When writing the story Can You Spoil Your Children With Too Much Praise? I was reminded that the book to which I referred was one that I bought in an airport bookshop. Surely, one of the greatest outlets for paperbacks and the occasional hardcover, with our highly mobile population. I browse airport bookshops more often than I buy there, because there are less expensive places to purchase one’s reading.
Popular authors, best sellers, serial stories and novels abound. Colours are bright and even arresting – with titles sometimes greatly overshadowed by the Author’s name, announced in glowing gold. There IS something very satisfying about boarding a plane with a brand new book and being able to isolate oneself within its confines while you fly at 36,000 feet across the planet. It may well be that the concept of flying within the shell of an aircraft is such a strange but familiar thing that it makes sense to escape into some other imaginary world.
On my return from Brisbane in March, I had spent several hours working in the Qantas Lounge before we were called to embark, only to find that a further delay of ten minutes or so would keep us on the ground. I wandered into the newsagents nearby and began to peruse the bookshelves at the back. After all, I hadn’t bought a new book since Christmas!
Since I like fantasy stories and science fiction (Fiona McIntosh, Sarah Douglass are favourites), I tend to bypass the detective stories and thrillers. Robert Ludlam and Clive Cussler are not often on my reading list. My favourite Stephen King book is “On Writing” and when I did read “Under The Dome” the obvious conclusion to the story made it a very frustrating read for me, from the middle of the book onwards. I loved “The Swarm” – translated from the German – except for the last 50 pages which were a mishmash of a conclusion, trying to rationalise a great fantasy story into something that might apply to a current political or environmental landscape.
Historical novels about the Tudors and colonial days are especially appealing – and Phillipa Gregory vies with Jean Plaidy and Catherine Gaskin. “Sara Dane” is a role model and women of strong character are prolific in my library.
Wilbur Smith has become more violent and sex ridden over the years – I loved him when he first wrote “When The Lion Feeds” (1964) and read all his books up to “A Sparrow Falls” (1977) with great relish. “A Leopard Hunts In Darkness” was unreadable, for me, although recently I did enjoy “River God” and may well seek out some more of his Egyptian series.
Having read Robert Ruark’s “Something Of Value” during my second pregnancy, in 1964, I have waded through pools of blood and violence that are horrific but a necessary part of the real story. The Mau Mau uprisings in Kenya are a compelling part of African history, although largely forgotten. “The Old Man and the Sea” is as inescapable as “The Last Whale” – completely different writing styles but both stories that must be read.
Peter Carey’s “Oscar and Lucinda” disturbed me; Kate Grenville’s “The Secret River” was a great companion to “Sara Dane”, although much more recent in its writing, in its interaction between first settlers and Australian aboriginals; Robert Drewe’s “The Drowner” should be compulsory reading for all Australian school children aged 13 and over.
So, which book drew my hand and eye in Brisbane? It was an author new to me, Deborah Harkness and I have fallen into what is clearly going to be a series: “A Discovery Of Witches” is the beginning of a new series of fantasy adventures. I am not surprised that she has has released two non-fiction historical books, one about John Dee and the other about Elizabethan London, both of which I intend to find with some alacrity. John Dee has come to my attention through “The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel” by Michael Scott and I love this series.
Since she is an entirely new author to me, what made me choose this book?
A black cover with a swirl of red and a clear title that was easy to read made it attractive. Stories about magic, dragons, vampires, old worldly stuff are part of my favourite genre so the topic was likely to be high on my list of choices. Before deciding to buy this particular book, I looked at least a dozen others and I gradually determined how I was evaluating the book itself, before checking its contents.
Opening a book in three or four different places, your eye and brain quickly begin to form an image of the presentation of the tome. The font, the spacing of the text, the layout of the paragraphs and the quality of the paper on which it is printed. The feel of the book in your hand. Unconsciously, your brain begins to weigh the physical book and rationalise the perceived value of the book in comparison against another. By way of pages, words and the author’s offering.
It was a surprise to me to see how quickly my number crunching brain was evaluating the worth of the book on the physical basis – $$ for $$, which book offered the best value in terms of content. Given that the comparative prices of the books I was checking out were from $27 to $33, there was a very large disparity in the volume of words being offered, based on the physical presentation of the dozen books that I scanned.
Of course, just the fact that one book has more words than another is no criterion of writing quality – but it is a start in deciding whether you are getting a fair number of words for the price you have to pay. The font, the layout, the quality of the paper all add to the ease and pleasure of reading of books and every book must be a physical pleasure to handle and view to make the actual reading smooth and easy.
I bought the book because it met all my instinctive calculations of good value and fair quality. Having read the book (I devour books, more than read them, I think) it was a good decision and I look forward to Deborah Harkness’ next book with great anticipation.
What is it that draws your hand and eye to a book? We invite you to share with us, with your comments.
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