Sunday Salon – Reading Dust Jackets

Posted 3 October, 2010 by Trish in Reading Nook / 33 Comments


As a reader I’ve come to realize something about my preferences that should have been quite obvious to me all along: I like knowing as little as possible about a book before I start reading it.  I don’t read dust jackets or backs of books.  I don’t read the Amazon book summaries.  I don’t even read bloggers’ summaries when reading their reviews. 

Yes, this should have been obvious to me.  But it wasn’t until I found myself saying–I’ve seen this book around so many places and I’ve read so much about it but I have no idea what it’s actually about.  As a book blogger who reads about a hundred book blogs at any given time and sees book after book after book in her Google Reader and frequents the bookstore looking for specific books, how can it be that most of the books I do pick up to read I really have no idea what I’m getting myself into.

For example, I went to Half Price Books yesterday and picked up six new books.  Two of the books I picked up because of the author’s name (John Irving and Richard Russo), but the other four I picked up because I’ve read reviews for them and have put them on my wishlist: Out by Katsuo Kirino, An Abundance of Katherines by John Green, Naomi and Ely’s No Kiss List by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan, and Boy Meets Boy by John Levithan.   The first two I’ve seen several places–the latter two probably just at Ana’s and Amanda’s blogs.  BUT, despite all I’ve heard about these books–I couldn’t tell you a shred of plot.  Part of this is mostly bad memory from the little I’ve read, but most of it is because I avoid.  The less I know about a book, the better!

I don’t really have a point here–just teasing out some ideas.  I think this says something for me as a blog reader–I prefer to read more about how a book made you feel rather than what happened in the book.  I’ll skip heavily summarized reviews or just look for the little nugget of information–the bottom line.  And I’ve become pretty good at gleaning whether or not I’ll like a book based on how bloggers I trust reacted to the book.  I think this also says a lot for how I read or the pleasure I get out of reading.  For me, reading is about pure discovery.  Going into the unexpected.  How can you experience the unexpected or pure discovery when you are bracing yourself for something you’re expecting to happen?

What about you?  Do you like knowing a lot about a book before jumping in or do you like knowing little?  Do you find that knowing more/less changes your experience of reading a book?

I hope everyone’s having a wonderful Sunday!  Do you have any plans for the day or just taking it easy?  I’ve been trying to be productive this weekend as next weekend is the Read-a-thon and the following weekend the Texas Book Festival.  My to-do list grows and grows but my goal for today is to get the Halloween village foundation built so that this week I can focus on putting all the pieces together.  I might make cookies, and I’ll definitely be cleaning the house.  And if I’m not too tired at the end of it all, perhaps I’ll open up Brothers Karamazov.  The albatross around my neck. 

Hope you’re having a good one!

33 Responses to “Sunday Salon – Reading Dust Jackets”

  1. I like to know just a LITTLE bit about the book before I go in, just the setup. And I try to keep my summaries in my reviews to bare minimums, enough to give an idea of what’s coming, but not enough to give away a lot of plot. I do like to see summaries, though, even though I admit I very rarely remember what the book is about. But having the summary there might convince me to read a book I might have otherwise overlooked.

  2. Hmm…I’m the opposite :P I like to read the summary and backs of books to get a taste of what the book is going to be about and that is how I decide if I’ll like it or not. I don’t like to read in depth reviews of books I’m planning to read though because then I feel like I lose a bit in the reading experience. But I do like to read in depth reviews of books I’ve already read. What can I say, I’m weird :) Hope you have a great week as well!

  3. I’ve always read the synopsis but I used to hate Amazon because it gave way too much info! I’m okay with a little bit more now, but prefer the basics. I definitely have to read the dust jacket though, lol!

  4. I like to know what the general plot is about before reading a book, because I have trouble dealing with the suspence otherwise. However, that does not mean that I necessarily know anything about a book before buying it. Weird, I know.

  5. I do like knowing something about the book going in, although I don’t always find cover copy to be helpful. It seems like they don’t always emphasize the aspects of the book I’m interested in or they might make too much of a big deal about things that they think will make the book sell, rather than the most important aspects.

    And actually I don’t even mind being spoiled about a book. I usually prefer not to be, but it doesn’t usually bother me when I am. If the book is really good, part of the joy is watching it unfold, even if I know where it’s going.

