Monday, January 28, 2013

Am I the only reader...

...who doesn't read the book jacket before reading the book?

I asked this question on Twitter last week, and got mixed reactions.  Many of my tweeps (including Trish, Beth, and Kathy) agreed that skipping the description is the way to go.  However, others like Amal feel that reading the description is the only way she can get a good sense of the plot before jumping in--and then she reads the book to fill in the details.

Personally, I try to avoid reading book descriptions, because I feel like they are often FULL of spoilers.  Let's use the Goodreads description of The Hunger Games (and my reaction to it) as an example:

"Could you survive on your own, in the wild, with everyone out to make sure you don't live to see the morning? In the ruins of a place once known as North America lies the nation of Panem, a shining Capitol surrounded by twelve outlying districts.(I preferred finding out the details of the setting as they were revealed during the story.) The Capitol is harsh and cruel and keeps the districts in line by forcing them all to send one boy and one girl between the ages of twelve and eighteen to participate in the annual Hunger Games, a fight to the death on live TV. (Again, would prefer to let this come to light as a read...makes the beginning more intriguing!) Sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen, who lives alone with her mother and younger sister, regards it as a death sentence when she steps forward to take her sister’s place in the Games.  (OMG Y'ALL, WICKED SPOILER ALERT UP IN HURRR.) But Katniss has been close to dead before—and survival, for her, is second nature. Without really meaning to, she becomes a contender. But if she is to win, she will have to start making choices that will weigh survival against humanity and life against love."

See what I mean?  There is so much info from the first third of the novel that is given away in this description. Katniss disapproves.

I have heard that some readers enjoy descriptions like that though, because then they don't feel as disoriented when they jump into the book.  I guess I enjoy that confusion, because the moment when I figure it out is always gratifying.  A little pat on the back for me, as an awesome super-sleuthy reader.  (It's the little things.)

But how do I know what to read, you ask?  How do I avoid reading 70's erotica when I'm really looking for contemporary YA?  First, I do check out what genre the book's been slotted into.  And then I glance over the description for keywords only.  So for The Hunger Games, I would notice things like "survive", "fight to the death", and "place once known as North America": OK, I'm sold.  That's all I need to get roped in.

So, readers: where do you fall in the reading-the-book-jacket camp?  Yay or nay?  DECLARE YOURSELF!


  1. I'm pretty much like you. I read a lot of blogger's reviews -- but I even skip the summaries on those. I usually skip to the bottom where they tell what was good or bad. Sometimes I skim -- especially if a book is familiar, but I can't remember why. Pretty much just need to know the genre. It works for me....

    One of my biggest pet peeves is when blogger put spoilers in their reviews without warning....

  2. Annette, I COMPLETELY agree--I hate reading spoilers in another book blog post. I think it's hard because some people aren't as strict about their definition of "spoiler" as I am.

  3. Interesting idea! I'll admit, I always read the jacket before I buy. I'll even read it again in the middle of the book, if the book is taking forever to get somewhere. But maybe I'll dare myself to not read the blurb first, and see how that changes how I read a book? Thanks for the idea! xo

  4. I never read the book jacket/summary!!! I'm a firm believer in knowing a general idea and going in blind. Too many things are often spoiled in the summaries. One of the Vampire Academy books - #4 I think? - had a HUGE spoiler in that little summary on Goodreads!! SO glad I didn't read it before I started.

  5. I HAVE to read the book jacket first. Otherwise, I feel disoriented and like I don't know where the story is going. I've even been known to look ahead because I can't handle the suspense of a book, or because I was bored to tears and wanted to know if it got better. I don't want major spoilers, but I don't mind getting some minor ones in my brain beforehand.

  6. Like you, I rarely read blurbs before I start a book. When I'm trying to decide if I'm interested in a book, I'll read the first couple sentences, but that's about it, and I won't remember any details by the time I get my hands on the book.

    I've heard that Survive by Alex Morel had a crucial spoiler for the ending in the blurb. They should be more careful.

  7. I guess I like to know a bit about a novel before beginning, but often times don't mind jumping in without any knowledge prior. I created a post a while back about personal bookish pet peeves, and spoilers in classics introductions was at the top of the list. Why anyone posts that stuff at the beginning will forever puzzle me.

    And while we're discussing this, the last book I read, Into the Darkest Corner, had far too much information about what was in store for the reader on the jacket. The publisher could have easily given the reader a few nice surprises if they hadn't agreed to include so much. UGH.

  8. I'll also add that I have sort of tailored my own review style to this preference. I usually include just enough to discuss what I enjoyed, what the novel's about (very bare-bones) and what I could have lived without. Of course, that isn't ALWAYS the case. I generally try to make it something that the reader will feel like going to find to determine for him/herself.

  9. I often feel really weird that I like to know almost NOTHING about a book before starting it. People often ask "how do you know you want to read it" and I guess the answer is I can usually get a pretty good sense on whether you (general you) liked it or not as well as WHY you liked it. I NEVER EVER EVER read a jacket cover or blurb because I love to experience the book unfold without any expectations.

    And yes, every once in a while this does backfire for me when I find myself reading a book that is completely different from what I might have expected. Win some, lose some, right??

    This makes writing a summary on blog posts tough so I usually try to stick with one sentence that is generally pretty vague. As I keep telling my readers, they don't come to my blog for the summary.

    Great topic! Love hearing everyone's opinions on this one.

