Judging a Book – Cover or Otherwise – Before You Read It by Carlene Moore
I recently made a huge change in my career; I quit my traditional job to explore a life of freelance writing and entrepreneurship. This change has granted me a much more flexible schedule, which allows me to fit in more reading! In the past, my life has been so jam packed that I barely had time to pick up a book; so when I did, I always had such a deficit of books on my Recommended Books List that I always read one of those. Books that I put on that list are ones that not only have been recommended to me by someone whose literary opinion I trust, but have furthermore peaked my interest either through the person’s synopsis or through my research.
Now that I’m cruising through books though, I find myself venturing off my Recommended Books List to try some unexplored ones. Sometimes these books choose me, catching my eye from the library or bookstore shelf; other times I read about them in magazines or on websites, not sure if I trust the recommender’s opinion yet. One thing is for sure, reading non-recommended books has taught me a thing or two regarding how expectations impact the reading experience.
In the majority of recommendation cases, the recommender has given me a pretty good idea of what I’m getting into. Therefore, I embark on that type of reading experience with a bias that I’ll enjoy the book, with an excitement and with an expectation of what type of book it will be. Almost every recommender tells more than the synopsis, sure to say things like, “Don’t worry, you find this out almost right away; I’m not spoiling anything.” When they say that, I have an idea of where I’m headed. They may also say something like, “It’s slow at first but picks up after 100 pages or so and the end will blow your mind.” In those cases, I’m more motivated during the ramp up phase and am slower to judge.
When I pull a book off the shelf though – be it based on the cover, the synopsis or a short paragraph review from a stranger on a website – the experience going in is very different. I am a more timid reader, flipping each page a little uncertainly, often naïve to where the story is headed. Without knowing where I’m headed, I linger a little longer on the ramp up phase and judge the writing, the plot and the characters a little more. Was this a good choice? I silently ask myself after each of the first few chapters.
Sometimes it’s not a good choice. I read page after page, chapter after chapter, waiting for it to “get good” but it ends without ever getting there. I have spent time and energy on a book that wasn’t awesome, which is upsetting but inevitable. Perhaps I’ll pull out the Recommended Books List for my next go. Then again, perhaps not; if I keep tossing the dice and venturing into the unknown, I’m sure to get a lucky draw sooner or later.
And, of course, sometimes I do! Sometimes the book is phenomenal and the fact that it wasn’t a recommendation makes it ten times better. When all of a sudden I get hooked and have no idea where I’m headed, no one has mentioned a spoiler (big or small, near the beginning or not) and I had no expectations that this would be a great book but it is….well, pure bliss! I feel a bit like a literary pirate, having discovered untouched treasure and wanting to flaunt it and hide it at the same time. Since I didn’t know that the book would be great, it’s that much more surprising and rewarding when it is. My lack of expectations has added to the greatness of the book.
So expectations, clearly, go both ways; and they don’t just come into play for recommended versus non-recommended books. We often set expectations for books based on whether or not they’re a “hit”, which lists they fall on, if they’re making a movie about them (and whether or not we’ve seen that movie), what the author has written previously, the subject matter that is covered – the list is endless. What we often don’t realize when setting those expectations is that (a) we’re setting expectations and (b) those expectations impact the reading experience, often skewing reality a bit. So just as I begin to embrace my new off-list reading opportunities and be more cognizant of how that’s affecting my reading experience, I challenge you to be aware of your expectation setting as well. What expectations do you set and how do they affect your reading?
Wantrepreneur, wife, adventurer, blogger, wine drinker, avid traveler…in no particular order. Carlene Moore is a Midwestern brain with a California soul. Follow her on Twitter @EverMooreMilest and read her blog here.
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