  6. *Amanda – Sometimes there are things in the summary that sell me but mostly it’s about the reaction to the book. Seems I’m in the minority here! :)

    *Samantha – Like you I like reading in depth reviews for books I’ve already read as well!!

    *Bermuda – I would think knowing a little but not too much would be a common desire.

    *Jenny – But what if the dust jacket gives away spoilers? Or sometimes I’m convinced the dust jacket writer didn’t even read the book! :) Silly things, I know.

    *Iris – How interesting that not knowing could cause suspense! For me that’s part of the fun?

    *Teresa – You make a good point about how books are marketed and what is in the dust cover–I agree that sometimes it’s deceiving. And I agree that a really good book will be pleasurable no matter whether you know or not (the desire to re-read books or watch movies over and over though we know what will happen).

  7. Amy

    I like going in to a book knowing nothing about it as well! If I have a book on my tbr I will often skip reviews, so that they don’t let me in on any of the secrets :)

  8. I’m the opposite. I actually like to know a bit about a book before reading it. I’ve had too many experiences where I was told a book was wonderful and picked it up only to discover that I hated the book or found the subject matter something that really wasn’t for me.

    I’m bad at actually being at the library or bookstore and checking Goodreads on my phone to get a better picture of what the book’s about before checking it out or purchasing it.

    Granted, sometimes I actually like to know the plot before reading the book. I knew who survived The Hunger Games because I read reviews and summaries of the book (and sequels) beforehand.

  9. I am completely the same way. I rarely read a complete blog post, but skip to the recommendation. Not that I don’t enjoy the writing, I just don’t want to know anything if I’m going to read the book. After I finish the book, I like to go back and read the full review from the blogger that recommended it to see if they had the same thoughts as I did. Totally backward, I know. The only time I read the whole blog post before, is if it is a book that I have already read, or know that I won’t be picking up. You’re not alone.

  10. I want to know a minimal bit before picking up a book, but I would pick a blogger for info any day before I’d look at the jacket. The jackets almost ALWAYS give too much away! Bloggers are much more considerate! :–)

  11. I guess overall, I do like knowing a wee bit about a book going in. When it comes to blog reviews, I usually do read the whole shebang, including the summary, unless I’m currently or soon-to-be reading the book. Otherwise, I know I’ll forget much of the summary anyway. But I am definitely with you on much preferring a blogger’s reaction to the book to a description of the book.

  12. In some ways I am like you. I like to know as little as possible so the story isn’t ruined for me if I am reading a YA, fantasy, or contem. fiction kind of novel. When it comes to classics, I like to know a little more. It can be helpful to know where the author is going so that when I get to the point that I throw the book at the wall, I know why I am. I also read summaries for Shakespeare’s plays so I can sit back and enjoy his language rather than trying to decipher every tiny word to understand the plot.

    In blogging posts, I absolutely hate it when the blogger posts a generic summary/description and only a few words about how they felt about the book. It just irks me and turns me off to the book.

  13. I try not to give too much of a summary in my reviews, just enough that it might pique someone’s interest. But I find that I often like the books better that I can’t remember much about when I start. Except when I don’t. Occasionally, the cover, the title, the start of the book give me the wrong impression and then I can be unforgiving about not getting the book I thought I was getting.

  14. I’m ignoring that albatross. My new goal is to finish it by the end of the year.

    So what John Irving did you buy? I have The Cider House Rules sitting unread on my shelf.

  15. I work very hard to make sure I know very, very little about a book before reading it.

    Speaking of Albatrosses (is that how you make it plural?), any ideas on The Odyssey? :P

  16. A vague paragraph is pretty much all I like to know about a book before I start reading. I think it’s reflected in my review writing as well; I’ve tried to write big long summaries, but they always feel wrong. I’d rather reflect on what I liked or disliked about the book. I’d rather read / talk about what someone / I felt while reading it, or which detail was particularly splendid, or some other non-plot-y, more personal thing. I hate it when I know half of what happens before I even open a book — where’s the fun in that?

    I’m happy to see I’m not the only one!

  17. I’m like the others; I want to know a little more of the book before I read it. I totally understand about the joy of discovery, but I’d also be very disappointed if I bought the book and ended up not liking it.

    However, I do skim reading the introduction pages (at least I read them after reading the book!), as I find most of the times the story is spoilt by reading there!!

