What gets us to read books?


Some of you might already know I follow author Chuck Wendig on both Twitter and his blog, terribleminds.com, and today I have to tell you I got his newest post in my inbox, and I decided to do something about it. He’s asking his readers what gets them to read a book.

I shared this with you because in my opinion this is a very debatable subject, and I thought I’d dedicate an entire post for this thing, explanation being a bit complicated. Therefore, I will share my personal reading experience, trying to extrapolate a pattern, to understand what actually got me to read books the most.  Are you ready? Here goes!

And the first thing that comes to mind is that I started to read when I was three. My grandmother taught me. I don’t know how she did that, I have no idea whatsoever, and that buggers me a bit because I am trying to teach my six-year-old sister to read now, but I find it hard as bricks. Well, it might have been the fact that my grandmother was a schoolteacher, and she had her techniques, which never failed her. At least that’s what I assume now, although I know that assumption is the mother of all fuck-ups (I have this written on a whiteboard in my office, it helps sometimes).

The first thing I started reading were comics: Mickey Mouse, Donald, and all kinds of Disney stuff. Then my father introduced me to the German writer Karl May, so I started enjoying the western genre, and at some point managed to achieve a very wide knowledge of Native American Tribes. My favorites, of course, were the Apaches. Second place were the Utah, because of some very cool Utah people he described in “The Treasure of Silver Lake”.

Anyway, after that he once bought me a book of short stories. It was called “Buy Jupiter and Other Stories” by Isaac Asimov (Romanian translation was named “The Founders”). And that started the Science Fiction Frenzy!

I guess you could say at the beginning of my life, influence had a lot to do with what I read, because I quickly became an Asimov Avid (can I call myself that? Is it even legal?).

But at some point I got into computer gaming. I played all sorts of wonderful old games. And one of my friends told me about a great game, Dune II, in which you get to build a base, grow an army, harvest a resource called spice, and all that stuff. When my mom heard, she remembered of a Dune game her colleagues were playing, so she got me two floppy disks with the first Dune game (Dune, not Dune II).

I can say I loved it way more than Dune II, and today I still believe it is the greatest game ever invented. And I played a lot of other games, but Dune is simply… exceptional.

Of course, I went and read the book (my mother already had it in her personal library), and I remember even now the quote on the first page, belonging to Arthur C. Clarke: “Unique… I know nothing comparable to it.” I later found out the Romanian edition had a modified version of his quote, which actually sounded like this in original: “Unique… in the depth of its characterization and the extraordinary detail of the world it creates. I know nothing comparable to it except The Lord Of The Rings”. But thank God the Romanian version had the “mutilated” quote, because it made the book even more interesting to read this way. And I actually think the first quote would have been more suitable. I do not think Lord Of The Rings is better than Dune, although I agree it’s a masterpiece and it, too, is one of my favorite books.

By the age of fourteen I was reading everything I could by Frank Herbert (I was a Herbert Hippie 😀 ), Isaac Asimov and Karl May (May Madman?). Also, I was into X-Files literature, since the show was trending in the nineties, and I liked it. I was a real X-Files X-ecutive! Also, my father’s influence continued and he introduced me to Musashi by Eiji Yoshikawa, which was a great novel about the life of Japan’s most famous samurai, Miyamoto Musashi.

And then I discovered Star Wars and fell in love with the Star Wars literature, which is plenty! My love for it has never diminished. I liked Star Trek, too, but we didn’t have Star Trek literature in Romania, so I got more into the Star Wars Universe at first.

So in my childhood and early teens, authors I grew to love got me to read their other books.

And then I discovered HIM. That day I went to the bookstore to buy the second Romanian edition of Dune, by Frank Herbert. And there I was, snooping through bookshelves, when I found this:

In case you can’t tell, this is the Romanian cover for the first edition of Pet Sematary by Stephen King. Little did I knew this was a one-way ticket to the King Klan. I never got out… That cover is what made me buy that book, and then read it. It is the best book to start with out of all SK’s novels. And once you get into SK, you’ll never want to stop! I went through IT, Dreamcatcher, The Shining, Bag of Bones, The Stand, From A Buick 8, The Green Mile and many others. Those were some of the best books I have ever read.

