Thursday, August 18, 2011

Magic Words

(Traverse City, MI)
A feature on NPR today on Wendy Wasserstein solved the mystery of who raised her child. Her brother took the child, but died a few years later. His ex-wife is raising the child today. A new book out, THE WENDY CHRONICLES, tells her story.
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I have been thinking a lot about what makes me pick a book up and what makes me put it back down. Not blurbs but plot descriptions on the jacket.

If I see a word like elves, military, or astrology, there is very little chance I will go any further. I suppose there are some terrific books with elves in the plot but I don't know of them. War is not something I like to read about either. So a description like this would not win me over:

A group of woodland elves prepare to arm themselves when the Reader of the Stars indicates a growing threat from the River folks.

If I see a word like amnesia, a disappearance, or time travel in the description, I will likely give it a longer look. I don't know why these concepts fascinate me, but they do. I like the idea of a character finding him/herself in a new pair of shoes and trying to find the old ones.
This would make me consider:

When John wakes up and can't remember who or where he is, he must travel back and forth in time to determine what brought him to this hospital bed.

Now that I look at it, they're not so different, are they?

What turns you on when you read that jacket? What turns you off?

15 comments:

Anonymous said...

So did you read BEFORE IT GO TO SLEEP yet?

I'd agree with you on both of these by the way, especially the elves and time travel items.

More turn offs: cats, talking animals in general, 'novels' written to a political purpose (i.e. Michael Crichton's last book).

Turn ons: baby boomers (as long as it is by one of us), '60's rock & roll, baseball.

Jeff M.

Chris said...

I really don't care for blurbs. Especially if it is for the same author from the same source for multiple books. I understand why they are there, but generally read like bullshit to me.

I don't like amnesia stories, myself. That's kind of a tired plot device, at least to my interests.

Anymore I'll also open up a book and glance at the writing. If it is one of those with no punctuation, odd sentence structure, etc. I won't read it. I'm all for people experimenting, doing stuff like that . . . but they can do it for other readers. I don't want to take the time to decipher it.

One final thing that I really don't like is more after I've started reading. I know "in First Person don't have your narrator die" is one of those "rules" that many writers choose to break, and I'm fine with breaking rules. But I HATE when my First Person narrator dies. Totally takes me out of the book and leaves a sour taste.

Anonymous said...

Oh yeah, another one: books written in the present tense definitely put me off. It's a gimmicky device that doesn't work.

Jeff M.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Yes, I did read it, Jeff and ended up disappointed. It went over the same ground too much. I know that was the point, but it could have done it in 100 less pages and been twice as good. The end did fool me though.
No, first person narrator should die. Maybe Agatha got away with it once but that should have been the end of it.

Cap'n Bob said...

Cults, sex slaves, the Indian Wars, Buffalo Soldiers, private eyes. I also prefer books that take place in the US and don't have unpronouncable names for the primary characters.

Ron Scheer said...

I could give you a list like Cap'n Bob and realize six months from now I'd be reading a book with all those things and loving it. Ha.

Olivia V. Ambrogio said...

Can't think at the moment of lines that turn me off to the book, but I do despise it when reviewers call books "a joyous romp"--or any kind of a romp, basically. It's a novel, it's not a gambol through the hills. Again, doesn't necessarily make me dislike the book, but it does incline me towards disliking the reviewer.

Charles Gramlich said...

A lot of the time, any thing that suggests that a fictional book is "psychological" in nature will turn me right off. Psychology is my day job. I don't want to read fiction about it.

pattinase (abbott) said...

I can so understand that. I hate university settings in novels.

George said...

I'm tried of vampire novels, dysfunctional family novels, and serial killer novels.

John said...

Blurb catch phrases and words that will make me immediately put a book back on the shelf or throw it across the room:

Vampires. Zombies. Jane Austen homage or Jane Austen as a character or a Jane Austen character recycled into a genre novel. Oprah Book Club. Young adult sensation (or similarly "young adult crossover"). Paranormal romance (how did this become so popular?) Alcoholism.

There are however exceptions (as is always the case, I'm not so damn rigid as people think I am). I did read and immensely enjoyed EDGAW SAWTELL but this was because I had it on my list long before it was "Oprah-sized." And I read the vampire books that Chuck Hogan and Guillermo del Toro co-wrote because they are over-the-top pulpy fun and more like screenplays than books.

K. A. Laity said...

"Coming of age story" will always make me drop a book. There's a certain kind of men in particular who have a sentimentality about that age when they get to a certain age because they realise it's the last time they had friends in whom they could confide.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Well put!

Deb said...

I heard the NPR story on Wendy Wasserstein on Thursday(?) and it was one of those moments of synchronicity because I knew I'd just posted a comment about her and her child. I had no idea that the little girl's life has been so colored by tragedy. It says a lot about the Wasserstein family dynamics that no actual blood relative is taking care of Wendy's daughter now. The name of the book (which I'm interested in reading) is WENDY AND THE LOST BOYS, about Wasserstein's tendency to fall in love with unavailable men.

pattinase (abbott) said...

And my library hasn't bought it! I hope they do because the story on NPR and a review in the NYT really got me interested too.