  18. I want to know which John Irving and which Richard Russo!!

    It’s funny, but I’ll see review after review, not read the plot part, but will know how the blogger reacted. Eventually, I will read a minimal summary, but by them I’ve probably already made the decision that I want to read the book. So, I do have a plot idea before I get started… just not too much.

  19. I’m with you, Trish. I love knowing next to nothing ahead of time. The trick, though (for me), is knowing whether I want to read a given book without knowing too much about the book!

  20. Oh yes – I’ve commented about this topic many times. I like to know virtually nothing before I pick up a book. I, like you, skim/glance at reviews so I don’t soak in anything of value that leads to any plot points. I love to know a bloggers feelings about their experience, not the actual story. And, again, like I’ve mentioned over and over, that’s why I write so little on my blog.

    All that said, I don’t mind knowing (actually like to know) what the book is about in general. A short and sweet sentence about who, what and where (ie: a family moves to Nova Scotia for a summer to recovery from a loss). If I don’t know a little about a book, I won’t know if it appeals to me.

    Also, I have found that knowing only bits and pieces (which usually are forgotten by the time I actually get to the book) can lead to both unsuspecting joy or angst. However, the joy overrides the angst, so I still go with the motto of “the less, the better.”

  21. I like to know as little as possible, too. I usually go for the reviews that say ‘It was DIFFERENT and I really liked it, plus it was well-written.” all I need to know. I like the word ‘quirky’, too. Sometimes, I only bounce around book blogs and read the revs of books I’ve already read more than new to me books.

  22. I like knowing about a book…but to a point. I’ll read the synopsis on the back, or the jacket. I’ll take personal recommends from my wife, my dad or my friend Mike. I’ll also read reviews on book blogs I like then I’ll read reviews on Amazon…but mostly for entertainment. You have to sift through so many trolls on those reviews it gets tiresome.

    I do a bit of research on a book before I pick it, but mostly for reactions and a bit of a plot. I have to know vaguely what it’s about before I read it.

  23. *Amy – Glad I’m not the only one who likes to know very little about a book! Makes reading it more exciting, huh?

    *Tedious – To be fair we knew that the narrator of Hunger Games couldn’t die, right? I guess there are books where the narrator is narrating after death, but… I can understand not wanting to buy a book blind—I don’t do that unless I’ve read the author—but since most of my purchases/reads come from blogger recommendations I don’t often impulse buy except at library sales.

    *Kristi – I don’t think it’s backwards to want to read a full post after you’ve read the book! Sometimes I’ll do this as well. I also love reading reviews for books I’ve already read—fun to compare notes!

    *Rhapsody – I agree that book bloggers are generally pretty considerate about not providing spoilers—or at least warning when there is one!

    *Debi – I agree Blogger reaction is so important. I’ll give you an example—you, Amanda, and Chris all raved about The Knife of Never Letting Go and said all the right things for me to want to immediately go to the store and buy the book. BUT, I have NO idea what the actual book is about. Is that strange?

    *Allie – You make a really great point about classics and like you I find myself wanting to know a little bit more about the story. I still like avoiding spoilers, but you’re right that it does sometimes make the reading a little bit more relaxed than always trying to figure out what’s going on! And yes, generic summaries are ick. :)

    *Lisa – I understand what you mean about not getting the book you thought you were getting. And that’s tough—especially if bloggers have raved about the book. Guess there are upsides and downsides to not knowing much about a book going in.

    *Softdrink – The John Irving book is The Water-Method Man. Never heard of it before…? I have a couple of his other books on my shelf (more than I want to admit) but have only read The World According to Garp.

    *Trisha – Glad I’m not the only one who avoids book details! I emailed you about The Odyssey. 24 books over 4 weeks—doable? 6 books a week, about 100 pages of verse.

  24. *Stephanie – It kills me how much of the book dust covers give away! But I guess some people like to know that stuff?

    *Erin – Oh totally! And there’s nothing worse than having a conversation with a person who wants to tell you ALL about the book they’re reading. My mom, love her, does this and I just have to kind of tune her out if it’s a book I’m planning on reading. How a person felt about a book says so much more than plot.

