(NB: All images in this post are by the talented book artist Timothy Ely.)
A few days ago, in a bookshop, I noticed that a book I had picked up carried an endorsement from Stephen King, in which he recommended the tome as “a great f*cking read.” I picked up another title a few days later, and again, there was Mr. King telling me how “amazing” it was and how jealous he was of the writer. This crushed my atheistic, naturalist soul. I promised in my previous post to offer a few remedies for the dreaded book blurb, especially given the incredible tool of the Internet, and here they are:
Friends: Our friends are chosen for many reasons, and for many reasons they choose us. One of those reasons, at least among those who read a lot, is taste in books. And this use of similar tastes isn’t limited to literature. Movies, music, food, sport, and much else unite people together into friendships, and often hold friendships together. I have Four friends whom I can ask about books, or from whom I can often get a suggestion of something I might like. What has amazed me most is that there are times where the book my friend selected for me was not a book they would personally enjoy, but a book they had spotted and had, while reading the dust jacket or recognizing the author’s name, thought immediately of me. I have tried to exercise the same amount of generosity, of greatness of spirit, with a display of that word so perfectly captured by etymological roots, magnanimity. Often, I fall short. It is a difficult virtue, but worthwhile. Cultivating friendships is important regardless of literary tastes, but I have found it fruitful to have a few friends to give me their own blurbs, to steer me toward some great discovery or some writer whose work has so far eluded my notice.
The TLS: Fine, I don’t mean that everyone should base reading habits on the London Times Literary Supplement (see my last post), but it is helpful to find a periodical with similar taste to yours. I have a friend who has found countless new literary adventures thanks to the advice of the New York Review of Books, and although she has disagreed with certain selections, she has found more to her taste than not. For me, the periodical coming closest to my taste and interests is the TLS, and I have found many a gem. To be fair, the paper has also saved me a great deal of money by providing detailed reviews, allowing me to more closely examine whether a book in question covers what I am interested in, or if the title that so enticed me in the book shop was less enticing after the first pages were opened.
Michael Dirda: See above. Dirda is a critic who appeals to my particular tastes, and so I give more weight to what he says. Occasional howlers aside, I have found much use of his selections. Find your own Dirda.
Dive in. Read the first few pages in a bookshop or library and, if it seems good, bring it home. As the Great One said, you miss 100 percent of the shots you never take.
The Internet. In the information age, there is no longer an excuse to be uniformed in news, politics, science, and sport, and why should literature be any different? There are wonderful online book blogs, book sites, and even book tree sites. Use them!
Happy reading and, if you wish, leave me a blurb.