  10. I'm the exact opposite of Trish. I find it really weird that I have no idea what's going to happen in the book if I don't read the book jacket blurb. On occasion I will read a book without reading the book jacket, but in those situations, I usually have a sense of the story because I'm reading on the recommendation of a friend, etc.

    However, I do get annoyed when there's a major plot spoiler in the blurb or in a blogger's review. This is probably contradictory though... Hm...

  11. So I am totally 50/50 on this. I do not like spoilers so I don't really read the book jacket, but I skim them to see if it is my type of book. Looking for words like love, mystery, lovers, etc can at least help me get a little sense of the book. Since I don't read hundreds of books I usually keep to the same authors and so the book jacket isn't necessary since I know at least what the genre the book is probably in.

    Now movies (i know this is a book blog but...)...I HATE MOVIE PREVIEWS! I just turn my head and say la la la la...because legit they share everything! GAH!

  12. Great post! I'm not a huge fan of surprises (and, of course, my fun-loving parents adored throwing surprise parties!), and so I don't mind a few spoilers (though I try not to include them in my reviews). I like knowing the broad outlines of a book ahead of time, and so the experience of reading is less about unraveling a mystery and more about enjoying the writing style, character development, and connections between plot points.

    PS. Thanks for the mention!

  13. This is a really interesting discussion. I admit I've never considered not reading or at least skimming the blurb on the book's jacket first, and those books I've picked up with description-less jackets I've put right back down again. If I don't have a general sense of what a book is about then I have no idea whether or not it is something I'd want to read. I do hate spoilers, but can only think of one instance where a book jacket gave too much of the story away. That said, I read a lot of historical fiction and since a lot of what I read is based on actual events and features real historical figures I generally already know how things will end anyway. My reviews do include a brief synopsis of the book, but I try to ensure I don't give major plot points away because I hate it when reviews do this. Although I don't consider the description of The Hunger Games cited above as giving too much away (minus the part where it states Katniss takes her sister's place - that should have been left out cause it gives away how she becomes part of the Games) so our views on spoilers do differ somewhat :-)

  14. I'm with you! But not only are book jackets full of spoilers: so are book reviews. That's why I usually read only the first and last paragraphs of book reviews. THE NEW YORK TIMES book reviews are the worst as far as spoiling the story for me.

  15. For some reason the "reply" button isn't working, so I have to post my replies down here...bah.

    @Julie, I hope you do try it, let me know how it goes!!

    @Brittany, thanks for the heads up about that book...I hate it when I stumble on a huge spoiler, especially in the later books of series.

    @Tanya, never thought of it that way! I guess the heightened suspense makes me want to read faster...I like my delayed gratification. :)

    @Christina, yes, sometimes the first sentence (or page) is all it takes for me to decide if I'm going to read or not.

  16. @Beth, YES! I hate how everyone spoils classics all the time, because they assume everyone has read them already (or at least seen the movie). Very annoying. And I agree that I tailor my review style to this as well. I do provide the Goodreads summary (for those that are interested), but my review does not include spoilers, or usually many details from the summary--I always write with the idea that I am writing to someone like me, who hasn't read it and doesn't want a full spoilery rundown either.

    @Trish, yeah, you definitely win some/lose some with this strategy. It has certainly backfired on me in the past! But I prefer the heightened suspense vs. picking an odd book once in a while.

    @Alice, I guess that's the win some/lose some of your strategy too! You usually get a good summary of the book, but sometimes TOO many details. :)

    @Cari, YES, this is exactly why I can't stand movie previews!! Same concept!!

  17. @Amal "the experience of reading is less about unraveling a mystery and more about enjoying the writing style, character development, and connections between plot points." That is such a great way to explain it. I think at the heart of this is really what you enjoy out of the reading experience.

    @Melissa, yes, I think so much of it is dependent on what you view as a spoiler. I guess my definition is very strict! :)

    @techeditor, first/last paragraph is a great idea for reading reviews. I know that when I write mine, the last paragraph is usually a short summary of my overall thoughts and the key elements that stuck out--never spoilerish, and I think many others do that as well. A good way to get a sense of the book without too much detail.

  18. You know, one thing I've realized about this strategy is that it is difficult for me as a book blogger--because (I'll admit) sometimes I don't read the full description when an author or publisher sends me a book for review. I look for keywords and decide based on that (as I always have)...but then, if I end up with a dud, it's my own fault and I feel bad posting a poor review when I didn't fully know what I was getting into, kwim? Guess I should amend my policy for those requests!

  19. I typically will read book blurbs-- even though they are often misleading or confusing or completely unhelpful. More often I read reviews to find out if I'll like a book, though I usually skip the goodreads summaries people post on their reviews. I guess I like to know what I'm getting into, especially since there are so many books competing for my attentions. There are rare occasions where I will read a book without reading the blurb or reviews or anything and those can be really fun reading experiences. Most recently I did this with Sharp Objects, Gillian Flynn's debut... with a thriller, having no idea what to expect is actually a more fun experience than having some idea of where the author is going to take you!

  20. I'd never really considered NOT reading the blurb. It's often how I pick what I'll read, so.... But I'm intrigued now.

  21. Yes, thrillers are the best genre for trying this! I know very little about Sharp Objects and I can't wait to read it, based on the rave reviews I've heard so far.

    Andi, hope to hear from you if you try it :)


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