As we recover from Thanksgiving and Black Friday, it’s time to think about shopping for our loved ones this holiday season. Naturally, book lovers tend to give out books as gifts–it’s thoughtful and usually quite cost-effective, especially if you’re an old hand at sifting through thrift stores and used bookstores.
But there comes that moment when, in a used bookstore or the bargain section of a national chain, you pick up a book and are forced to disobey that old saw; you’ve got to judge a book by its cover. Today, we’re going to look over some fairly general rules that ought to at least lower the odds of picking up a book that truly bombs. These signifiers don’t relate to quality; rather, they relate to the success of a novel and the faith a publishing company has in it.
Where is the book located in the bargain bin? For instance, at most Books-a-Millions stores, there’s a display of discounted books by genre on a shelf and then a table of all the rest. The books on the shelves have been deemed, by the employees, to be more popular and likely to be bought–but these are also the newest additions to the bargain bins. Used bookstores and, to a lesser extent, thrift stores usually display titles that are more likely to sell–while you definitely want to root around in all three cases, if you’re in a hurry, keep an eye out for location.
While I often lament the fact that I’m easily distracted by pretty covers, sometimes bad covers turn up on bad books. Obviously, this isn’t always true–there are fantastic books saddled with awful covers. But avoid covers that use stock images poorly, especially photos of people–especially when they’re very poorly Photoshopped into a historic scene. It can be done well, of course, but it usually tends to reflect a lack of faith in the project by someone on the production team.
But the best indicators you can use to make a quick decision in a bookstore are the cover blurbs–the quotes from reviews and authors dotted strategically. If one of the blurbs is from an author you like, there’s a good chance it’s decent. A decent book trying to get your attention will usually have the choice lines from national reviews, like The New York Times Book Review or Entertainment Weekly, plastered on it, along with one or two author blurbs. But between a book with only review blurbs and a book with only author reviews, go with the one with only review blurbs. Books with only author blurbs, especially authors in the same genre that you haven’t really heard of, have a higher chance of being, well, crap.
Again, these are broad, sweeping generalizations. But they can save you some heartache while you’re contemplating a book you’ve never heard of in a bookstore for a loved one.
This Sunday marks the kick-off of Narnia Week! This week, I’ll be racing through Narnia–I hope you’ll join me. More information is available on the challenge’s actual post. This Salon is a bit rushed; I’m exhausted.
Don’t forget to comment to enter to win my Chronicle Books haul! It’ll close on December 10th. Tor/Forge’s Blog is giving away an Orson Scott Card package until December 2nd, a ridiculous bundle of 25 fantasy books and an equally ridiculous bundle of 25 science fiction books until December 6th, and a steampunk prize package until December 12th, a science fiction set for you and your local library, The Wheel of Time books for you and your library and a set of Patrick Taylor’s books and audiobooks until December 16th–you must register to receive their newsletter to enter all of these US only giveaways. The BBC America Shop is giving away pairs of gift cards ($500, $250, $100) until December 19th. HarperCollins is giving away a copy of the 60th Anniversary Edition of The Chronicles of Narnia until January 1st. You can currently view the first season of BBC’s Sherlock for free on PBS’s website (US only). The Baen Free Library is full of free downloads, including The Shadow of the Lion and On Basilisk Station. Night Shade Books is offering Butcher Bird and Grey as free downloads at the moment. Vertigo Comics is offering free downloads of the first issue of several series, including Fables, The Unwritten, and Y: The Last Man. (And you will go download The Unwritten.) If I’ve missed your giveaway or freebie, drop me a line!
Do you buy books you haven’t read as gifts, or do you only buy books you’ve read for people?