So Much For That : When you can’t judge a book by its cover

by |November 30, 2009

OK, so what do you do when you have five uncorrected proofs of five books all of which will be published in this country over the next several months? How do you choose which to go with?

Their covers are virtually blank – so no clues there. All five authors are unknown to me – three are debut writers, one normally writes comic books (none of which I have read) and the other is usually spoken of in hushed tones reserved for those writers who are a cut above everyone else. You can’t ask the publishers’ opinions. They can spin all of them.  According to their proponents, they are all edgy/new/quirky/a welcome return to form/introducing a brand new audience/generating a huge amount of interest overseas etc etc.

My only option is to go in blind. Read the first few pages and then select the one that for what ever idiosyncratic reason, has the most promise for me. Not that I am complaining of course, but pity the poor author whose fate is determined by their opening paragraph.

Here is what I happened to be dealing with today:

From Love Machine by Clinton Caward (Feb 2010).

It was almost four in the morning when I picked her up and carried her to the cement steps near the fire exit. She sat on my lap and I lit a cigarette. Her little arm looped around my next, the chubby fingers with yellow nail polish appearing on my other shoulder. Her mascara was tacky and she had tiny, point breasts, and what she showed me under her skirt looked delicate but slightly mangled. Life had not been as kind to her as it could have been but still she’d survived and made the most out of what she had. Kissing her forehead, I held the camera at arms length and photographed us.

From So Much For That by Lionel Shriver (April 2010).

What do you pack for the rest of your life? On research trips – he and Glynis had never called them vacations – Shep had always packed too much, covering for every contingency: Rain gear and galoshes, a sweater on the off chance that the weather in Peurto Escondido was unseasonably cold. In the face of infinite contingencies, his impulse was to take nothing.

From Going Bovine by Libba Bray (Feb 2010)

The best day of my life happened when I was five and almost died at Disney World. I’m sixteen now, so you can imagine that’s left me with quite a few days of major suckage.

From Peter and Max Fables by Bill Willingham (Feb 2010)

For most of his long years, Peter Piper wanted nothing more than  to live a life of peace and safety in some remote  cozy cottage, married to his childhood sweetheart, who grew into the only woman he could ever love. Which is pretty much what happened. But there were complications along the way, as there often are, because few love stories are allowed to be just that and nothing else.

From The Kingdom of Ohio by Matthew Flaming (Jan 2010)

Whether beautiful or terrible, the past is always a ruin. When I look back on my childhood, my earliest memories seem like artifacts from a lost civilization: half-understood fragments behind museum glass. I remember the spherical alcohol lamp that glowed like a tiny ghost, ringed with dancing blue flames, which hung over the dining-room table of the house where I grew up. I remember the sweet, oily smell of coal smoke, and the creaking of horse-drawn carriages on the dirt road outside. Most of all I remember the summer twilight over the mountains and how, on certain evenings, just before the sun sank below the horizon, it cast rays so luminous and golden that they felt like a solid, envoloping cloak into which a small boy could simply disappear. An intensity no light today seems to match.

By the way, I did read a bit further with Love Machine whose protagonist Spencer works in a Kings Cross sex shop and who has a thing about taking pics of himself with rubber dolls (eg she of the chubby fingers and yellow nail polish). However, so far it is a toss up between Peter and Max and So Much for That.

You however can make your own choices. I’ve hunted down the covers where they are available to you can at least look at them. And you can pre-order all but So Much for That. Contact me directly if you are interested in the Lionel Shriver and I will make sure your name goes on the list in another month or two.

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  • Warren Butler

    December 8, 2009 at 11:48 am

    Hi, just stumbled across your blog. I like it. I will keep a look out for the Lionel Shriver, as I enjoyed We need to talk about Kevin. My partner had a couple of Love Machine through her work. It started out a bit iffy, got weirder and weirder and ended up being very moving, which I didn’t expect.

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