Saturday, July 1, 2017

Reading into the Dark

Scott D. Parker

Tell me if this is a familiar practice for y’all.

You pull up a movie on your TV using whatever medium you want, be it DVD, streaming, whatever. You start the film. Let’s say the movie is a decade old (but it could be anytime, really) and you see an actor you haven’t seen in awhile. While the movie is playing, you pull out your phone and start reading the Wikipedia entry for said actor. Then, you pull up the Wikipedia entry for the actual movie and start reading about the production, the reception at the time, and other facts of that ilk. Yeah, you’re watching the movie, but you’ve got Rotten Tomatoes occasionally pulled up and see that the film has a 74% rating. And you might read a few reviews…while the movie is going on.

I don’t do that all the time, but I do it enough that it’s a thing for me now. I caught myself doing it a few weeks ago and have diligently worked at breaking that habit to only moderate success.

The thing is, I do the same thing with books.

I see a book with a cool cover. I check out the author’s name and, if I don’t know it, I’ll look it up. Pretty quickly, I’ll find myself at Amazon where I check one thing first: the length of the book. I have way too many things I want to read so if a certain book is 500 pages long, I’ll actually think twice about starting it. Or I’ll try it on Audible. Naturally, when I’m on the Amazon page, I can’t help but see the star rating. If I’m borderline and it’s a cumulative three stars, there’s even more reason to pass. Boy, I know that sounds harsh, but it’s a practice I’ve fallen into in recent months.

With my Kindle Paperwhite—my primary means of reading nowadays—I’ll get the sample. This is a great way to see if all the things that first attracted my eye is worth continuing despite the star rating or the length. I love it.

So it was with immense joy that I recently read a book in which I did none of that. Absolutely none! And I loved it. Here’s the sequence of events.

I have the standard Kindle Paperwhite so I get the ads on the sleep screen. Frankly, I enjoy having that feature because it gives me a chance to maybe read something different. Well, recently, there was an ad for a new book by Janet Evanovich called Dangerous Minds. The cover was nice, but what got me was the sub-title: A Knight and Moon Novel. Huh, I thought. I knew about Stephanie Plum and the series with Lee Goldberg, but I hadn’t heard about Knight and Moon. Granted, I’ve never read an Evanovich novel so why would I have?

Be that as it may, here’s a little tip for folks, like me, who write blurbs for our books: words matter. Here’s the little blurb that showed up on the Paperwhite: “The irrepressibly charming duo of Emerson Knight and Riley Moon return in another gripping mystery by #1 New York Times bestselling author Janet Evanovich.” Do you know which words got me? “Irrepressibly charming.” Immediately, I had visions of Castle and Beckett and Nick and Nora. I was intrigued. I got the sample, but didn’t get a chance to read it before I went to the grocery store.

With Dangerous Minds newly released in hardback, that meant Curious Minds, the first novel, was now in paperback. I saw it’s nifty cover at Kroger, noted the sub-title, read the back, realized it was the first in the series (of how many I had no clue), and threw it into the basket. Later that evening, I opened the book and started reading. That was last Friday.

This past Tuesday, I finished the novel. I hadn’t finished a book that fast in a long time. I was swept up in the story and the characters. And here’s the best thing. Not once, during reading (and including me writing this post) did I jump to Amazon to check out the ratings. Not once did I go to Wikipedia to read about the author or where she came up with this concept. I did nothing but *read*.

And it was so refreshing!

I know reviews matter in this publishing business, but, as I mentioned last week, I had forgotten how to be just a reader. With Curious Minds, I was just a reader and I flat-out loved it!

Am I alone in my viewing habits? Do y’all have another screen in your lap while you watch TV? And do you do the same thing with books?

And do you break that habit every now and then?


David Cranmer said...

When I'm watching with the family, I rarely break to research movie but by myself I often check the behind the scenes on IMDb or Wikipedia.

Art Taylor said...

A fun post here, Scott! I hadn't thought about this, but yes, I often do the same thing--that process of all the small side roads you can take along the longer journey of reading a book or watching a movie. Very much appreciated you calling attention to this and talking about the joys in releasing yourself from that habit!