When you can't judge a book by its cover

People say you can't judge a book by its cover. It's something I frequently do, and if I'm totally honest, I've been known to add books to my Amazon wish list purely based on the fact the cover is visually pleasing, that is, non-pastel coloured with an abstract picture of something or someone shrouded in mist.

During a recent fleeting visit to my local library to pick up a book I'd requested (The Burley Cross Postbox Theft by Nicola Barker), I was accosted by the lovely lady behind the counter. Maybe I looked like an open minded reader? Perhaps I looked super-intelligent and up for a challenge? Or maybe she was just desperate to shed a book from her big pile?

I was invited to take part in the Libraries NI Lucky Dip Reading Challenge as part of the London 2012 Open Weekend. In this scheme participants select a parcelled-up book from the display stand at random. They then fill in the comment card with their views on the book and this is returned to Libraries NI HQ. The main aim of the challenge is to introduce readers to books they otherwise would have bypassed in the library.

I said yes, of course I'd participate and picked my parcel from the third shelf. Admittedly, this was after a swift grope to ascertain whether it was a paperback or hardback.

'No cheating,' said the nice lady behind the counter.
'I'm just feeling them, to see if they are hardback or paperback,' I said.
'You can't see through the paper,' she said.
'I know!' I replied.

The paper covering was indeed completely opaque so there were no opportunities to cheat. I chose what I was led to believe was a hardback. And it was.

When I opened my package I sighed in consternation because it was a ghostwritten biography. Worse still, it was Sir David Jason, A Life Of Laughter. But then I recalled all those years spent watching Only Fools and Horses. I remembered the batman and robin scene and all those Christmas specials. So I put aside my prejudices and opened the book and read the first chapter on Mr Jason's childhood. Not being of any interest to me, I closed the book and filled in the comment card ticking 'no' for the question: is this a book you would normally read? I also added a point along the lines of not being a fan of ghostwritten biographies, but enjoyed the opportunity to participate in this scheme. Finally I added that I would definitely be encouraged to select a book I wouldn't otherwise have chosen on a future visit. And I may just keep my word.

It's a great scheme for the occasional reader; the person who visits a library maybe three or four times a year and goes in without any specific author or genre preferences. And if your library has organised something similar do go along and support it.

The London 2012 Open Weekend, which is supported by BP, features a series of sporting, arts and cultural challenges, taking place across the UK, to mark the countdown to the start of the Olympic Games. This Libraries NI reading challenge was just one of hundreds of other Open Weekend events giving people the chance to learn a new dance or piece of music.

Why not challenge yourself and read a book you would not normally choose, be a daredevil and e-mail a literary agent, finally send off that MS, or do something crazy in a non-literary sense…like a bungee jump or a skydive. The challenge is yours.


Helen Black said...

I think it's great to keep challenging our reading lists.
I know I am a bugger for endlessly reading thrillers.
I love them, of course, and it somehow feels necessary to keep up with all the latest success stories in my genre.
However, I know I need to read so much more.
The scheme you describe sounds such a good idea to get readers out of their comfort zone.
HB x

Anonymous said...

I did a similar challenge some time ago here in Bristol. In fact I just couldn't resist the idea of surprise, like unwrapping a present! Reading groups are also good for making us dip into the unknown. I only read Stephen King 'The Shining' because it was a book club choice and learned a huge amount from it.

Susie Nott-Bower said...

I think it's a fabulous scheme - and no reason why we can't do something similar as individuals. I've been wondering about doing it with books that I've read and am not likely to read again - only to take them out on my walks and just leave them on a bench or on a stile, with an invitation to pass them on or even email me with comments! I know I'd LOVE to find one.

Caroline Green said...

What an interesting idea. I once went into the wrong cinema at the Barbican to see a movie and it was such a strange feeling for a film to start that I had absolutely no preconceptions about. It was quite disorientating at first but turned out to be a good movie: Pacific Heights with Michael Keaton. Good post, Gillian.

Debs Riccio said...

Great post. I've only read bits and pieces of biographical stuff. Julie Walters was, Michael J Fox, Dawn French... but I still ended up drifting back to the pics... shallow. I LOVE the idea of leaving a book on a park bench... I left one at the villa we stayed at in Italy last year, just finished it and left a message in it to other occupants hoping they'd enjoy it. We're always swapping books at work, and I've recently discovered I quite like a thriller. Who knew?!

Gillian McDade said...

Thanks for the comments. Good idea about leaving books behind. The only time I've done that, it's been accidental!

Lindsay said...

Great idea to extend our reading. I belong to a fairly literary book group and therefore have often read books I wouldn't otherwise have chosen - some I've loved, some I've hated. Some I couldn't put down, some I couldn't pick up! Not sure whether I would have liked the David Jason biog but he does have associations with where I live in North London and went to the school my daughter attended so maybe I would have persevered.

Michael LaRocca said...

I read books I wouldn't normally read quite often, but that's because I'm a big cheater. I let my wife go to the bookstores. She's got a gift for accurately judging a book by its cover, and for finding things I'd never normally read but which I'm glad I did.