I love visiting bookstores, whether they're online or brick-and-mortar. There's something magical about scanning shelves in search of just the right story. At times I choose a book based on a friend's recommendation, or one written by a particular author, but below is my usual list of criteria.
I judge a book by its cover.
Initially, anyway. That's not to say I like bold, busy images. To the contrary. I'm often attracted to cover art that makes me stop, stare and sigh--like these:
I judge a book by its title.
It should tell me something about the story. Isn't that what it's there for? If a title doesn't allude to the story's plot, or arouse something within me, I'll keep looking until I find one that does. I like the following titles:
I judge a book by its blurb.
A great dust jacket description prompts me to purchase a book, or to at least add it to my wish list. The blurb to The Kitchen House interested me enough to buy it.
When a white servant girl violates the order of plantation society, she unleashes a tragedy that exposes the worst and best in the people she has come to call her family. Orphaned while onboard ship from Ireland, seven-year-old Lavinia arrives on the steps of a tobacco plantation where she is to live and work with the slaves of the kitchen house. Under the care of Belle, the master's illegitimate daughter, Lavinia become deeply bonded to her adopted family, though she is set apart from them by her white skin. Eventually, Lavinia is accepted into the world of the big house, where the master is absent and the mistress battles opium addiction. Lavinia finds herself perilously straddling two very different worlds. When she is forced to make a choice, loyalties are brought into question, dangerous truths are laid bare, and lives are put at risk.
I judge a book by its opening lines.
When I open a book to the first page, I hope it pulls me in. What a joy when it refuses to let me go!
That's what happened when I read the first few paragraphs of The House at Riverton.
Last November I had a nightmare.It was 1924 and I was at Riverton again. All the doors hung wide open, silk billowing in the summer breeze. An orchestra perched high on the hill beneath the ancient maple, violins lilting lazily in the warmth. The air rang with pealing laughter and crystal, and the sky was the kind of blue we’d all thought the war had destroyed forever. One of the footmen, smart in black and white, poured champagne into the top of a tower of glass flutes and everyone clapped, delighting in the splendid wastage.I saw myself, the way one does in dreams, moving amongst the guests. Moving slowly, much more slowly than one can in life, the others a blur of silk and sequins.I was looking for someone.Then the picture changed and I was near the summer house, only it wasn’t the summer house at Riverton—it couldn’t have been. This was not the shiny new building Teddy had designed, but an old structure with ivy climbing the walls, twisting itself through the windows, strangling the pillars.Someone was calling me. A woman, a voice I recognized, coming from behind the building, on the lake’s edge. I walked down the slope, my hands brushing against the tallest reeds. A figure crouched on the bank.It was Hannah in her wedding dress, mud splattered across the front, clinging to the appliquéd roses. She looked up at me, her face pale where it emerged from shadow. Her voice chilled my blood.“You’re too late.” She pointed to my hands. “You’re too late.” I looked down at my hands, young hands, covered in dark river mud, and in them the stiff, cold body of a dead foxhound.
That first page really sucked me in, so The House at Riverton is now on my Christmas wish list!
Yes, I've chosen and enjoyed books with a mediocre cover (Gone With the Wind) title, blurb or first lines (Lord of the Flies) but that certainly isn't the norm.
What list of things do you look for when deciding which books to buy?