Sunday, May 6, 2018

The Beauty of Blind Reading

When you’re picking out a book to read, you usually do things. You look at the cover art. You read the synopsis on the back. Maybe you glance at the author bio or see what reviews are quoted. And you definitely take a look at where it’s shelved in the library or the bookstore. Because it’s your hard-earned time, and possibly also your hard-earned money, that you’re committing when you walk out with that book. And you want to know, as best you can, that it’s going to be worth it.
That’s how I’ve always done it. Until last year. In 2017, I made a commitment of a different sort. I agreed to be a judge for the Edgar Awards. They’re given out by Mystery Writers of America to honor the best in crime fiction, fact crime, and biography. Unlike other awards where voters pick from whatever they happen to have read that year, the Edgars require that judges read every book published in their particular category that year.
I was one of five judges for Best First Novel. The books arrived in the mail throughout the year, shipped by the publishers. By about the third one, I’d made a decision. I peeled off the dust jacket without looking at it, and just started reading. And I did that for all the rest of the 73 books** submitted to us. I didn’t know what they were about, which writers had blurbed the books, what the authors looked like, or even in some cases whether they were male or female. Each book was a blank slate to me.
And it was fantastic. I was genuinely surprised over and over again by plot twists or character revelations that would have been ruined had I read the back cover or inside flap. Now, believe me, I get it. That synopsis is designed to make you want to read the book, and it’s going to throw everything it can at you in order to do that. And I usually appreciate it, because time and money are scarce. I want to make a good decision, one where I’m more than reasonably sure I’m going to like the book.
But for the first, and maybe only time, I had the luxury of not having to choose. I read books I never would have picked up normally, and enjoyed many of them. So I highly recommend blind reading. Think about walking into the library and just pulling something off the shelf at random to take home. Don’t cheat and look at the back cover. Or if that’s too daring, ask fellow readers whose taste you trust to recommend a book with nothing more than a “I think you’ll like this.” Don’t let them tell you what it’s about, or what else the author has written, or anything else at all.
And let me know how it goes. 
**This was not a lot of books. The Best Paperback Original category had about 350 entries, and the Best Novel category had more than 530. Crime fiction is one heck of a popular genre, but then as a Do Some Damage reader, you already knew that, right? 
I got to present the Best First Novel Edgar last week at the awards banquet in NYC.


Sandra Ruttan said...

I've judged for an award the past two years and it's been great to read some books I otherwise likely wouldn't have heard of. I've discovered some great stuff through this process.

Claire Booth said...

Isn't it great to find new stuff? I'd love to get recommendations from you!