So, I have finally cracked and decided to lend my own voice to the popular book-blogger meme Top Ten Tuesdays. It was last week’s list, asking for ‘unique’ books, that pushed me. I couldn’t help but feel my list would have been very different to the ones I saw, so I’ve decided to throw my hat in.
This week’s list calls for ‘10 things that would instantly make me want to read a book’. That sentence leaves a lot open to interpretation but here goes (in no particular order).
1. It’s a Classic
If the book has stood the test of time, if it has been loved by generation after generation, if its name is synonymous with being well-read, cultured, educated and, in other words, if it appeals to my inner snob, then I will probably want to read it. Think Wuthering Heights, War and Peace, Middlemarch, Ulysses or The Trial. Similarly, if the book’s or author’s name has entered the lexicon, like Catch-22 or George Orwell, or if it started or defined a genre like In Cold Blood.
2. It’s Overlooked
A classic, but one that relatively fewer have read? A bit obscure? One that has to be ordered online because it will be difficult to find at a regular book store? It’s hard to think of good examples, but a lot of Nobel Prize winners who write in languages other than English, or ancient or medieval epics from non-English-speaking cultures, are what I am thinking of here. Some, like the Chinese classic The Dream of the Red Chamber (aka The Story of the Stone), seem to be relatively less read by Westerners to judge by sites like Goodreads. I myself am about to begin reading Persian Epic The Shahnameh.
3. It’s a Prize-Winner
How about books that have yet to survive the test of time? So many sound interesting, so many get great reviews, so many get strong sales and so many disappoint! One way might be to take a look at those that get shortlisted for, or win, a prestigious prize. The Booker Prize and the Women’s Prize (currently the Bailey’s Women’s Prize) are the two I look over the most. I will definitely want to read any winner of each, but I will pick out some among the shortlisters that sound interesting too. I also pore over Nobel, Pulitzer and other winners too.
4. It has mystery
I’m thinking of non-fiction history books here rather than crime, spy, conspiracy or other novels. Books like Michael Wood’s In Search of the Trojan War, or Nicholas J Saunders’ Alexander’s Tomb just sound too fascinating for words. But they have to be credible and written by credible authors. I’m not interested in books describing how aliens built the pyramids or how the moon landings were faked.
5. There is a Story Behind the Story
Many novels are based on fascinating real life events personal to the author. Some novels were never published only to be discovered much later, or were ignored when first published only to be better appreciated much later. Or maybe a more literary writer has tackled a genre with a reputation for a lot of poor writing and created a hit that is popular with both critics and the public. I’m thinking here of Irène Némirovsky’s Suite Française, Stoner by John Williams, The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss or The Passage by Justin Cronin. Doesn’t knowing the context under which Salman Rushdie’s The Moor’s Last Sigh was written influence how you interpret it?
6. It is a Book I Would Like My Daughter to Read
My daughter just turned 2. I would hazard that she may already have more books than there have been weeks since she was born. I’ve told her mother and her grandmothers that she can hardly notice it is her birthday when she gets new toys, books and clothes every week! She is currently an only child and an only grandchild on both sides and is super-spoiled! There are boxes overflowing with books in each of her main play areas in the house and that is not counting the ones I have been buying for when she is older. As well as Harry Potters, Roald Dahls and Dr Seuss’ that her mother and I had already owned, I’ve been buying up Puffin Classics versions of books like Treasure Island, The Neverending Story or The Wind in the Willows as well as books of Greek, Norse and Maori mythology. Once she has read those she will probably be old enough for her parent’s books like Pride and Prejudice, Jane Eyre, David Copperfield, etc, or, more likely, whatever other kids are reading by then.
7. It Got a Great Review
I read a lot of reviews – from fellow bloggers, websites, newspapers and magazines – and I talk to friends about books too. A glowing endorsement for a book that I’ve never heard of, or of one I was only slightly leaning towards, for the reasons listed here, will probably tip the balance in its favour.
8. There’s a Film/TV Adaptation Coming Out
Admittedly this is less of an impulse than it used to be. A while ago if an adaptation I found interesting was coming out, I would rush to read the book first. More recently this impulse has been waning. I read Suite Française and The Light Between Oceans for this reason a couple of years ago but have yet to see the films. And now adaptations of everything from A Series of Unfortunate Events, The Handmaid’s Tale or The Man in the High Castle have been made but I’m not rushing to read them… yet.
9. I Got an Email from the Author!
This has only happened to me twice but both times I was suitably intrigued to put down what I was reading at that moment (a herculean task for me!) and begin reading a novel the author sent me in return for an independent review. And both times it was a rewarding experience – see The Summer that Melted Everything and Next Year in Jerusalem.
10. It’s Controversial
I want to end with a big one for me. Does the book dive into a nuanced and controversial subject? Does it say things that will challenge and even offend people including myself? Does it destroy popular myths and wishful thinking, concluding with inconvenient truths? Is it possibly blasphemous? Are there calls to have the book banned, burned and the author assaulted? Then count me in!
I’m thinking here of books like The Satanic Verses by Rushdie, Trick or Treatment: Alternative Medicine on Trial by Singh and Ernst, The God Delusion by Dawkins, The Better Angles of Our Nature: Why Violence has Declined by Pinker or Faith v Fact: Why Science and Religion are Incompatible by Coyne. But, like reason 4 above, the controversy needs to be credible, argued well, backed by evidence and testified by experts. For these reasons, I’m not interested in reading books by anti-vaxxers, young-Earth creationists, new-age spiritualists or global-warming deniers.
So that’s my first attempt at a Top Ten Tuesday. The assigned topic for next week is the mirror of this one but, so far, my answers are not necessarily the mirror of the above. Hope to see you then.