    *Melody – It’s unbelievable how much is given away in the introduction, huh? Especially with classics. Seems intros should come with a big warning: “Spoilers ahead!” :)

    *JoAnn – Irving = Water-Method Man and Russo = The Risk Pool. Haven’t heard of either! I know what you mean about reading review after review of a book and getting a feel for the book—but I still skip the plot part. :)

    *Word Lily – It is hard knowing whether to read a book based on not knowing what it’s about! Have to really trust the blogger/reviewer’s reaction! Sometimes this works out better than others—we can’t all love the same books.

    *Vivienne – :) You’re not the first person to mention getting a bit anxious not knowing what the book is about!

    *Joy – Your reviews are perfect for giving just enough information but focusing on how you feel—and I definitely get a good idea about a book from the little snippet that you provide!! I wish I could explain how I know if a book is appealing without knowing anything about it—I guess maybe subconsciously I do know and I just don’t realize it? And less knowledge CAN be dangerous at times…agreed!

    *Care – I prefer reading reviews of books I’ve already read as well—seems there’s so many “new to me books” these days, though, with all the ARCs. “Quirky” is a great descriptor! I like those books as well.

    *Paxton – Maybe it’s the book blogger in me? I see so many reviews of the same books that I have a pretty good feel for what the book will be like before opening it. But what a book’s like rather than what a book’s about is sometimes more important? PS—have you read any good books lately?? I’d love to hear what YOU’RE reading!!

  25. I think I’m your complete twin when it comes to this Trish!! I like to go into books completely blind as to what to expect. Sometimes just the cover is enough for me :p I don’t need to know anything about the book. In fact, most of the time, if I know I really want to read a book, I’ll actually avoid reading ANYTHING about it at all and just skip reading any reviews or anything about it until I’ve read the book. And I definitely don’t read the dust jackets :p Until after I read the book…then I like to see how much it gives away and warn people :p

  26. Amy

    I also don’t like to know very much! I often just read a sentence or two of the synopsis or skim for a blogger’s general impression of a book. :)

  27. You want to know what I’m reading? You flatter me, Trish.

    A few books I finished recently are Diary of a Wimpy Kid Book 3 by Jeff Kinney, Cirque Du Freak Book 9 by Darren Shan, World War Z by Max Brooks, a bunch of werewolf themed books for Halloween and several re-reads of early 90s Star Wars novels.

    Plus a bunch of graphic novels like Fables Vol 1, Wanted and Superman The Man of Steel.

    I’m literally all over the map with my reading choices.

    If you want to see my book log it’s on Google Docs here:


  28. not me! I pore over the summary and generally enjoy reading more details, so long as there are no major spoilers. I hate knowing nothing. That said, I skip most reviews after i’ve seen 2 or 3, just cause I don’t wanna see it rehashed.

  29. I’m somewhat the opposite. While I don’t like having books spoiled for me, I do like to know what they are about before diving in. It’s often the “what it’s about” that draws me to a book in the first place. A person can love or be inspired by a book up and down, inside out, but unless the subject matter interests me, I won’t likely be tempted to read it.

  30. *Chris – LOL—glad to have found my dust jacket avoider twinkie! ;) Yes, I totally agree with what you mean about totally avoiding everything about a book—though usually I’m too lazy to go back and read the dust jacket once I’ve finished the book!

    *Amy – Yes, I love knowing a blogger’s general impression of a book, too! Though I admit when I write my own reviews I never know just how much to say about characters or plot elements. Hard to know what others consider “spoilers”!

    *Pax – Ha! Of course I’m interested in what you’re reading. Thank you for sharing the spreadsheet—I can tell you are a very varied reader! And I love your little blips about the books you’ve read. I’ve heard great things about Fables and Cirque du Freak. Sounds like you’ve got some mood reading going on!

    *Lisa – I don’t think that poring over a summary is unusual—but don’t you sometimes find yourself anticipating things that are going to happen in the story? :) I do know what you mean about reviews—though even though I usually just skim, the more reviews I see of a book the more likely I am to take notice. If I just see ONE review of a book I’ve never heard of I generally forget about it unless the review is fantastic.

    *Lit Feline – I do know what you mean about needing to know something about the story to know if you’re interested and I feel like I should feel that way, too, but for some reason I don’t. I wonder if it has anything to do with my tendency to be drawn to quieter books that are more about the characters than what happens? But I know you appreciate those books, too. I guess it’s just a weird preference! ;)