I can’t remember the last time I read a book blind. Simply picked one up and started reading without knowing a thing about it. Maybe never? Normally, I do my due diligence. I solicit recommendations, read reviews, scan dust jacket copy to help me make informed decisions. Time is precious after all. But in so doing, almost without effort, I glean the basic plot of the book. The genre, setting, and tone are all established in my mind before reading the first sentence. I’m beginning to think that it is making me a lazy reader.
Recently, ahead of a long flight, I decided to download several thrillers. Running late, I didn’t have a lot of time so I picked new books by authors whose earlier work I’d read and enjoyed. So while I knew the genre, I knew nothing else about these books. The difference made itself apparent almost immediately. With no background information to rely on, I found myself paying closer attention and reading more attentively. Hunting for clues in the author’s words rather than those of the Publicity team who promoted the book. It felt like a complete journey. I had such a great time on that flight. It also made me realized that long ago I’d stopped having the experience that the authors of the books I read intended. I was cheating myself of one of the chief pleasures of entering an immersive, fictional world: discovery.
Writers spend a lot of time thinking about and crafting the reader experience. Coming up with a good story is but one step in the process. Finding the right sequence, deciding when and how to reveal critical information or themes, pacing – ideally, these all blend together so well that it’s hard to imagine a story being told any other way. The truth is any story can be told a million different ways. It’s not a good story idea that makes a great writer; the greats know how to tell it for maximum impact.
One thing that no writer thinks about is how much is given away to readers before reading even begins. How much hard work is negated by the casual summaries in reviews and in the dust jacket descriptions used to sell books. When my flight landed, I went back and reread the copy written for my own books. It was a sobering experience to think about the carefully constructed beats that would not land for anyone who’d read it. Instead, they’d be waiting for me to hurry up and get on with it since they already knew it was coming. I had written the book to be read by a hypothetical reader who probably doesn’t exist except in my imagination.
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Now, I’m not trying to bite the hand that feeds me. I know how much I owe to reviewers and PR teams. No book, no matter how well written, finds an audience without tremendous behind-the-scenes work. But, I would propose that the next time someone whose taste you trust recommends a book, stop there. Don’t ask why. Don’t ask any questions at all. Don’t read the reviews. Don’t read the back of the book. Just buy a copy, sit down in your favorite chair and read. See how it feels.
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