How do you choose which books you want to read? Not in the which-book-next sense, but when you’re in a bookshop, or your local library, and surrounded by books which may or may not be to your taste, and many of which you’ve probably never heard of. What makes you go for one book, instead of another? The cover? The title? The blurb?
Nowadays – with goodreads, and booktube, and wi-fi available almost everywhere – it’s pretty easy to find reviews and recommendations on short notice, so you don’t really need to take too many chances on unfamiliar books. So, for the most part, I don’t end up reading books that I haven’t already heard of, and heard good things about. Which is sad.
There is, of course, something to be said for large groups of people all reading the same books, as it allows for a much greater sense of community amongst readers. I’m always a little taken aback when I make a Harry Potter reference in general conversation, and find that the person I’m talking to hasn’t read the books, because so often it seems like everyone has read them. And there are loads of other series like that: Twilight, of course, and in the booktube/book-blog community, everyone seems to be really into Throne of Glass and The Mortal Instruments, as well as about a hundred other things. And part of the appeal of these books is the desire to get involved in the conversation that surrounds them. I probably never would have picked up a book like Twilight if it weren’t for all the hype surrounding it, because it just doesn’t sound like my kind of book – but I’m still really glad that I did.
On the other hand, though, this predilection towards reading books that other people have already vouched for, as it were, means that a lot of potentially brilliant books could be slipping by, unnoticed. A lot of my favourite books have been ones that I’ve just picked up on a whim, without knowing anything about them beyond what I could learn just from looking at them.
Which brings me to what I actually wanted to talk about today (I got away from myself for a bit, there ): Book-sense! When you spot a book out of the corner of your eye, and are inexplicably drawn to it. Pre-internet, I used to rely on my book-sense a lot, and I feel like I have a pretty good one. It led me to A Traveller in Time by Alison Uttley – one of my favourite books, which I initially found lying around at home, covered in tea-stains from being used as a coaster for so long; to The Dark is Rising sequence by Susan Cooper, and the Daughter of Storms trilogy by Louise Cooper – both incredible series that I’m really glad I read; Power & Stone by Alice Leader; Starseeker by Tim Bowler; The Little White Horse by Elizabeth Goudge; Freak the Mighty by Rodman Philbrick; and many, many others.
More recently, I’ve picked up books like Night Owls by Jenn Bennett, Trouble by Non Pratt, and The Boy Who Wept Blood by Den Patrick (even though I wasn’t quite so fond of the prequel to that last one) just because I saw them and had a good feeling about them. And these have turned out to be some of the best books I’ve read. In the case of The Iron Trial (by Holly Black & Cassandra Clare), my good-book-sense was so strong that I broke my Cassandra Clare boycott for it with only minimal agonising during the event, and no regrets at all once I’d read it.
Don’t get me wrong. I want to read the books that other people are reading; to join in the conversation, and be part of the community, and to understand when people make references to popular books. But I also really love the feeling of trying something new and unknown, and being pleasantly surprised by it, and taking chances on books is definitely something that I want to do more.
There are three books on my TBR shelf at the moment that were whimsical, book-sense purchases – Lorali by Laura Dockrill, A Dark Horn Blowing by Dahlov Ipcar, and The Battle of the Sun by Jeanette Winterson – and I really hope to get to all of them soon. I just have a really good feeling about them, and that feeling hasn’t lead led me wrong yet.
How about you? Do you also feel a book-sense sometimes, when you walk into a bookshop? Are there any books that you really want to read, despite knowing next to nothing about them? I’d love to hear about them!