Don’t Flip That Cover: Why I Don’t Read the Book Description

I don’t read the cover copy because I like surprises. The author has spent months, maybe years, writing this story. Working out plot holes and tweaking dialogue. They’ve workshopped it with friends and colleagues. They reorganized, edited, and revised, spending more time with these words than I will during my first reading. All this hard work, just for me, the reader. They want me to be entertained or feel feelings or make me think about something in a new way. I want to trust the author enough to lead me. We have agreed, the author and me, that I’m on this ride, and I want to enjoy it.

I only get to read a book for the first time once. I’m not interested in dulling that experience with a false sense of control. The truth is, I’m never really going to know what happens in a book until I read it, no matter how many summaries or reviews I read. Letting myself enjoy the unknown wonder of a first read is maybe my favorite thing about reading. How many times have we wished we could read our favorites for the first time again?

When I don’t read the cover copy and go into a book completely uninformed to what happens next, I stay in the moment of the story instead of wondering when that break up or alien invasion or character death is going to happen. It is a practice in mindfulness. By only focusing on the page in front of me, I am in the moment, enjoying the story as it unfolds. Truly escaping into the world of fiction. I let go of the control I tell myself I have in daily monotony and routine. It’s not real anyway, just like this story I’m about to read.

Another reason I don’t read the cover copy is that I prefer the first page to lure me in. When I’m browsing in a bookstore or online, the first thing that grabs me is the title. If the title compels me enough to pick up the book, then the first page is what convinces me to spend my money on it. A book needs to make me want to flip to the next page, then the next. It needs to make me want to go home right then and start reading. If the first page doesn’t catch me, then I don’t want it. The cover copy isn’t going to give me a sense of the author’s voice or the pacing. Often, the cover copy isn’t written by the same person who wrote the book, so if the cover copy seduces me, it’s not an indicator that the book will.

All this isn’t to say that I won’t take any context before reading. If a fellow reader I trust gushes about how much they love a book, I want to hear what they have to say. I won’t put my hands over my ears and scream “LA LA LA” over them to keep my desire to enjoy the novelty of a new story. That’s counterproductive. The whole point of skipping what’s written on the back cover is to keep myself present and open to the possibility of a new book.

In fact, most of what fuels my reading is recommendations. I trust my fellow reading community. I trust beloved podcasts and author recommendations. These people are not trying to sell me anything and are genuinely excited about sharing something they read and loved. I want to hear what they have to say about it. Their excitement is contagious, and nine times out of ten, I’m going to read their recommendation.

This leads me to the last reason that I don’t read the cover copy: my TBR list runneth over. I have piles and piles of books on my Kindle, in my library hold list, saved in Scribd. There are always unused Audible credits, not to mention the bookcases full of unread books, the stacks on my nightstand — heck, the stacks on the table next to the door where I drop everything when I come home. I have read a lot of first pages and am excited about a lot of books. I don’t need or want cover copy to creep into my brain trying to sell me something else. I’m an easy mark! That’s one thing I know for sure. Not reading cover copy is a firm boundary for me. I know myself and how easily swayed I am to buy or check out another book when I have dozens waiting for me. I am publishers’ target audience.

Publishers and marketers can skip me when they think about who to write cover copy for. It’s nothing personal against them or the hardworking writers who come up with truly alluring story teases that line dust jackets. The opposite actually. Reading is extremely personal for me because it keeps me out of a false sense of control and in the present moment. I want to be as open to a good experience as possible. Not only is it a chance for me to be surprised and delighted by a story in a world where everything feels knowable, but it’s also a way for me to build trust in my community by reading their recommendations without any hesitancy or doubt. Give me a book that passes the first page test, and I promise I won’t look for spoilers.

Literature

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