This month’s issue of The Believer is one of the best for some time, and carries one of the most interesting book reviews I’ve read for ages.
The book being reviewed is Momus’ Book of Jokes, but what makes the review so interesting is that the reviewer was given no information about the book at all, simply the text:
Its covers, front matter, and endpages had all been stripped, and the spine blacked out with a Sharpie. I didn’t know what it was called or who wrote it or who was publishing it or when. I didn’t know if it was the author’s first or twenty-first publication. Fiction? Nonfiction? Genre? Self-published? I didn’t know anything (and at this writing, I still don’t) except that it wasn’t poetry. What could I do? I began to read.
As the reviewer notes, it’s incredible what subtle information we pick up from a book cover, from endorsements, from the quality of paper or type used. And it’s amazing how much differently we read a book when we know the author who has written it – we either trust them or desperately want them to be as good as their last book.
In other words, most reviews are bullshit, and this is perhaps the only honest and true way that a book can really be judged: stripped naked and read without prejudice.
Yet I battle against this too, and with my new book coming am already involved in a campaign to gain readers’ attentions with discussions about the cover, and requests for endorsements. I want people to read the text, and the rest to disappear, and yet know that this is impossible, and, for the most part, unwanted.
The text can never speak for itself. We won’t let it. And this is the fallicy of ‘bible believing belief’ that I want to look at in another post.
(Pic is a mock-up of the cover for the book – not quite right text yet, but liking the concept a lot)