My late teens were marked by Stephen King, and later on by Neil Gaiman (which I discovered also in a bookstore, and was convinced to read him by a Stephen King quote on the first cover, that stated “Neil Gaiman may well be the greatest storyteller alive today”. And I thought “If Stephen King is a fan of Neil Gaiman, and Stephen King is the greatest writer in the world, do you realize how awesome Neil Gaiman has to be?” So I bought American Gods, and I do not regret it one bit. Gaiman Guild, here I come!

So clearly at some point I was persuaded into buying (and reading) a specific book after seeing its cover. I know you must not judge a book by its cover, but just as people take care of themselves and dress up appropriately, so does a book have to have a nice cover. It definitely has a saying in the process of deciding if it is or not worth reading, because someone who doesn’t take care to get an interesting and appropriate cover for his/her book  must be a careless person, therefore a bad writer. This is true to some degree, at least, although there are always exceptions. Plus, some writers might not get to decide what cover their book will have, which is a bad thing, but it happens.

Now, I fell in love with the following books after seeing their cover: Killing Floor, by Lee Child (In Romanian: The Margrave Trap – don’t ask me why), Perdido Street Station by China Mieville (awesome writer!), Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card, A Game Of Thrones by George R.R. Martin (which I read waaaaay before anybody even knew there was going to be a series about this), Ringu by Koji Suzuki and many others.

So in my late teens, I got into plenty of books judging them by the cover. There weren’t many sources for good recommendations, so I gambled. Good thing the Internet came and changed that. Although I have to tell you it’s an awesome thing to gamble on a book and get something great out of the reading experience. I did that plenty of times, and thank God I am so lucky. Either that or I have a native talent for getting good books. 😉

Lately, with the Internet becoming such a great phenomenon, I sometimes find out about new books via recommendations from other authors. For example, I read on Chuck Wendig’s blog about this writer, Alex Hughes, who wrote some kind of supernatural investigation novels that resemble The Dresden Files, some say a blend between Chinatown and Blade Runner, so I got interested after reading his interview, and bought the book on Bookdepository.com (They are the best book shop I know, they have free worldwide delivery and if something does not arrive they either re-fund or re-send the merchandise, they are the most awesome guys in the book distribution business!). I have to say I liked it so much that I started following Chuck Wendig. I don’t read everything, of course, but only the ones that seem on my wavelength.

For example, right now I’m reading Fade to Black by Francis Knight, a British debut writer who is very good at describing things. She keeps you focused and does never bore with too much information. Technically, the book is perfect, but story-wise I have not yet come to fully understand it (although I have a feeling it will be great) since I’m just 25% through it. But I love the way it’s done. Congratulations to her, I hope she will grow as a writer, and I am looking forward to buy the second volume of the Rojan Dizon series. A more extended review on this will come as soon as I finish the book and get the time for it.

Of those featured on TerribleMinds in the last few months, I look forward to reading Adam Christopher’s Age Atomic (I have to read Empire State first, right?) and Brian McClellan’s Promise of Blood, which also seem very interesting works. I recently bought Jack Glass by Adam Roberts, The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi, and God’s War by Kameron Hurley. I also want to try Cassandra Rose Clarke at some point, The Mad Scientist’s Daughter being on my bucket list, so to speak. 😀

God, I have a lot to read!

So there you have it, in my twenties, recommendations from friends or other authors made me read books I wouldn’t get the chance to know of otherwise. Although I don’t think I’ll take recommendations from friends anymore, unless some authors recommend it too. Just my two cents, but authors have better taste. 🙂

In conclusion, all of the symptoms are there: influence, recommendations, internet discoveries, cover love at first sight. So it does not really matter what gets you to read. What matters is that you read. Right?

Indru, Writer