Last week I got an email from my sister with the subject line “DNF without opening the book?” and the entire body of the message was this:

The Serpent M’gulfn has been destroyed, its dark reign ended – but its death has unleashed dangerous energies that threaten the Earth of Three Planes anew. Journeying to Gorethria comes Melkavesh, daughter of Ashurek, determined to harness the new potential of sorcery for good. It seems she is too late, for a ruthless usurper, Duke Xaedrek, has already seized power. Aided by a demon with malign ambitions of its own, he is working to restore the evil Gorethrian Empire. To save the Earth, Melkavesh must defeat him – even though their conflict may bring other lands to ruin, claim innocent victims, and even cause the moons to fall. Melkavesh may avert disaster only if she heeds the mysterious Lady of H’tebhmella. But can she withstand the temptation to reclaim her birthright – the dark throne renounced by Ashurek – or resist the all-too-seductive charm of Xaedrek himself? Freda Warrington’s classic, weirdly atmospheric fantasies A Blackbird in Amber and A Blackbird in Twilight appear for the first time in a single, complete volume.

I have to say that based solely on that blurb, I never would have picked up the book. It combines what seems like a clichéd plot with one of my all time fantasy pet peeves – a naming system based on excessive apostrophe use combined with abuse of the letters X and K. And that’s probably a loss for me, because Freda Warrington gets good reviews from our reviewers.

That dichotomy – good reviews paired with a book that I, left to my own devices would leave on a shelf – got me wondering about what criteria I use to select a book from an author with whom I am unfamiliar. As a reviewer, I basically read whatever Kat asks me to read [edit by Kat: Hey, that makes me sound like some sort of tyrant, Ruth! Actually, the truth, dear readers, is that Ruth reads whatever she darn well pleases and sometimes I suggest or send her books that I think she will enjoy. I think I’ll keep the next Very Best of Charles de Lint for myself, thank you! :tongue: ] [response edit by Ruth: I just want someone to blame for having read The Magician’s Apprentice! :tongue: It’s true, I get to read what I want. I just feel compelled to read more broadly now that I am a reviewer], which has been a benefit to me because I have encountered some great new (either to everyone or just to me) authors. But back when I got to be more discriminating in my reading, there were a few things that always drew me in.

fantasy and science fiction book reviewsThe first was good cover art. I can’t help it – I like pretty things. I think this may be one of the reasons I don’t read urban fantasy – the covers are all hackneyed rip-offs of one another. Give me a Michael Whelan or Jody A. Lee cover any day of the week over another photoshopped monstrosity. Secondly, I used to take the recommendation blurbs into account. For a while, I could trust Charles de Lint to recommend books that I was interested in, but then it seemed that the publishers caught on to that because he started being blurbed on every book published, along with Jane Yolen and Anne McCaffrey. So I stopped counting on that. Then I would read the description to see if it appealed to me. Sometimes that works. Sometimes the descriptions are vague, meaningless, or downright deceptive. Now, to buy a book by an author I have never heard of, it has to be highly recommended by someone I trust (hello, FanLit!)

I’m wondering how much of that evolution has to do with exposure to the internet. Now, I can find out what people think of a book before I buy it, and rarely do I go into a bookstore and just browse. I can see a review of a book that looks interesting, click over to my library’s website, see if they have it, put a hold on it, and then wait for them to pull it for me and tell me it’s ready for pickup at the front desk. I rarely browse even at the library anymore. If the library doesn’t have it (and an email to my mother and sister verify that they don’t have it either) then a quick couple of clicks and I’ve signed over more of my paycheck to Amazon.

True, this means that I don’t read as many clunkers, and I save my hard earned money. But I also feel like maybe I’ve lost something in the process. Opening a book used to be the start of a journey that could result in either breathtaking wonder or soporific ponderousness. I feel like my book buying has become more safe now that it is all pre-vetted and pre-approved. True, the lows aren’t as low, but I’ve also lost a little bit of the highs as well, the potential for the thrill of a new discovery, the true magic of reading. I guess that is one of the reasons that I love being a reviewer – it forces me outside of my comfort zone by minimizing the risks (ARCs don’t cost me anything so I wont be wasting my money) and allows me to experience heavenly delights along side the abysmal failures. And a whole lot of in between.

This is all an introduction to the two questions I want to put out there to you, dear readers.

1. What inspires you to buy a book by an author you’ve never heard of?

2. How has the rise of the internet and social networking sources like Fantasy Literature and GoodReads changed how you buy books and how do you feel about that?

Leave us a comment and we’ll draw a winner from among all the commenters to choose a book from our ever-increasing stacks.


  • Ruth Arnell

    RUTH ARNELL (on FanLit's staff January 2009 — August 2013) earned a Ph.D. in political science and is a college professor in Idaho. From a young age she has maxed out her library card the way some people do credit cards. Ruth started reading fantasy with A Wrinkle in Time and The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe — books that still occupy an honored spot on her bookshelf today. Ruth and her husband have a young son, but their house is actually presided over by a flame-point Siamese who answers, sometimes, to the name of Griffon.

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