Monday, May 04, 2009

Why do you buy a book?

Vicki writing this from the Comfort Inn in Pittsburg, PA. Today is my favourite annual event, Festival of Mystery, put on by Mystery Lovers Bookstore. If you love crime novels of all type, and you haven’t been here before – mark your calendar now for next year.

I very much enjoyed Charles discussion of how Donis’s The Old Buzzard Had it Coming gave the reader exactly what they want.

So I picked up the book I am currently reading, Tower Of Silence, by Sarah Rayne. Here’s the first sentence: “if you’re as broke as all that,” Said Gillian Campbell to her godmother “why on earth don’t you sell Teind House.”

Huh! This could lead to anything. “... sell Teind House and open that bakery you always wanted where you can make fresh scones dotted with raisins or with a handful of grated lemon rind tossed into the dough made with a full cup of butter.” Or “... sell Teind House and set off for Afghanistan in pursuit of the treasure of the lost tribe of the Amazon warriors.” Or “... sell Teind House and go back to MI5 where you were a top double 0 agent, responsible for the assassination of JFK, among others,” or “... sell Teind House and take Isabel, the charming long-haired cat with a trace of Persian in her ancestry, to...”

Almost anything, except what it was. A book containing, quite possibly, the most horrific scene of violence I have ever encountered.

Which makes me wonder about the importance of the first sentence. I picked up this book – it’s the sort of English thing that isn’t widely available in North America – at Seattle Mystery Bookstore because the cover looked like the dark psychological suspense the British do so well. The cover hints at the darkness within, blood red title, blood drops, spooky old tower. Once I had the book in my hands, I read the back cover. And yes, the description of the plot matched the atmosphere implied by the cover, and so I bought it.

At book signings I have seen people pick up the book and read the first paragraph or page. But not many. Some people decide based on the cover and blurb (as I do) and some leaf randomly though the book. A blessed few just buy the book because they’ve met the author.

What makes you decide to buy, or not buy, a book?

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