As predominantly visual creatures, we all do it. How many times have you looked at the stranger sitting across from you on the train or bus and thought (perhaps even with a degree of superiority or maybe even disdain) that you already “knew” that stranger’s whole story just based on how they looked? Then, just by chance, if you were fortunate enough to strike up a conversation, even a short one in passing, you were pleasantly surprised to learn that although you thought you were sitting next to an average schmo,’ you came to find that you had actually been sharing space the whole time with one of the most interesting people you’ve ever met? Better yet, wasn’t it a cosmic experience to learn that you and the stranger had more in common than you could have ever imagined? Don’t you just love when that happens? Discovery by serendipity not only makes us as individuals feel more interesting, but it also takes the monotony out of our daily routines.
Finding a great new book has the same effect as meeting an interesting stranger on the train. Books have the power to transform our existence sometimes temporarily and sometimes for a whole life time. When searching for a new and engaging novel to curl up with, or when looking to find a new writer to fall in love with once you’ve exhausted the works of an already beloved author, the cover of a book often serves to powerfully affect our level of interest. For better or worse, book covers greatly influence how we react to the contents we find inside. The glossy jackets coyly draw our attention in and suggest a certain quality of writing we can expect. However, judging a book by its cover can ultimately satisfy or disappoint when the truth is laid bare once we start reading. Some covers, with their sexy graphics and pithy jacket blurbs can be very deceiving and don’t you just hate when that happens?
If you are looking for new reads, or a new author who you’ve never been exposed to before, we strongly suggest that you don’t just go by the image on the cover or the blurb on the back of the jacket. Blurbs are usually written by editors who more often than not are trying to convince you that what you are about to read is similar to some other book that’s been hugely successful with the reading public, (personally, that’s a turn off for this book loving owl.)
Bearing in mind the number one way to discover a new book seems to be by word-of-mouth, there is much to be said for perusing the stacks in a bookstore or a library to come upon new reads. The experience of browsing a bookstore or library is incredibly different than the experience of online browsing. While we love the convenience of the one-click-shopping experience that giants like Amazon have taught us to expect when it comes to web puchases, let’s face it, web-browsing is a matter of convenience. This is because as it turns out, it’s a much more targeted shopping experience. Perusing the shelves of a bookstore or a library is really more of a leisure activity, one that almost always leads to serendipitous discovery; kind of like talking to that interesting stranger on a train.
In The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop, (2006) author Lewis Buzbee, a former bookseller and sales representative, celebrates the unique experience of the bookstore—the smell and touch of books, getting lost in the deep canyons of shelves, and the silent community of readers. He shares his passion for books, which began with ordering through The Weekly Reader in grade school. Interwoven throughout is a fascinating historical account of the bookseller trade—from the great Alexandria library with an estimated one million papyrus scrolls to Sylvia Beach’s famous Paris bookstore, Shakespeare & Co., that led to the extraordinary effort to publish and sell James Joyce’s Ulysses during the 1920s. Buzbee’s memoir is a beautiful tribute to bookstores.
And yes, despite the common perception that the age of digital has all but brought about the demise of print, bookstores are still in existence. In fact, independent bookshops are a great place to discover new books as they are very much governed by the taste of the owner. Independent bookstore owners are passionate about books and thus they a great resource for recommendations. Ultimately, the only real way to find out if you like a book is to stand in the shop and read a couple of pages. That’s why bookstores and libraries are so brilliant; you can go and sample everything. You need to be happy with your choice, because it takes the average person about two and a half weeks to get through a book, which can feel like a long time with the wrong book.
Book festivals are yet another truly wonderful way to discover new books. They are generally free-admission events. You can walk away from a book festival not only with some great new books to read, a full belly from all the wonderful food stands that are often there, but also a ton of free schwag- like hip canvas tote bags, unique bookmarks, cool pens, earbuds, flashlights, treats, etc etc. Book festivals are also a family affair. One of the premier book festivals is right around the corner. On September 22nd 2013 the Brooklyn Book Festival promises everything from kid friendly readings, free writers work shops, author signings, free lectures, killer foods, and lots of really really great free schwag. So head on out to the Brooklyn Book Festival if you can, and be sure to tell all of your friends. Hop a train, maybe even talk to the stranger next to you on your way there, because free admission, creative inspiration and a ton of wonderful BOOKS await you! Owl Canyon Press will be at the Brooklyn Book Festival- here is a link about what we will be doing there: http://www.owlcanyonpress.com/news.htmg
Owl be there on September 22nd, will you?