I’ve always loved books, but one in my hands today is not treated the same way as it was years ago. When I used to start reading, I would sometimes peruse the dedication page, but most often I would jump right into the story.
Not now. Now actually meaning anytime since about 2009. When I pick up a novel these days, I virtually dissect it. Like that stinky little frog, or God forbid, that ginormous EARTHWORM thingy we used to have to cut into and take apart bit by bit in biology class. That’s how I go through a book, dissecting it bit by bit.
By dissect, I mean I read/look at everything. When I’m enamored with an author, as I am with too many to count, it’s not just about being entertained that interests me. It’s about the skin, spine, bones, heart, lungs, eyes (vision) and brains of a book. (yes, this post will be filled with terms using various organs I decided on; cheesy but effective, don’t you think?)
When I pick up a book now, I study the cover (skin). This used to be the very first thing that drew me in. With a quick first glance over the shelves, I could immediately pick out one I thought I’d like. Since deciding to write and pursue publication, I’ve dreamed about a cover for my own book. Today when I look at covers, I still have a penchant for a certain vibe they carry, while knowing I like many different types.
Here are a few of my favorites:
With BASTARD, the picture of the young girl and the figure of a woman nearby, hand on her hip, plus the model of the car tells you this will be a story about conflict set in a time some decades ago. COAL RIVER and ONE FOOT IN EDEN are covers I love, portraying darkish settings which, (IMO) tells you there’s trouble ahead. The covers evoke a sense of heaviness/darkness, serious stories about serious topics. With CEECEE HONEYCUTT, the book was pitched as STEEL MAGNOLIAS meets THE HELP. The hummingbird and flowers just below the scrolled volute (?) makes you envision people with sweet Southern charm who get their happy ending.
I’ve become pretty consistent about flipping the book to look at it’s spine. This is just to see who published it, and since I started doing that years ago, I’m now familiar with many of the imprint logos.
With the cover also comes flap copy or “bones.” By reading that, I understand the story’s structure and what it’s about. It will tell me (in some cases) if the author used first person, third, is it from multiple narrators or one.
Next, I take a look at the heart, which to me is the dedication and the acknowledgements pages. I call this the heart because this is where authors will likely let you have a peek at their emotions. I like to see who the books are dedicated to because it also tells me a little bit about the author’s relationships, are they married, with or without kids? Dogs? Cats? The acknowledgements gives me an idea of a book’s journey. Who did the author know? Who helped them? How long did it take? Not all of these answers are given, but after reading many, many acknowledgements and dedication pages, I usually think I know a little something more about how a particular book came to be.
Next comes the lungs, that breath deep inside, that in and out movement which pinks up our skin, makes us gasp, or laugh, or literally stop breathing during a particularly tense scene, as in…the story itself. Self-explanatory, no?
Then, there is the vision for the book. How does the publisher see the marketing of it? There might be blurbs by other authors of the same genre, for one. Sometimes these are so abundant, they fill some of the inside pages at the front along with one or two on the front cover, and the entire back cover may have them. There are reviews to go after, and sales people who contact distribution channels to place the books in stores.
Last, but not least, the brain. This is where you are encouraged to think about the story with Reading Guides, particularly if a difficult social issue is written into the story. Occasionally there will be a “Conversation With <insert author name>.”
Strange, but true, I look at all of it. Even the ISBN #’s, copyright date/s, and print editions. And disclaimers.
The other day I picked up my next read and I spent time looking at the list of books the author has finished since his debut. I thought, “I’m doing it again. Dissecting.” But it’s fun, and all of it is there for a reason, whether for the reader or the authors themselves. And I don’t smell like formaldehyde. That’s a plus.
Do you spend time “dissecting,” books, or am I the only one with this quirky habit?