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Do No Harm

Today when I was in the bookstore a book on the shelf caught my eye.

The first reason it caught my eye was that it looked like it was in the wrong section. I saw it in Fiction and Literature and I was wondering if it may belong in Mystery & Action or Science Fiction & Fantasy. One of the many, many things I have learned since buying a bookstore is that more often than not you can tell the genre of the book by the look of the cover. There are always outliers, but certain colors and fonts lend themselves to different places in the bookstore.

The first give away with this book was the title, Harm. The second give away was the color scheme. And the third thing was that I was pretty sure I knew the name Aldiss before. Another thing I have noticed about books is all the ways that the book itself is marketed. There are so many elements that go into the packaging and branding of book. But understanding on an intellectual level is different from really experiencing.

For over a decade I have been buying book on the promises a book made to me. It was all about instinct. Title, author, cover, blubs, awards. Each of these things are their own promise to the reader. When you see a book blurbed by an author you love you can't help but want to read it too. This silent seal of approval can be the deciding factor when looking at the "face value" of a book.

Now I see every day the visceral responses people have to books and the ways that publishers can persuade you to buy a book. Sometimes changing a cover is enough to get a customer to buy a book for the second time. Because we are a mostly used bookstore customer mistakes like these are easy to fix. But when you impulse buy a book from Barnes and Nobel and then go home and see that you already have it, how many times do you go back and return it?

There was something about the spine of this book that demanded my attention. It said to me, "This is the type of book you like to read." When I pulled the book off the shelf the feeling continued. I really like the artwork of the cover. So many of the motifs in the image connect with me. Both the prison bars and barbed wire made me think of the types of stories of I have been reading and researching lately. I also like the way the hands are holding each of these things. The color scheme is both muted and engaging. And the way that the image interacts with the title itself had my mind turning.

If I saw this as a piece of artwork, without the details that make it the cover of a book, I think I would want it hanging in my house. It speaks to both my aesthetic and thematic sensibilities.

Every part of me was screaming that I take this book home. But when I read the blurb at the top, I wasn't able to resist anymore. "Part Kafka, part political roar, riveting, and, most of all, disturbing as hell." These words made the promise that I needed. 13 words inside quotation marks decided that this was not only a book I wanted in my collection, but a book that I wanted to start reading immediately.

Do you notice the ways that you responding to the promises, marketing, and branding of a book?

So far I am about 20 pages into the book and I neither love it nor hate it. I am interesting in it, but only in a vague way. Interestingly enough, while it is yet to be determined if the book lives up to the promise, I am happy with my choice to bring it home with me.

Lately I have had a hard time connecting with the books I have been trying to read. It is possible it is an occupational hazard. The fact that I made it 20 pages into a book is like a special kind of triumph. What do you do when you get a reading block?


  1. When I get a reading block I basically just seem to stop reading until I want to pick it up again. It's sad.

  2. hey nice post mehn. I love your style of blogging here. The way you writes reminds me of an equally interesting post that I read some time ago on Daniel Uyi's blog titled How Frequently To Workout For Maximum Muscle Gains .
    keep up the good work.



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