"You there! Perform 69 on new books to determine long term compatibility! I shall watch!"
Man, I see you in bookstores every time I go in there. There you are, flipping through the books on those card tables, asking the clerks about what is good, trying to figure out what books will get you heavy looks from lads or ladies wherever you may go to flirt.

But then you leave with some damn cookbook under your arm, along with the shortest thing by Jane Austen. Or something by any dead Russian. As if there are no good books anymore, as if reading is some second job that you take if you want to have cultural cash in your pocket to spend at the lottery of fucking to try and win an intelligent mate -- a job you will quit as soon as you get back on your feet.

"But how am I supposed to find new books to read? They don't have book reviews in magazines anymore, and new books are advertised less than new flavors of Pop Tarts. The New York Times will only review a book if it has cultural or political significance, and that is what I am trying to escape from: culture and politics. So what am I supposed to do, motherfucker? Why do you have to judge me, when I am just trying to eat tacos and drink light beer and smile more?"

Simmer down, my friend. Simmer down. Personally, I learn about new books because I am friends with many asshole writers, and writers love to read weird shit and tell you about it. That's my system.

And you know who is friends with more asshole writers than I am? "The Guardian." For the past decade, they have been asking writers to come up with top ten lists of books about a given subject, and then publishing these lists for free on the internet.

"The Guardian" doesn't just get novelists to make lists of fiction. They also get scientists, politicians, and celebrities to make lists of their favorite instruction manuals. But -- of course -- all I care about are the novels. So I went through the list from the last four years and pulled out just the writers who list novels for you so you don't get depressed, thinking people actually care about David Beckham's favorite books on "Achievement" (form = author / subject):

Lee Rourke / Boredom
Romesh Gunesekera / Islands
James Hopkins / Poland
Freya North / Romances
Ray French / Black Comedy
Alison MacLeod / Short Stories
Rachel Seiffert / Troubled Families
Joanne Harris / Kids Books with Kickass Heroines
Gemma Malley / Teenage Dystopias
Catherine Sampson / Asian Crime
Thomas Bloor / Metamorphosis
Sebastian Beaumont / Psychological Journeys
Neil Griffiths / Outsiders
Sarah Salway / Unlikely Friendships
Adam Thorpe / Satires
Dan Rhodes / Short Books
Fiona Cambell / Set in Japan
Alex Barclay / Psychological Thrillers
Richard Gwyn / Unhappy Ending
Elise Valmorbida / Happy
Lisa Scottoline / Justice
Colum McCann / Poets
Kit Whitfield / Genre Defying Books
Mary Watson / Maverick Women
Sam Mills / Dark Side of Adolescence
Matt Haig / Influenced by Shakespeare
Matthew Pearl / Inspired by Poe
Michael Symmons / Verse Novels
Elizabeth Kostova / For Winter Nights
James Meek / Russia
Robert Collins / Dystopia
Jeremy Sheldon / Supernatural
Bella Bathurst / The Sea
Julith Jedamus / Japanese Novels
Frank Delaney / Irish Novels
Brian Chikwava / Writers with a Score to Settle
Georgia Byng / To Feed the Imagination
Sarah Dunant / The Renaissance
Gwyneth Jones / Science Fiction by Women
Tibor Fischer / Eastern European Novels
Neal Asher / Fantasy

You can go deeper and older if you'd like. You should! It's not as good as having friends who read, but it is close.

Now that you have your lists of new books to try, you can head to the bookstore as an informed customer. But since you've essentially cheated (it's okay), you may still have the amateur's dilemma: which book to buy? Which one will be the most satisfying? Which book will get me off, and then stick around to make me an omelet or a chapbook about my sexual organs?

Is there a secret shortcut to figuring out which book will be good to me? A shortcut that will make me look as smart as if I read the same philosophy journals as Canada's most famous intellectuals?


"Please turn to Page, uh..."

Marshall McLuhan suggests that the best way to figure out whether or not you will like a book is to crack the book open to page 69 and read that page to get a sample.

It makes some sense: you don't want to read the end of the book and ruin it for yourself. And the beginnings of books are always interesting, because who knows where they are going? Some people speculate that the beginnings of books are the only part that get written anymore, and that the rest are cobbled together from slush piles that fill several floors at the New Yorker and Tor. That's why most publishers still don't take electronic submissions: they need the paper for their annual Malebolge bonfire, after which some interns shall not be able to return to Sarah Lawrence wearing Vestal white and others shall ascend to the rank of Cloaked Initiate.

Try it, though! The next time you are in a bookstore, flip that book over and start sucking or cunning from the inside out, and get a big juicy taste before you buy. You will look smart, and you may go home with just the right volume to fill the gaping hole in your life or bookshelf.

I can't tell you if it works or not, because I am not the sort who cares. Do you think I have time to browse? I scamper inside bookstores, run to where I peed last, plop down my nickel and split. If you are ever in a bookstore and you pick up a book that smells like funk, Gain, coffee, Old Spice, and beans, YOU PUT THAT BOOK BACK.

That one's for me, soon as I get paid.


Posted by miracle on Fri, 01 Aug 2008 03:00:33 -0400 -- permanent link

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