another problem with blurbs is that they often give away too much of the plot for me. I prefer to know as little as possible about the story that is about to unfold and even though few books give away the ending, most will explain the events of the first 50 pages. I don’t like having the first hour of my reading experience summarised in a few lines – it lessens its impact.
What is the solution?
I occasionally receive proof copies of books in plain, unmarked covers. I love the fact that I am unable to form an impression of these books from the cover – it leads me to begin the book without any preconceptions and an open mind. I know that people like their pretty covers too much for this to ever happen and so the most I can do is persuade you not to read the blurb before reading the book. Try to decide if a book is for you by reading words the author has written, not the publisher.
Do you like reading blurbs?
When deciding whether or not to read a book do you read the blurb or the first page?