Thursday, 14 August 2014

Reading Habits #13: Back of the book

My copy of the book
First question

Does the synopsis on the back cover help you decide whether to read a book or not?

In my case it does if I don’t know who the author is or if I'm familiar but not quite or if I'm reading his or her book for the first time. However, I’d make an immediate exception if the book is a western or espionage in which case I couldn’t care less if the back cover was ripped off.


It doesn’t if I'm really familiar with the author and I have read and liked his or her books. To give you an idea, I won’t turn the book over if it is a P.G. Wodehouse, Jack Higgins, A.J. Cronin, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Oliver Strange, John le CarrĂ©, Agatha Christie, John Irving, Louis L'Amour, Kurt Vonnegut or Erle Stanley Gardner because I have read and enjoyed many of their novels and know exactly how they will tickle me.

Second question

Do you have a favourite or a memorable blurb or summary, one that you remember?

I remember only one and it has stayed with me since I read the novel when I was sixteen. Not surprisingly, it is a western—The Marshal of Lawless by British writer Oliver Strange whose ten books take you through the adventures of his hero James Green alias Sudden, the Texas outlaw. He is not an outlaw and earns the nickname because he is fast with his twin guns. The Sudden series is my favourite western.

This is what the back cover of The Marshal of Lawless says.

“Being Marshal of Lawless is plain suicide!” That's what they told the young fellow who applied for the job. They figured that anyone who had hocked his horse, his saddle and his guns to get money for liquor, was not the kind of man who could hold down one of the toughest towns in the West. But then the young stranger redeemed his guns and strapped them on. Lawless looked again. “Gentlemen, hush!” said one inhabitant. “A man has come to town!”

One of the reasons why I like James Green is because of his near flawless character. He is just, brave, honest, friendly, caring, intelligent, and a dogged fighter. His quest for two men who cheated the man who raised him makes him bitter but he doesn’t show it as he quietly goes about fulfilling a promise he made to the dying man. Nor does it stop him from going to the aid of people in the towns and ranches he visits, and making friends along the way. His deeds speak for the kind of person he is. Green is modest as he seldom reveals that he is United States Deputy Marshal. In short, he is a man who wears a badge on his pocket and honour on his sleeve.

How about you?



For previous Reading Habits, see under ‘Labels’.

22 comments:

  1. Absolutely, I love back cover blurbs and always read them. I had so much fun writing them for my Talera books. They have a big impact on my choosing a book to buy, and to read. I rather like ones that project high drama!

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    1. Charles, it's interesting to hear about a published writer's viewpoint on a blurb. I often pick a novel without reading the blurb.

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  2. Yes I go by the back cover blurbs but I also get taken in by covers!

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    1. Mystica, covers of paperbacks of the last century are some of the best that I have seen. Modern covers are good but they're seldom great.

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  3. Yes, I always read any synopsis or blurbs. Or I used to. Now I usually make my decisions by what I read online or in reviews. I seldom just cruise shelves like I used to.

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    1. Patti, unlike in the past I find myself influenced by the reviews I read and, I think, part of the reason is that I don't want to miss out on a good author or book. I have been introduced to many in the past six years.

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  4. I glance at cover copy looking for any showstoppers. Revenge westerns don't interest me, and as soon as I see that's the premise for a novel's plot, the book goes back on the shelf.

    A clever marketing slogan does catch my eye, (there's a term for this for movies, but I can't think of it), and while I don't have a favorite, here are a couple from my bookshelf. "The price on his head was the measure of the love in his heart." (Sam Brown, The Crime of Coy Bell). "Cahoon had a killer's reputation and a yellow streak down his back." (John Reese, They Don't Shoot Cowards).

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    1. Ron, I understand your point about revenge westerns. The SUDDEN series isn't exactly one. James Green goes through one adventure after another without obsessing over the two men he is looking for. At most, he'll ask his new friends, acquaintances or employers if they have heard of two men who go by the names of Webb and Petersen. He finally meets them in THE RANGE ROBBERS.

      Thanks for mentioning THE CRIME OF COY BELL and DON'T SHOOT COWARDS. I have not read them.

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  5. The (obviously fake) cover blurbs for 1066 AND ALL THAT have always cracked me up. My favorite merely says "This slim volume ..."

