Yesterday Kirkus had a major snafu. For those that don't already know, editor Elaine Szewczyk included Q.R. Markham's ASSASSIN OF SECRETS on their 2011 Best of Fiction. In the intro to the list, it says,
"While selecting this year's best fiction, Kirkus' reviewers and I engaged in a lot of arm wrestling, chair hurling and booze swilling. Not really."
Maybe they should have engaged in at least a little publication current events since the news of Markham's plagiarism had been plastered all over for a week prior to this list's appearance online.
|Kirkus site before the removal of ASSASSIN OF SECRETS.|
By the time the email announcement of their list hit my inbox, the book had been removed from the website post, but not before the word had been spread - ahhhh, social media. As authors and publishers announced their inclusion on the list throughout the day, I couldn't help but think, "Kirkus - and that list - really lost credibility with me." And not to begrudge anyone their kudos, but when this publication is supposed to be among the "elite" opinion of the industry, how can their "best of" list be taken seriously when they appear to not know what's going on in the publishing world? Or at the very least, not care enough to double check their list? But, the point of this post is not to bash Kirkus, so let me get back on track, since I seem to be doing just that.
What that snafu also made me think about today was how much credence I give to these "best of" lists. I really dislike that phrase - best of. And I don't use it when I do my end of the year lists. Instead, I opt to say, "my [insert year] favorites." I have never felt I could presume to judge the "best of." First of all, I can't read everything. Second, reading is too subjective. Granted there is stuff out there that's crap no matter who the judge is, but what's "best" is really up to an individual's preferences - feel free to ask me about Ulysses some day. But anyway, I realized that I've never read a book because it's been on a publication's "Best of" list. I've been happy for authors because of the acknowledgement they receive, but such things have never encouraged me to pick up a book I wasn't already planning to read.
Which leads me to awards. I've also never read a book because it was an award-winner. I've actually yet to see an award that I felt was actually a measure of quality more so than popularity. Sometimes the two can coincide, but not always. It is, however, always the popularity that wins out with awards. And some awards try to pick "obscure" so it doesn't look like popularity, but it's just popularity amongst the obscure when you boil it all down. Again, I'm happy for the authors when the recognition is bestowed on them, but I'm not motivated to read a book I hadn't chosen already for some other reason.
And then there's the whole question of which is more significant - the award that is chosen by fellow writers (we all know the "Academy" ALWAYS makes the best choices in the film industry) or the award chosen by the fans - you know, the people who buy the books, spread the word, write awe-inspiring Amazon reviews and put Glenn Beck on the New York Times best seller list? I guess my award skepticism is showing, isn't it?
What reasons do I pick up a book? I'm glad you asked. A short time ago, I talked about how I pick the next book from the TBR stack, but how do they get to the TBR stack? (And I hope this doesn't seem repetitive to anyone who reads here regularly.) I pick up books first because of history. I was pontificating on this subject over the weekend. An author I read for years started to write with a slightly different approach to the genre; an approach I typically don't like. But, because the author had established a history of good books - in my eyes - I read the new book. (I liked it by the way.)
And y'all know when Robert Crais starts writing the phone book, I'll be reviewing that here. In all seriousness, a history of writing books I've enjoyed is the strongest motivator for me to read a new book by that author.
A recommendation from someone I trust is the second strongest motivator. Unknown reviewers from "elite" publications could be anyone. And if a different unknown reviewer reviewed the same book for said publication, the review could be entirely different. Thus, it's not a consistent measure I can align with my own preferences. But I know that Lesa Holstine and I share overlapping interests. Pop Culture Nerd and I share overlapping interests. Naomi Johnson...o.k., you get the point. I trust them. I also trust them to say, "Jen, I really liked this book, but I'm not sure you would." We have overlapping interests but not identical interests. What we always share is a trust of each other not to knowingly guide one another to a book that just isn't right for the other.
It was through recommendations from people I trust that I discovered Chris Grabenstein, Louise Penny, Craig Johnson, Martyn Waites, Craig McDonald and Louis Bayard - among others. I also want to mention good publicists in this category. I so deeply appreciate the publicists that take the time to know me and what I enjoy. I know if Dana Kaye tells me she thinks I'll like a certain book, she genuinely thinks that; she's not simply trying to get coverage. So, again, the trust factor comes into play.
And the last of the big motivators for me is simply an author's public activity. For example I discovered Bill Cameron on Twitter. I think I know what the gold miner's felt when they discovered their shiny nuggets. Finding Bill was like that. Steve Hockensmith I heard speak on a panel and knew right away that I wanted to read his books - the combo of me and Hockensmith's series turned out to be akin to chocolate and peanut butter! Sophie Littlefield and Rebecca Cantrell I discovered on the Criminal Minds blog. Based on their fun writing there, I was motivated to read their debut novels. Which then moved them to the "history" category.
And that's not a fail-safe model. There are some extremely fun, nice, entertaining people who write books that aren't my style. But a good public persona will improve the chances that I give a book a first chance. Being a jerk guarantees I'll never read the author's work, no matter how good it might be.
And of course, all of these motivators are assuming the book synopsis sounds like something I would enjoy reading.
Yes, I did indeed spend far too much time mulling these thoughts over today. But I'm curious now if I'm just the oddball or if others share my sentiments. Do awards and "Best of" lists motivate YOU to read a book you wouldn't otherwise have picked up? Have you ever changed your mind about reading a book because it won an award? We've talked about blurbs and book jackets before. Are you motivated by those? Do you have other triggers that encourage you to pick up books? I hope you'll share your thoughts - differing opinions welcome and encouraged. But please be respectful of everyone's opinion.
I have lots to share on the Murder & Mayhem in Muskego weekend, some fun projects I've been hatching and gads of reviews to catch up on. So stay tuned and happy reading!