The problem with reading the back of the book

Say I want to buy a new book. I ask a friend what they think I should read. I look up books by authors I already like. I use the internet to find out what I should read based on what I’ve already read. I find a book that appeals to me, and I want to read a plot summary. I find one. If I’m buying the book in a shop, I simply turn the book over and read the blurb. I want to make sure it’s something I will raroomwithoutbooksead before I part with my ever-precious money. Even though I enjoy stepping out of my comfort zones, I see no point in buying a book that will sit gathering dust for years while I wonder what possessed me to buy it, or something that I will likely altogether hate.

The summary, or the blurb, is where the problem comes in. Far too often, the blurb tells you important plot points that would have been better as a surprise. It tells you which characters you will love, and which you will hate. It tells you that the two protagonists hate each other for most of the book and then fall in love. I’m left wondering if there’s any point in reading the book now that I’ve found out everything that happens in it.

I don’t like to be told which characters I ought to love and which I ought to hate. If the writing is good enough, and my moral compass is accurate, I should be able to figure this out on my own. I don’t want to be told that whatshisname and thingamybob are secretly in love all along. This should be obvious, and if not, it should come as a nice surprise when it is revealed. I like to be able to look back over a book after a major revelation and see if there were any hints. I was just put off from reading a quite short novel because it seemed as though the blurb described everything that was going to happen, as well as how I would feel about the protagonist at the end. A character’s personal development isn’t something I need to be warned about beforehand, and if it is, it might ruin my enjoyment of watching (reading?) them develop.

Does anyone else think this is a problem? Or do you like to go in fully informed?

7 thoughts on “The problem with reading the back of the book

  1. I want to be given enough to know if it has a concept/plot structure/characters/etc that I’ll enjoy, but I agree that sometimes too much is given away (like when comedy movies put all the funny parts in the previews…). I’d rather be surprised as the movement of the book unfolds. However on the other end of the spectrum, I refuse to buy a book that only puts critic reviews on the back cover and doesn’t include a description anywhere.

    • Yeah, there’s definitely two sides to every coin. Having no plot description at all is just pointless and annoying! Also the books that include about three pages at the front with critic’s reviews are never that good, I find.

      • Yeah, too many reviews=not a good sign. The best books tend to only have a few. And on the “too much info” part–I finished Sacred Hunger, and realized the description on the back of my copy gave away WAY too much, and I missed getting to discover a part of the story for myself because of it. Immediately made me think of this post!

  2. I agree with forgottenbeast about being given enough to know the basic concept of the book – for instance, I’d hate to buy a book expecting an intense thriller to find out it’s some sort of chick lit (although saying that, you can generally tell the premise of the book through its cover design… I know, I know, don’t judge a book by its cover an’ all that.

    Saying that, the one time I entirely judged a book by it’s cover, I ended up loving it and it’s now one of my favourite books, I guess sometimes first impressions can be the right ones.

    But that’s beside the point…. ;)

    • It’s really hard not to judge a book by its cover! I suppose a lot of work must go into designing the covers and making sure they reflect the book itself. What book was that? Some of my favourite books have really impressive cover designs, and there’s definitely something to be said for something that will catch your eye in a shop.

    • Good point! I sometimes like to read the first page, and the last few sentences from the final page. Hardcover books are pretty hard to resist, as are ones that have that quintessentially dusty old smell.

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