Tuesday, September 5, 2023

The Book Blurb Reading Experiment


It's a wrap!

Back towards the end of July, I embarked on a little book blurb reading experiment. I documented my way through it on Twitter and individually in the reviews of each of the books I had read but I thought it would be fun to outline the project from start to finish here. Because yesterday I finished the last book of the experiment... If you can believe it, I ran out of blurbers. Well kinda, sorta. You'll see!

So how did it begin? 

As many of you might be aware, I own a crap-ton of unread books. Like, a CRAP-ton, I'm not kidding. I have over 1400 books that I own, both in print and digital, that are currently unread. And as you can imagine, many of them have been sitting around unread for a long, long time...

Back in July, I was feeling funky about what to read next, and instead of grabbing one of my more recent titles, I looked at some of the older ones I had lying around, and I ended up grabbing Hye-Young Pyun's The Hole. I had a copy of this book on my kindle for yeeeaaars and had also picked up a cheap hardback copy at a Book Warehouse a couple years ago, thinking it might get me to read it sooner and, well, haha, you can see how well THAT turned out. 

Anyhow, I read it, and of loved it, and got all pissy with myself for having waited so darn long to pick it up. While I was being grumpy about it, I flipped it over and checked out the blurbs on the back cover, and noticed that Lauren van den Berg was one of the authors, and I thought, huh, I think I have a book of hers around here somewhere, and sure enough, I did. I had bought, and never read, her novel Find Me. It was just sitting there unread, like Pyun's book had, waiting for me to notice it. And then I thought, wouldn't it be funny, not haha funny, but sad/mad funny, if I read it now and ALSO wished I had read it sooner... and that, my friends, is the thought that kickstarted my book blurb reading experiment. 

Ok, so how did I decide which blurber to read? 

With Pyung's, I knew I had Lauren's book here, already bought but unread, and that felt like the most natural way to start. And I knew it was something I wanted to read, but just hadn't gotten around to it yet, and this experiment was going to get me to finally pick it up. 

As I continued reading, and choosing, I figured that was the best way to go - if I already owned a book by one of the blurbers, I would read that one. But if I got to a book where I didn't own anything by any of those authors, then I would check out all of those authors' books and buy the one that felt like it would be the best fit for me. This would also, hopefully, introduce me to new-to-me authors!

How did it go? 

Honestly, it was fairly hit or miss. Out of the 5 books I read following Pyung's, I fell in love with three of them. The other two were meh at best, with a little bit of DNF regret in there.  Also, I totally started cheateing! 

From Pyung's, I read Find Me because I already owned it. Dan Chaon blurbed Find Me and I owned one of his too, Await Your Reply, so I read that one. I didn't love it and wanted to DNF it, but against my better judgement, I persevered!  Also, for the life of me, I can't remember why I bought it to begin with... it was that long ago... ugh. 

Then, when I saw who blurbed Dan's book, I allowed myself to break my own rules - Jonathan Frazen blurbed Dan's book and I owned his novel The Corrections. But I just was not at all interested in reading that one, so I looked at the other blurbers and noticed that Justin Cronin was one. I had listened to Justin's The Passenger way back in the day and really disliked it. But when I checked out his bibliography, I saw he had a new one that just came out that sounded right up my alley and I thought, welp, why can't I use the book blurb reading experiment to re-introduce me to authors I had read and written off? Sooo... I added that as a new rule. And it worked out in my favor, because I absolutely LOVED The Ferryman!

After The Ferryman, my blurb choices thinned out a bit. I had already read Stephen King and Andy Weir, and there were only two authors left, so I went with Blake Crouch and bought his less popular novel Abandon, which sounded closer to something I'd enjoy. And I was wrong. I almost DNFd it but kept reading in the spirit of getting father into this experiment. Oh, I think I forgot to mention that one of the rules was that I was going to end the experiment once I hit a book I didn't like. Ugh. And I was only four books in at this point. So fuck it, onward we go, right? 

Blake Crouch's blurbers were just as limited - Harlan Coben and Andy Weir again. I had read and loved Andy Weir's The Martian so I decided to break my rule AGAIN and picked up his novel Project Hail Mary... because none of Harlan's books sounded like something I would enjoy, so now I was not only NOT introducing myself to a new author but I also was not re-introducing myself to one I had read and disliked. Oh boy!

The good news? I adored Project Hail Mary and was so glad I chose it, because honestly, it wasn't even on my radar and god knows if I ever would have read it on my own. Bad news, the option of blurbers for this one was just crappy. George RR Martin and Brandon Sanderson write epic fantasy novels which are a hard pass for me, and Blake Crouch was not someone I was interested in reading again. So I was flat out of options. I hit a roadbloack and decided to yell "uncle".  I was throwing in the towel. 

It was a great experiment though, and I'm not sad about it at all. I got five books deep, took a risk on two of them (Dan's and Blake's), and came out of it having read three amazing novels I may not have gotten to in the near future, or honestly, possibly, at all! 

Where do I go from here? 

I had just as much fun documenting the experiment as I did reading the books for it. So I absolutely plan to do it again. This time, I want to focus on small presses though. So, in a few weeks, you can anticipate me kickstarting this reading experiment again. It'd be interesting to see how far I get this time... maybe the small presses will crush the biggies?! 

There's only one way for me to find out....

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