I would easily describe myself as an avid reader. However, being enthusiastic about reading is a different thing entirely than having the time to read all the books I'd love to start. I wish life would catch up to science fiction and allow me to make copies of myself (like one of the characters in Peter F. Hamilton's duology Pandora's Star and Judas Unchained), giving me the bandwidth to read all the books I want to read on top of doing other time-consuming activities like bill-paying and sleeping. Or wouldn't it be great if I didn't need to sleep at all (like the genetically modified Leisha Camden from Beggars in Spain by Nancy Kress) so I could use the extra time to catch up on my overflowing to-read pile. But I can't do those things. (Insert sad trombone sound here). Instead I stew about all the cool books I could be reading. It wouldn't be so bad if there weren't constant reminders that I'd Rather Be Reading.
Here are some of them.
Appealing Book Covers
Say what you will about not judging a book by its cover, but book covers work. I've always been a visually-oriented person. They call good visuals "eye candy" for a reason. When books have covers that catch my eye, I'm going to pick it up and see what it's about. This is the part where the publisher's art director proudly claims "Mission accomplished!" because guess what? That's what book covers are designed to do: make you take notice and pick up the book. And when I pick the book up and dig into it a little bit, I've already taken the first step to reading. So yeah, appealing books covers make me want to read.
Sound rational so far? Well hold onto your psychoanalyst couches. I would be lying if I said I never bought a book based on cover art alone. In fact, the Gollancz SF Masterworks series, a line of classic science-fiction reprints, is largely comprised of titles I already own in other editions. That didn't stop me from buying them when I saw the cool artwork and design of the Masterworks series. What can I say? I have both a sweet tooth and a weakness for eye candy. The art on these bad boys is just too good to pass up. (Hello, my name is John and I'm a biblioholic.) And here's a related snowball effect: When I walk past my collection of SF Masterworks, that also puts me in the mood for reading.
Reading Book Reviews
Reading reviews of books you haven't read is a gamble. Some reviewers have no misgivings about including spoilers in their reviews. It's a chance you take unless you already know the reviewer to be sensitive to your readerly needs. (I can't believe I just typed that.) Well-written reviews are not only informative in that they tell you what a book is about enough to know whether you'd like it, but they can invoke interest as well.
This was the case with a review I recently read in an issue of Locus, a monthly magazine devoted to science fiction, fantasy and horror. The reviewer was Gary K. Wolfe, an astute reviewer whose comments are both informative and entertaining. The book he was reviewing was The Cusanus Game by Wolfgang Jeschke. It's not just that Wolfe uses words like "excellent," "terrific," and "career-defining," it's that his analysis of the novel helps put the reader of the review in Wolfe's armchair, allowing us get a feel for what the novel is like. There's also the fact that the book involves time travel, a science fiction trope I'm quite fond of, if done right, and Wolfe's review assures me that The Cusanus Game does it right. Even better: The novel is said to be "overpacked," brimming with enough ideas to support multiple novels, but that the danger of being too overstuffed is deftly avoided by having these themes contribute to the ultimately richly textured narrative. It's hard to read a review like that and not want to pick up the book immediately.
Reading Book Lists
As a blog editor, I tend to keep my eye on lots of blogs. Anyone who reads blogs will tell you that one of the staples of blog posting is the list post, wherein the post author will enumerate through a series of items—much like this article you are reading right now—discussing them in one fashion or another. It's usually safe to ignore the adjectives in such post titles; there's only so many times you can use the word "amazing" before it begins to lose its value. Better is the content itself which, if the article is well-written, will contain some useful information about the items it presents.
Sure, list posts can be gimmicky, but knowing that doesn't make me any less a sucker for a particular type of list: the book list. The trick is being able to separate the good ones, which will include small write-ups of each book, from the lazy ones, which don't. What is it about book lists that make me want to read? Usually, it's seeing a list that includes books I've already read and liked...which immediately draws my attention to the other books on the list that I haven't read. There is an inherent "If you like this, then you'll like that" association being made, admittedly without any rational basis. Even so, if you are a trusted source and write up a list of, oh, say "The Best Space Operas," there may be some book-lusting in my immediate future. Go easy on me. My name is John and I'm a biblioholic.
What are some of your reading triggers?