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Savouring the Book Journey

· Fine Book Collecting,Book Covers,Book Blurbs,Donna Leon,Kelvin C James

Reading a book is taking a journey to a place where you have never been. Unless, of course, a book is being reread. I wish the journey to be eventful, delightful, and full of surprises. Yes, murder mysteries can be delightful, indeed!

I have stated more than once, in my musings, that the first things I do when I pick up a book is look over the dust jacket and then the book itself to assess condition. Then I turn to the title page to look for the publisher and dates and then the verso to see if the book is a first edition. If any of my requirements are not met, then the book is returned to the shelf.

But, it those conditions are met and the book is still in my hands, I will now tell you what I don’t do. I don’t read more than the first paragraph of the blurb on the flyleaf. I find that most blurbs tell you too much about the story, and for me, ruins the story by taking away surprises. I look on the page prior to the title page looking for a listing of previous books. This often gives a sense of what the author is about if the author is new to you. And then I turn to the back of the book jacket, the other form of blurb. If the reviewers are talking about the book in my hand, I do not read them. If on the other hand, the reviews are about previous titles – perfect!

Most often, blurbs are written by the publisher and not by the author. And, of course, the publisher is trying to sell the book. That is why they solicit reviewers’ comments on the book or on the author. Too many times they give the story line away on novels.

Here are two examples of books that I have recently read.


A Fling with a Demon Lover (how can you pass that title up?) by Kelvin Christopher James, turned out to be an interesting book. The author is originally from Trinidad and now lives in Harlem. The flyleaf blurb gives way too much about the storyline. It mentions the lover, that is OK we know that part from the title, but then goes on to talk about the journey to Greece, and the prime antagonist who really does not appear till the last quarter of the book. When I started reading, I did not even know about the trip to Greece. The back of the book has commentary about this book, which hints away at the contents.

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Dressed for Death by Donna Leon (whose name you are probably tiring of) is treated much better in the blurbs. The giveaways don’t penetrate beyond the first third of the book and the back cover has insightful comments about the author’s previous two books.

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So, what about the illustrated books, I love so much. All of the above still applies. If I am reading a history, or a book on Art Nouveau, or anything, I still want my journey surprises! With an art book, I will flip through the books illustrations to get an idea of the quality and quantity, just enough to get an appreciation of what the book holds for me. I want to be surprised every time I turn the page of an art book.

All of the above applies when I am buying a book for the personal library. Once the volume has passed the initial acid test, I determine whether the book is for me or for resale. If the latter, I spend much more time on the illustrations of an art book. I post art books with at least 5 pictures, so I go through the book in detail, to make sure it collates fine, and to pick out representative illustrations. I

want to pick those illustrations that will help to sell the book!

I am sure that not all readers share this philosophy, and some read the blurb to determine if that sounds like the kind of book that would appeal. And even provide signposts. It is a matter of personal choice – for us readers!