Choosing what to read

Peter of Detectives Beyond Borders blog has just been at a book convention where he met someone who opined that "fans"  "pass the evenings in their rooms among their newly acquired books, missing the chance to fraternize at the hotel bar with the people who wrote those books." Having made this assertion, this person was surprised by it.
Peter riffs a different question from this exchange, but before getting to that, I, being a disagreeable type, beg to differ with his acquaintance's premise that readers (I dislike the term fans) who attend conferences do not "mingle" with the speakers. I've attended many more scientific conferences than book festivals (n> 200 compared with 3) and I have not only not observed this trend, but have seen the opposite. Science and book conferences alike have their superstar presenters who choose not to mix with the hoi polloi, true, but there are far more presenters (including some superstars!) who are only too happy to spend time with attendees who do or don't present, discussing matters of mutual interest. It helps, of course, to be interested in the subject of the meeting and to have basic interpersonal skills.
Peter's question is: "What books have you read because you met the author or liked what he or she had to say at a convention, whether during a panel, afterward, at the bar, in the hotel lobby or otherwise?"  My answer to that is, probably a few but I have learned my lesson and am less likely to do so now. I was, until a year or so ago, a bit of an easy touch for someone keen to push a book on me. Until 2005 this was basically fine, as I controlled my Internet (mainly Amazon) along with my other sources of books (bookshops, book clubs). Once I started blogging about books, though, I became inundated by offers of books, or even the books themselves without being offered them first, from authors, publishers, editors, etc. I very soon discovered that there is no relationship between my enjoyment of a book and my feelings or thoughts about the giver or seller, whether or not that person is the author. I have got a lot better at predicting whether I will like a book or not before acquiring (or reading) it, but it is still an imperfect process. I've been distinctly underwhelmed by the personality of an author or a style of publicity, then enjoyed one of the books discussed. I've been enthused by the same sources, and then felt awkward at writing my honest thoughts about the book, not wanting to hurt anyone's feelings or be a target for aggressive responses. So I'm going for the inflexible approach, now, of only reading what I want, persuaded by the input I choose (mainly recommendations or reviews by readers and reviewers I have come to trust; publishers' catalogues; and, of course, from among the Euro Crime listings and offerings). I still manage to acquire far more books than I can read, but at least I actively want to read them! And I might even go back to an old-fashioned serendipitous browse in a bookshop one of these days, who knows? šŸ˜‰

Fairly related recent posts are at Crime Scraps, "What makes a novel feel right?" ; and Mysteries in Paradise: "The dangers of genre mixing".


11 thoughts on “Choosing what to read

  1. Yes, I have found exactly the same thing, Maxine. It surprises me really. I suppose I’d always thought that the author’s personality would come over in what they write – but it doesn’t seem to be the case.

  2. Us fans don’t fraternize in the bar? Oh my, I’ve obviously been doing something wrong all these years :o) I’ve found a number of new authors by attending panels. The first one I remember was Judith Smith Levin at LCC in Portland. Several of us were so impressed by her on a panel that we all bought at least one of her books. And very good they were too.

  3. I find I’ll try a bit harder to work out the reason I don’t like a book if it is written by someone I have met in person or interacted with online. For example I read Michael Robotham’s THE NIGHT FERRY earlier this year and really didn’t think it was particularly good. Partly because I had met, and liked, Michael and partly because I had enjoyed the two previous books of his that I’d read I gave quite a lot of thought to what it was about the book that I didn’t enjoy. But in the end you have to separate out how you feel about the person to how you feel about the book. I have learned this lesson the hard way as there’s an Australian author called Tim Winton (not crime fiction but probably our most successful contemporary writer – certainly one of the few who makes a full time living at it) who I really like as a person – I’ve seen him interviewed many times and also met him at writer’s festivals and I like his personality, his sense of humour, his humility and his politics. So every time a new book of his comes out I buy it and every time I struggle through it (or don’t finish it). Finally with his last novel published last year I resisted the urge to even bother – I just have to accept that his writing’s not for me no matter how much I like the man.

  4. Thanks for the great comments, everyone. I think we seem to agree, that it is impossible to tell. I too have discovered some authors I very much like by meeting them in the bar, etc, but the opposite applies. And some of my favourite books are by people I’ve never met – and don’t particularly wish to. For me, enjoying a book and enjoying talking to someone about books (or anything) are two separate issues!

  5. I can’t trust myself in a book shop Maxine – books fairly leap off the shelves into my arms!
    I always feel a bit diffident about imposing myself on an author – why would they want to talk to me??
    However, I have heard someone speak at a convention and then bought their book – many times – and some of those books are still sitting waiting to be read. Some lesson to be learned there I suspect

  6. Indeed, Kerrie! And my comment in the post about going to bookshops is ironic – I always try not to go into them, but I keep on doing it, and yes — they leap!

  7. You know, I’m no fan of “fan.” It reminds me too much of “Trekkie.” I like “reader” — except that the authors at book conventions are readers, too. But they’re also fans, so what is one to do?
    I like your “attendees who do or don’t present.” It’s a bit unwieldy, but it’s a good deal more reflective of the ambiance I’ve found at conventions. So let’s call ourselves “attendees.” Perhaps that usage will establish itself despite its air of polysyallabic pompousness.
    I have been to four crime-fiction conferences, one art-history conference and one about copy editing. Perhaps I just didn’t get into the swing of things at the non-book events, but the crime conferences have been much more fun.
    And I’ll always browse bookshops.
    As for personalities and writing, when a author of cozies is also a reader of the hardest of hard-boiled, well, that’s evidence of delightful unpredictability in the universe — and of the joys of conferences.
    Detectives Beyond Borders
    “Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home”

  8. I agree, Peter, crime fiction conferences are by far the most fun.
    But, I bet those sub(as we call them) editors are bags of hilarity once they get going šŸ˜‰

  9. If the author is male, heterosexual, not far off my age and single, I’ll buy the entire backlist. Nope. Just joking.
    I have bought on hearing an interesting author make their book sound interesting and fun/entertaining/both. Yrsa Sigurdardottir did not let me down on that one and I have to say that her personality shines through in her writing of Last Rituals.
    If the author comes across as boring I am disinclined to explore further. If I’ve reead the author and indeed enjoyed previous work, but then hear the author and think he/she’s a bit of an a**e, I probably won’t read anymore from them.
    But in all that, we all have to remember that an author is not always comfortable in the spotlight and doing public appearances; even though some might argue that it’s a necessary evil to perform in this world.
    I am also someone who likes to see the reverse of trends, therefore I am more open to things not thought highly of and slagged off as such on the net, as well as a runner away from hype, hype, hype and more over-hype. To all those who want to tell me “s’wonderful, s’marvellous” etc., my reaction is “tell me more and why and I might listen to your gushing”.
    And above all, I like to give debuts a go. We have too many writers in a rut with the bran name still selling well. At the other end of the scale we have debuts and midlisters with little to no marketing budgets. And I have read some great stuff in the latter camp.

  10. Cfr, that’s a welcome cautionary note. I would not hold an author’s dour personality against him or her. But an engaging personality can encourage me to take a look at a book. And that’s all an author can ask, really,

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