Do you remember the scene in Willy Wonka where the five golden ticket winners and their families enter the Chocolate Room? They gaze in awe at the incredible sight in front of them – a seemingly unlimited universe of chocolate, candy and sweets in a magnificent setting, all theirs for the taking. With so many wonderful choices, they don’t know where to start. It’s a dream come true – “paradise,” as Willy Wonka calls it.
Well, that’s the way I feel when I enter a library. My heart begins to race, my eyes light up, and my mouth starts to water when I view all of the offerings that await me. My library card is my golden ticket, allowing me access to a world full of amazing adventures and new ideas. There are thousands of possibilities inside for me to sample, all for free. But just as Charlie and his fellow contest winners were limited by the size of their stomachs, I am also limited – by the number of books I can easy carry out, and the amount of time I have to read. So I have to make choices. I tend to concentrate on the new book area, but there are still hundreds of books to choose from. How do I decide which ones to look at? Lots of factors come into play here. They include:
- The shelf. I’ll admit, I often pay scant attention to books on the bottom shelves. It’s a lot of work to bend down. It’s even more work to get back up.
Title/Author. Have I heard of the book? Did I read a good review, or was it praised by a friend? Have I read other books by the author and liked them? Is the title catchy or interesting? Years ago I picked off the shelf Angry Housewives Eating Bon because the title caught my eye. I loved the book and went on to read several others by the same author.
Illustration/book jacket. A book in a bright or unusual color, or with a photo or illustration on the jacket can grab my attention. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, with its orange cover and photo, and The Family Fang, with drawings on the book spine, both stood out on the shelf. Sometimes the size/typeface of the title or author’s name on the spine are what makes a book more prominent – like Freedom by Jonathan Frantzen. You couldn’t miss that one even if you tried.
- Size. It matters. Really long books intimidate me, or make me nervous I won’t finish them before they are due.
So what happens when a book passes all of the above – right shelf, interesting title, appealing book jacket? There are still many more things to look at before it makes the cut. The most important is the description of the book on the inside cover. But even if the book appears interesting, that’s not enough. It has to fit my mood. Is it a serious, heavy read when I am looking for something amusing and light? Am I in the mood to just be entertained, or do I want to learn something? Do I want a book to make me laugh, or to make me cry?
Once I determine that the book fits my emotional state, it’s now time to look at the back cover, at the blurbs. Who praised the book , and how? Over the top praise can make me suspicious. And can I trust the blurber? I’ve come to discover through Twitter that many of my favorite authors are good friends. So I’m now a little wary when one blurbs for the other.
The test isn’t over quite yet. I’ll take a look at the first few pages, to get a feel for the author’s writing style. I generally prefer dialog to description. If there isn’t interaction between characters early on, there’s a fair chance I may not like the book. Long sentences full of adjectives and words not commonly used by most people? Probably not for me.
Despite my many criteria, I usually leave the library with at least half a dozen books. But my system isn’t foolproof. Often, despite all the time and work I put into choosing a book, I don’t like it. But that’s ok. After all, the book didn’t cost me anything, so I don’t feel that I wasted money. And to me any time spent reading, even something that I’m not crazy about, is time well spent.