Friday, February 13, 2009

Among the Remainders

Before Christmas, an empty shop at my nearby shopping centre turned into a remainders book store, and I picked up several reference books on mythology, plus a fabulous Beisty book on castles (one for me, one as a gift for a friend). But we now have a chain of stores that regularly have remainder sales - Dirt Cheap Books. Much of what DCB has is of no interest to me - biographies of people I've never heard of, self help books that are last year's fad, mass market kid's books and those pretty gift books of sayings or quotes that sit on your coffee table and only get read when someone is totally bored.

But they do have novels. This is where I picked up my copy of Prep. Where I discovered authors like Peter James and Caro Ramsay. The novels of theirs are ones that didn't sell here, probably because they are not well-known crime writers in Australia. I guess publishers or book distributors bring in books in big numbers sometimes and they just don't leave the shelves. There are often piles of books by people who are well-known. Did someone vastly over-order? One day, I'd love to know the story behind how some of the books end up with DCB.

The thing is, even though I venture there when books are all $4.99, I've learnt that a cheap, enticing book is not necessarily a book I will read. Some of my earlier impulse buys sit and sit and sit, and then go to the charity bin. So now I'm firmer with myself. I read blurbs, and then I read first and second pages. Often I put books back. Sometimes I put them back after the first paragraph.

Of course, this is what editors do. The fact that all of these books were published meant that an editor somewhere kept reading and paid money to the author. The fact that I read a page and put a book back just means I didn't like it. What is it that makes us keep reading? The voice? Often, this is an important factor for me. The way the words sound, the way the writer has put them together. The way the character feels, acts, speaks. What happens on the first two pages. If nothing happens, or something happens that doesn't interest me much, I put it down. You could say it's indefinable - it's the "feel" of the writing and the story being told.

But it's also that whatever you read on pages 1 and 2, you'll get another 300 pages of it. Do you want another 300 pages? Do you want to spend the time and money on it? Now that books are around $35-38 here, it's an even bigger question. What makes you keep reading?

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