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    1. Kelly, you can't be deceived by your favourite blurb. I have seen it before. I didn't know about 1066 AND ALL THAT until you mentioned it. It'd be fun to read a tongue-in-cheek history of England.

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  6. I try to avoid synopses on the cover because often they give away some of the plot. I like to come into a book knowing as little as possible. On the other hand if I know nothing at all about an author, it could make a difference. If I actually have the book in hand. Sometimes I read them afterwards.

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    1. Tracy, I agree, blurbs often give away the plot, sometimes even spoiling a good book for the reader. I like to read the blurbs of espionage novels, especially those set during the Cold War. They are bombastic.

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  7. Very good points there Prashant and I like the fact that the sheriff is the new person in town - we all relate to starting a new job and moving to a new place and right away I would feel attracted to something I could connect to. Cheers mate.

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    1. Sergio, thank you. I never thought of it. Great points to you, too. Sudden takes up a new job wherever he goes, usually as a foreman or as a sheriff, but never for money. He has certain beliefs and principles and he stands by them no matter what the consequences are.

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  8. I'm like Tracy - very suspicious of blurbs because they often either feature spoilers or mistakes, I get very annoyed with them. BUT I was very surprised to remember that I had quite a thing for Westerns when I was a teenager, and I most definitely read some Sudden books - not sure if this was one of them. I would never have come up with the name by myself, but as soon as I saw your reference it resonated....

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    1. Moira, I'm glad to hear that you are familiar with SUDDEN and that you have read some of the books. Oliver Strange wrote frontier fiction without once crossing the Atlantic. He used his imagination to write about the wild west. His description of the frontier, its towns, ranches, and characters is vivid and realistic.

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  9. When I was a teenager I was infuriated by paperback covers that had illustrations that gave away the ending of mystery novels. The various 1970s editions of MURDER AT HAZELMOOR by Agatha Christie are probably the worst offenders. Nowadays I'm rarely bothered at all. As for the "back of book" plot synopsis -- it's a lost art. Even better were those taglines on the front cover. Look at all the Gold Medal paperbacks for excellent examples. These days I tend to glance over a DJ plot blurb or a paperback back cover, but will rarely read the entire thing. Like spoiler laden movie trailers in our present day too many book blurbs retell the story in capsule format. Sometimes it's not even worth reading the book after reading the blurb. What's left to discover?

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    1. John, thanks for your insight. You raise a good point about book synopsis being "a lost art." I do recall reading some excellent synopsis on the back of hardbacks and paperbacks. Sometimes this would be published on the inside of the dust jackets along with a picture and profile of the author. I'm not impressed by the taglines and blurbs of modern covers and back covers.

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  10. Yes- blurbs suck me in a lot of the time, as do covers and recommendations from other authors that I have enjoyed.

    Conversely some author recommendations put me off, when I have previously experienced less enjoyable books that were praised by authors, in an apparent mutual back-slapping ritual.

    Can't recall any standout blurbs/synopses but I'll read theme very time before starting the book.

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    1. Col, I think it is fairly easy to discern the worth of a book from the blurb or synopsis which can either be objective and done well or it can be a shameless plug. Although I can't recall more blurbs other than the one I quoted above, I have come across many well-written synopsis of books and these are usually from paperbacks of the 20th century.

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  11. Great post, Prashant. I loved your answers, so well thought out. I used to read westerns by the bunch years ago. Zane Grey was my favorite. I still have some westerns on my shelves but they're mostly of the romance variety. (From another reading phase of long ago.) Oh gosh, I wish I could remember all the cowboy books I read and loved.

    As for back of the book synopsis and blurbs, you have to be careful because they rarely have anything to do with the author and a lot of the time are written by people who haven't even read the book. So there's that to consider. I like to look at the first couple of pages (in the bookstore or on Amazon) and judge from that and also from the plot line that I might pick up from a review or some comments or other online.Though I do try to keep an open mind, I'm fairly specific about the type of book and writing I will like even if my tastes to occasionally run to the esoteric.

    Like you, I will read certain writers without bothering to find out anything about the book other than it exists. Robert Crais, Lee Child and Martha Grimes are three off the top of my head.

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  12. If its an author I don't know, then the synopsis is what I go by. If its an author I know and love, I really could care less, other than to get a general feel for what the book is about.

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