Thursday, August 13, 2009

What makes you pick up a book?

QUICK CONTEST CLARIFICATION: it seems from the comments of multiple people that there is some confusion as to the rules. I am looking for a "worst first line" that is your original work, that has been created purely for this contest. I'm not asking you to find something you already wrote that perhaps you once thought was good, but now realize is bad. No research needed, just a little bad inspiration.

Also, a few people have said they don't have time, and if you don't want to make time for it, that's totally cool, I'm sure y'all have many better things to do. But, if you want to play along, I swear it will take next to no time at all. I told my husband I was running this contest, and he immediately said, "After they unstapled his penis from the board, he realized his day was only going to get worse." Dude, I don't want to read that book, do you? That's a bad first sentence. (Caveat: if someone like David Sedaris was the author, I would keep reading the book, because I'd expect some good funny. But if I had the slightest inkling that it was going to be one of those horror/torture-porn books, I'd drop it like it was covered in roaches.)

My point here is that bad first sentences need not be long and creatively awful. They can also be short and gross, or boring. "Jill started clipping her toenails" is not an auspicious start. You get the idea. Click the link over there on the right and give it a go.

Now, onto TODAY'S TOPIC.

What makes you pick up a book to read? Do you do your own research? Do you rely on the recommendations of friends and family with similar tastes? Are you swayed by the display racks in stores? Do you trust the automatically generated recommendations of places like, or are you loyal to the staff recommendations wall at your local indie store? Do you always buy the same authors?

I have one local indie store in particular that has some good tables to browse where I am often surprised by a new set of offerings that I don't see at other stores. I regularly check out the IndieNext list. I've started going to more author readings in my area, and I always buy the book so that I can get a signature and have a chance to talk with the author afterwards. I subscribe to the Barnes & Noble "Meet the Writers" podcasts (there's an audio and a video) and will sometimes buy a book based on those author interviews. My husband is mostly a non-fiction reader, so if he recommends a novel for me, I know it's going to be good. And I'll take friend recommendations into consideration as well, although for some reason I still haven't been willing to dive into Middlesex, even though six different people have told me I'd like it...

My most recent purchase? The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, because in his B&N interview, the Knopf Chairman and Editor-in-Chief Sonny Mehta described the title character thusly:
I believe Larsen said in an interview that he'd often wondered what Pippi Longstocking was going to be when she grew up, and I think that is what Lisbeth is in this novel.
Yeah, now I have to read it.

How about you? What's the most recent book you picked up, and why?


  1. Sometimes I pick up a book based on review or cover. Mostly cover if I'm randomly paroosing the selections.

  2. I go to Borders and peruse the tables every one to two weeks. I always find at least one book that interests me. I've also found good recommendations on Twitter. Problem is, too many books, too little time.;-)

  3. Your husband's first line is startling...but it certainly would make me read on to see what happened next. He may be on to something! A worst first line is something that would make you NOT want to read the book.

    Covers really lure me into buying a book. Especially the cartoony, fun covers the chick lit explosion inspired.

  4. I am swayed by book covers and if my eye catches something, I'll pick it up and read the first page. If it doesn't hook me in, I put it back. I also sometimes look at the back cover--actually, I do this more in Target for some reason. Oh, and I judge the book by its title, too. If the title sounds insipid, I don't pick it up. Likewise if it sounds pretentious.

    When I browse online, then I do pay attention to related titles. But often, I go search for old favorites of mine, and see what they have going on.

  5. PS where are we supposed to post bad first lines? In yesterday's comment section?

  6. Please post contest entries in the contest thread, HERE. Thanks!

  7. Haha, your husband's bad first line reminds me of one of my husband's bad first lines. Something about someone drinking "over-steeped but still drinkable tea." Ah, if only I could remember the rest of it. It was during Nano and I was my region moderator and was coming up with ridiculous prompts for a write-out, should anyone need it. He took one (the tea) and wrote a few paragraphs.

    You really should read Middlesex. I was reluctant (after about 5 or so recommendations) but I really did enjoy it.

    My dad used to browse the library shelves and pick a big stack that looked interesting (oh that's where I got it from...) and flip to the middle to see how it read. If it was good after a page or two he'd check it out.

  8. Evil, evil Amazon gets me with their e-mail and site recommendations. After a couple regrettable purchases - The Gathering (too highbrow) and The Spare Wife (too lowbrow), I should know better.

    I'll also read anything a friend or my sister recommends, especially if they lend it to me =)

  9. I almost never just pick up a book from the shelves. Almost. Usually, I start reading on a topic (or an author) and then do more research on books about the same topic or author. I tend to put on my list books that have good reviews (on Amazon, the New York Times Book Review or whatever) and books that received some sort of prizes.

  10. I binge-read. (Binge-write too, come to think of it.) For me, binge-reading means that I will stumble across something I like and devour that genre/author/series like it's about to go extinct. And what *that* means is that I often stumble across new books because they are recommended (by a store clerk, a website, the author themselves, etc.) as a similar read to something I'm currently obsessing over.

    And then, when the binge is over I look for something completely opposite, which often involves wandering the bookstore in a completely new section until something strikes my fancy.

    The latest book I picked up was "Death's Daughter" by Amber Bensen. (Yes, *that* Amber Bensen) So far it's fast-paced, snarky, and smart. Lots of potential. Plus, it's about mystical things that take the form of corporate business (in this case, Death, Inc., the CEO of which is Death), which always makes me chuckle.

  11. I've never thought of it that way, but I definitely have periods of binge-reading, too! (Which leads to amusing conversations like my husband asking after my current "boyfriend" because I've gone nuts reading everything an author has to offer, plus starting to hang out on his blog...)

  12. I loved The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and what made me pick it up was initially the title. Girl with that. Then I read the blurb and liked how Lisbeth was described. She seemed unconventional. It is hard to find books with a truly unconventional woman in a 'lead' role. And Steig Larson died not long after writing the three books in the series, so I had to know... what was the guy's last work on the earth? So I hope you do love it. Somehow I think you might :)

  13. Tabitha, right now I'm pushing past the financial corruption discussions... it reminds me too much of all my securities work as an attorney, I keep feeling like it's the summary of a new case, and at any minute someone will start asking me to review documents. *Shudder.*

  14. I'm a big fan of getting random paperbacks out from the library. if I don;t like one I've picked up then I can always start another. I'll buy anything by Neil Gaiman or Terry Pratchett and I try to pick up books that authors podcast for free before they're published.

  15. Being a life long Pippi fan myself, I now have to order that book!(It's all about the red hair!)
    I often get into a certain subject matter and one book leads to another. I am always reading history and find original sources to be fascinating. I can get stuck in a certain time era for months and read dozens of books from the same era.