Tuesday, 12 August 2008

Enraged marine gastropods

One of the great joys of a bookshop, as opposed to buying books on t'internet, is that you can have a bit of a trial flick before you commit. Obviously I'm talking about brand-new, un-road-tested, speculative buying, rather than re-acquiring old loves that you lent foolishly to a friend, and which promptly went out of print shortly after the friend went off round the world with no mobile phone. I know, I know, a certain online book site allows you to "see inside!!" but when you buy a book there are many factors that affect your choice. Everybody in the book trade will tell you most people do judge a book by its cover - as anyone knows who has bought a copy of "Pride and Prejudice" with a nice 19th century watercolour on the jacket as opposed to a BBC publicity shot of Colin Firth in a wet shirt. I personally never buy the film tie-in edition of anything - do you really want people to think you're reading a novel by Hugh Grant? Some people like a nice high gloss finish on a paperback cover, some like that rather subtle buffed matt finish we're seeing more and more of these days (and is a right sod, because it's actually almost frictionless and if you pick up a pile of 5 or 6 of them, they fly in all directions like a school of bars of soap). Hardbacks are generally considered a treat, or for presents, or for the diehard nailbiting author-junkie who can't wait for the paperback - I personally hate them because they cost at least three times as much as a paperback for the same amount of print, and when you're reading in bed they leave a nasty red three-cornered dent in your knee.

HOWEVER to my main point. When you're considering buying a book, the "see inside!!" feature is near enough useless, as it doesn't tell you anything about size of print, or more importantly font - I went through a phase in my late teens of only reading Picador books because after reading two or three that I loved, I found I had a Pavlovian response to the font they habitually used and would have read the Yellow Pages if they'd been printed in it. And most important of all - the sample paragraph. I like a cursory flick through a book. Nothing so crass as reading the last page; after all a book is a journey to another world, and would you start a holiday by already anticipating your sweaty return trek through Heathrow baggage claim at 7am? A quick glance will tell you a lot about a book, however, in much the same way as a travel guide will whet your appetite for your eventual destination. A friend lent me a novel the other day that I had heard nothing but good reviews of, and I was quite looking forward to giving it a go. It was an American import, and I have to say the Americans are streets ahead of us in cover design, and the cover was that lovely soft matt finish I hate at work but love in my hands (although interestingly American paperback covers tend to curl really badly - excellent cover design but cheaper laminate?).

I opened it, I had a flick, and the phrase "angry red whelks ran across his back" sprang out at me. What can I say? There's no way I can read it now. What should have been a nailbitingly dramatic scene about priestly abuse became a positive fiesta of grumpy seafood.

14 comments:

Rol said...

I wouldn't ever buy a film tie-in cover either, I'm just that kind of snob.

I do quite like hardbacks (price aside), though I suffer a similar injury - not to my knees though (I'm trying to picture how you balance a book on your knees while reading it) but to the ends of my thumbs.

LucyFishwife said...

There's a time when we snobs have to stand up and be counted. And film tie-ins are it (grammar). I did once work out that at one point in Waterst*nes we had maybe 5 different books with Colin Firth on the cover.
The knee injury is occasioned by lying in bed with your knees drawn up, trying to hold the HB open on a vertical plane suitable for reading, with the sharp lower end of the spine wedged at an uncomfortable angle into the diagonal of your drawn-up knee. And I tell you, it can give you a nasty red whelk even through a duvet and pyjamas.

Steve said...

Along with badger baiting, angry red whelk racing is one of my all-time pet hates.

When choosing a book to buy I like to flick to a few random paragraphs half way through, preferably with a bit of dialogue, and see if it piques my interest enough to open my wallet. Have to say I love hardbacks though... they just feel like 'proper books'...

Brother Tobias said...

I so agree with the quick flick/sampling approach. It just takes a glance and a line or two. There are those thin, ascetic, cheerless typefaces which makes the page look like a collection of flies' legs. Horrible, unreadable text, bereft of the handrail of punctuation, angry with dialect or relentless with unremitting speech. And something in the style and vocab which means you just KNOW.

LucyFishwife said...

Steve - it's the fact that you have to enrage them before racing them that I find so unfair. Like picadors at the bull-fighting. A cruel, cruel sport. And yes, dialogue without quotation marks drives me round the bend.

BT - I hate to say the font matters but it does, doesn't it? And when it hasn't been edited into neat and manageable paragraphs, but is just a wall of text... impossible. Another reason I can't read Henry James.

Wandering Jay said...

So far, the only time i bought a movie tie-in cover was for the Mckewan's novel Atonement. Maybe it was my way of compromising between boycotting the movie that many adores, and digesting the pleasure of reading the author's own words. And not to withhold the least amount of consideration, maybe i like the picture of Keira (doesn't she look like an Ophelia model on a Pre-Raphelites painting?)on the cover too.

LucyFishwife said...

Keira is certainly very pleasant to look at - she'd need more long wavy hair to be a real Pre-Raphaelite but why change her? I found both the book AND the film annoying because of the cop-out double ending - didn't they already do that with "The French Lieutenant's Woman" ??? But at least the prose had its own beauty on the page while the film only had Keira...

The Poet Laura-eate said...

I bought The Forsyte Saga collection secondhand with the 1960s cast on as that is a classic now in its own right, but nothing short of Colin Firth in a wet shirt could tempt me to buy a tie-in classic reprint nowadays I must admit.

Impressed by your font-snobbery Lucy - I don't even notice these things, though I DO notice a nice cover and hate the way penguin et all are doing all these horrible modernist abstraction covers to reignite interest in their classics. This reader finds them an absolute turn-off!

LucyFishwife said...

Oh DEFINITELY I have no problem with the retro covers - my beaten up copy of "The Owl Service"has the TV cover (I may just add that I wasn't old enough to read when it was on TV the first time but it was my mother's copy) - I love it because it's the one I grew up with. And I caught the re-run in 1978 and couldn't work out why we'd had the book for so long if it was only just on TV.. obviously the phenomenon of repeats was new to me!
I sometimes worry about my font snobbery - my boss and I almost had a terse exchange of views over whether we were going to use Book Antiqua or Bookman Old Style for the website...

Reluctant Blogger said...

gosh I don't suppose whelks star in many books do they? So funny. My daughter once wrote in her news that she liked "porn cocked ale" - fortunately the teacher realised she meant "prawn cocktail".

I am very fussy about books. I'm not quite sure how I select ones I like but I always know. I flick through (always from back to front) and yeah I guess I must just skim- read a few bits here and there. I never buy books with film covers on - dear me no!

I prefer paperbacks generally and I don't think I really notice the font although I am not keen on very tiny text.

LucyFishwife said...

I LOVE "porn cocked ale". Will now start asking for it in restaurants!
I know I'm coming across as a bit OCD with my font-fixation etc but it matters, it really does (She protested too loudly)! Was it cheese or wine I was supposed to be providing, by the way?

The Poet Laura-eate said...

I think you are right about the browsing aspect Lucy - a web browser just isn't the same.

Human beings are tactile creatures. I wonder if Print on Demand when it takes over will take this into account re all the jacket variation we have at the moment, or whether all the textures/sizes etc will be homogenised.

Dick Dastardly and The Evangelist said...

Perhaps it was a particularly molluscular back...?

LucyFishwife said...

DD- Eel be lucky. (Pause for drumroll and high-hat *ting*)