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What to read?By Heidi Hallett | May 27, 2010
Sometimes when you’re looking for a book, you have an objective in mind. Other times, you may have no idea what you’re looking for, aimlessly searching for a spark. With so many options and no clear destination in mind, our basic senses kick in.
Maybe the cover image grabs you, or a quote from a favorite author. I’ve picked up books purely based on the font choice used in the cover design. And I’ve passed over more than a few for the same reason, only to later discover that I almost missed a gem because I didn’t share the designer’s aesthetics.
First impressions are important but superficial. Some of my favourite books have hideous covers. My edition of Pat Conroy’s The Water is Wide looks like a bad romance and is printed on what could be a hybrid of newsprint and toilet paper. But the real beauty lies within. Some designers know when to keep it simple. Before The Road became a movie and its subsequent movie tie-in cover design, Cormac McCarthy’s stark, bleak look at a post-apocalyptic world had a cover to match.
Maybe it’s a title that piques your curiosity. Like musical notes, certain words just resonate. Think of Michael Crummey’s latest, Galore. It just rolls off the tongue and promises something more, something rich.
Books alone don’t make noise but add a reader and that changes. Flip through the pages all at once. Whoosh. Snap. Turn just one page. Rub the corner between finger and thumb. It’s a familiar, comforting sound. The sound of a newly finished book gently clapped shut before thudding on the table brings the same sense of pleasure and contentment as the end of a good meal.
As a bookseller, I had one customer who often came to “smell the books.” It’s an earthy smell, reminiscent of fresh cut wood; a reminder that books and paper are one of nature’s gifts. For others, it’s the heady aroma of fresh ink, stirring up memories of damp, purple mimeographed sheets of paper in elementary school.
Some books just feel right—thick, crisp pages, cool to the touch. There’s a slightly rough resistance where the ink has impregnated the pulp, creating textural differences between the words and white space. Maybe you’d like an eco-friendly, chlorine free, post-consumer wrapping with visible flecks and strands or a slippery high gloss cover with a tiny cut out to run your finger over.
There are “naked” hard covers, stripped of their protective jackets, often revealing nothing more than plain cloth in primary colours with a functional font—reminders of the days when marketing and design didn’t make a lick of difference, the quality of the work inside was the only measure that mattered. Every so often a book comes along that just begs to be “undressed” before reading, like Before Green Gables, by Budge Wilson. While the jacket itself is perfectly fine in its design, it’s the touch and feel of embossed gold trees on the moss green cloth cover and spine that really make this book special. When you hold a book like that, you just know you’ll be transported.
Now it’s time to have a taste. No, not really. Unless you’re under two you’ve probably lost your taste for books as food. Do read a couple of paragraphs, maybe a page or two. Try something new that comes highly recommended or challenges your usual tastes. Not feeling adventurous? Return to an old favourite. When all else fails, take the “box of chocolates approach.” Nibble. Politely discard. Nibble. Discard. Nibble. Nibble. Devour.