If you can't judge a book by its cover, how do you decide whether or not to read it? Reviews? Blurbs? Recommendations?
Although I tend to theoretically favor recommendations, I must say that I am a bit of a blurb addict. Whenever a story doesn't capture my attention immediately, I catch myself flipping to the front flap or back cover to remind myself why I thought the book looked interesting.
But sometimes it is hard to explain why a story is worth reading. Even trying to explain would interfere with the artistry of the telling.
I found this most strikingly the case in a documentary my husband and I watched recently. It had been recommended, so we watched it with very little idea of what to expect, and that was perfect. Every twist and turn of the story was entirely unexpected and thus packed with all the intended emotional weight of first discovery.
But I've found that whenever I try to tell people about it, I seem to only have three options. Give a blank recommendation (ha! as if anyone would trust me that much), try to explain the basic premise without spoilers (met with glazed eyes), or ruin the emotional impact of an unspoiled watch-through by just spitting out the mysterious reasons that drag in the viewer.
This goes back to Embers, I promise. A friend recommended it, and because I do trust that much (er, and it was a fairly short book O:), I picked it up and read it without any research and thus hardly any foreknowledge. Wow. Talk about a reading experience. From page one, the story pulls the reader along with deft hints and foreshadowing, promises of mysteries and then mysteries as promised.
It is a very satisfying read, especially if you have someone to discuss it with afterward.
The only problem was that once again I was left at a loss for how to make the book sound amazing to others (besides, you know, just saying "guys! it was amazing!" Because everyone has a different definition of amazing). So I googled it and discovered that apparently I'm not the only person with that problem, because even the blurbs nonchalantly blurted out the book's secrets as if there were no reason why they had been artfully woven into the heart of the story.
Not to say that a story can't be well written and worth reading with foreknowledge, but how many people are going to be interested in picking up a murder mystery if they already know whodunit, and can you really feel the intended tension of a thriller if you already heard what the big reveal is and know who the double-agents are?
I'm not sure where the balance is for recommendations, blurbs, and reviews, but it feels like a huge responsibility to try to give enough info to catch a person's interest but not enough to undo all that hard work the writer put into crafting the perfect story. Perhaps the best thing really is just to say, "it was really good - read it!" and just hope that a few people take your advice like I took the advice of my friend.
So Embers. It was really good - read it!