Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Between the covers

As a book reviewer, I am obligated to read every book from cover to cover whether I like it or not. Sometimes it's a chore and sometimes it's a blessing in disguise. Normally, I race through a book in hours. Sometimes I race through a book in days or even weeks because it is that horrible. Then there are books that seem wonderful in the beginning but lose my interest somewhere after the first third or even the first half, but I finish the book regardless. I do the same for books that start out horrible and become wonderful. That's part of the beauty of books--and writers; you don't always know the real story until you read the whole thing. The book I just finished reading and reviewing is a case in point.

This last book was a mystery. The first few chapters were horrible, the dialogue cliched with cookie cutter bad guys doing bad things and the good guys drinking coffee and eating donuts on the way to the scene of a crime in progress. The good guy has been tracking the bad guy for years and the bad guy plays with the good guy like a cat with a mouse until he finally decides to take the good guy out and ends up in a ditch. Ho hum.

Every time I started reading the book all I could think about was putting in some extra time with work or watching a DVD or picking up something interesting to read, like anything in the piles of books that teeter in tower of Pisa piles and over flow boxes and are heaped on furniture and floor. Anything not to have to finish the book. But it's my job and I do get paid regularly and fair well for reading even awful books. The only thing that would have made this book worse was doing it for free. Earning a fee for reviewing puts a short time limit on how long I can take reading any one book. Most of the time I finish three or four books a week even when I'm working a lot of hours; I sleep less so I can read. It's worth it. And then there are times when it isn't worth it and I'd rather clean the toilet or wash the dishes than finish the book. I thought this last book was the latter. I was wrong. It was awful at first but one-third of the way through became really good with a surprising ending.

That's part of the wonder and magic of books. Sometimes you see the book's cover, read the blurbs on the back and a short synopsis on the fly leaf of the dust jacket and can't wait to start it. Other times, the blurbs are the best part of the book. There are times when choosing any book by a new author is a crap shoot that more often than not pays off. Some books have rocky middles and are good or bad at the beginning and the ending or some other combination of good, mediocre and bad.

The saying goes, "As above, so below." It applies also to books.

I've met people who were wonderful on first meeting but the longer I knew them the less wonderful they became. The cover was nice and the blurbs and synopsis were great, the inside left a lot to be desired. The same is true for people who rubbed me the wrong way the first time we met, and for many subsequent meetings, but then something clicked or we found something in common and we've remained friends ever since; in a few cases we've been friends for many decades (yes, I am that old).

There will always be people who live up to first impressions: good and bad. You can spend years with someone who struck your fancy right off the bat and somewhere along the line they changed or you changed or some piece of the human puzzle that wasn't immediately visible clicked into place and you found yourself stuck. Some people have rocky patches in the middle (and sometimes a few rocky patches) but what drew you to them in the first place keeps you hanging around, waiting for the opportunity to pick up where you left off and go on to a satisfying ending. Life is magic, too.

Because I'm a reviewer I have no choice but to finish whatever book I promise to review: good, bad or indifferent. When I'm not reviewing and a book doesn't pan out or shows no signs of getting better, I put it down, take it back to the library, give it to someone who might like it or donate it--anything to get it out of my hands. I have been surprised sometimes but not often and it gives me a new understanding of the publishing business when time is of the essence and there is a room full of manuscripts to read. The author doesn't get more than a page or two, and sometimes only a couple paragraphs, before their fate is sealed.

Part of what kept me reading that awful beginning of a mystery was a glimmer of something in the writing, a hint of a promise of something good. That's why I wait for some people to get clear of the rocky times--there is a glimmer of hope, a hint of something special between us and tossing them aside without sticking around for the ending would be a big loss--for both of us. I'm glad I finished that awful beginning of a book for whatever reason. It was worth it. I know people like that, too. Don't you?

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