Funny way to choose a book…

In an earlier post, I mentioned that I had signed up for the Australian Women Writers Challenge for 2012.  This involves reading and blogging ten books written by Australian women writers over the year.  There are three Australian history books that I want to read that are general enough to qualify (the books can be fiction or non-fiction) and I’m pretty sure that I’ll read seven others quite easily during the year.

It’s holiday time, so I thought I’d make a start.  There are a few new ones I want to read: Anna Funder, Geraldine Brooks, Rosalie Ham, Charlotte Wood have all had books published last year that interest me.  But, oh dear- they’re all out on loan with multiple holds against them. So up to the library I went, happy to browse the shelves to find something.

I don’t think that I’ve ever gone looking for a book restricted by a particular type of author before- i.e. Australian and a woman.  The library has taken to putting little ‘Australian’ stickers on the spines of books so designated, so that made it a bit easier.  It also meant that once I’d found an eligible author, I was more reliant on the descriptions on the back cover than I usually would be.

I must say, though, that I was not well served.  I’m aware that probably the ‘good’ books would be on loan over Christmas, but everything I picked up seemed so domestic and mundane.  Relationships, relationships, relationships…was there nothing else? Many of them sounded like chick-lit even if they weren’t.  What would denote chicklit to me? probably the design on the cover, and the self-absorption of the main character (particularly the female main characters) and the emphasis on male/female relationships.  If I had limited myself to a different formula (e.g. male Australian; female British), would I have felt equally jaded in reading the book descriptions? I don’t know.  I strongly suspect that the description is the publisher and publicist’s decision, rather than the author’s. I wonder how much say the author has.

In the end, I went for Mardi McConnochie’s The Voyagers: a Love Story firstly because I have read her Coldwater which I really enjoyed, but more importantly because it had a setting that interested me.  The other two books that I chose are largely silent about their setting (Kate Legge’s The Unexpected Elements of Love and Sofie Laguna’s One Foot Wrong).  The description of Legge’s book leaves me underwhelmed, and I only found the description of Laguna’s book just now on the inside opening page- when I was standing by the library shelf, I went by Christos Tsiolkas’ blurb.

So if I don’t go by the demographic profile of the author, how do I choose a book? Largely by reviews in blogs, newspapers and magazines, I guess, and looking for subsequent books after I’ve enjoyed an author previously.  If so, this makes the gender disparity in reviewing even more problematic.

Obviously some people read by genre- hence the identifying labels ‘Australian’ ‘Fantasy’, ‘Crime’ etc. on the spines.  I asked Mr Judge, who is trying to reduce his groaning bookshelves by borrowing from the library too, even though he has a horrendous record of accruing enormous overdue fines.  He said that he goes by back-cover descriptions, but he seemed to be attracted by titles too.

And you?

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5 responses to “Funny way to choose a book…

  1. You have inspired me.

  2. Interesting what you write about the chicklit covers & titles, as well as the importance of reviews and recommendations. You’ve also listed here a few authors I haven’t seen on the AWW challenge lists. I look forward to seeing your reviews.

    Any chance Mr Judge might join the challenge?

  3. Hmm, good question … I used to browse shops and I’d mostly go by authors I had read or had heard of. I’d look in the literary fiction section and, if I didn’t know the author, I’d look at the setting, subject matter, if it had any award logos, and perhaps who, if any, had written blurbs (but this latter I would take with a grain of salt). I’d also look at the first para or so to get a sense of the writing style. My favourite bookshop where I still do this a little is the National Library of Australia bookshop because its focus is Aussie and the books tend to be those exhibiting quality writing

    Currently though my reading is mostly driven by external forces: scheduled books for reading groups, books received as gifts and other books in the TBR pile (see how I’ve externalised those now?), the review copies (of which I receive a few over the year), and books bought at literary events (though I don’t go to many each year). I rarely use the library these days and when I do it’s usually because I’m looking for something specific.

    • I’m using the library even more than I ever did since we’ve dropped down to one income- part of our little austerity drive. I’m starting to be more and more troubled by buying books that I then have to find room for. I don’t like giving away or dumping a book that I might have paid $30.00 to buy either, though.

      • I have just discovered a cache of books by women writers amid the Australian fiction section in a bookshop in Castlemaine. One or twobooks less than a third of the original price – and published last year. At present I am going by cover and blurb…

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