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PowellsBooks.Blog

Authors, readers, critics, media — and booksellers.

 

Author Archive: "Will Schwalbe"

Do You Save the Ending or Read It First?

My mother, about whom I write in my new book, was one of those readers who always read the end of a book first. She said she couldn't wait to find out what was going to happen and that knowing the ending actually increased her enjoyment. I was somewhat skeptical of the claim.

But now I see there's a study that indicates, as reported by Alison Flood in the Guardian's "Books Blog," that, indeed, "spoilers actually enhance your enjoyment" of a book. Flood writes, "A study by Nicholas Christenfeld and Jonathan Leavitt of UC San Diego's psychology department, due to be published in the journal Psychological Science, gave subjects 12 short stories, by authors including Agatha Christie, Roald Dahl, and John Updike. Some were presented in their classic form, others with spoiler paragraphs, with each version read by at least 30 people. And you know what? The spoiled readers actually had more fun."

Still, I can't ever bring myself to read the ending of a book first. But after reading this blog and some of the comments that followed, I realized that whenever I ...


Can You Judge a Book by Its Cover?

I spent more than 20 years in book publishing, mostly as an editor, and one of the most vexing issues my colleagues and I always faced was the jacket — what image (if any) and what type to put on the outside of a book.

During my career, I had the privilege of meeting and working with dozens of great art directors and designers. These are the people who create book jackets — and theirs is not an easy job at all. Everyone thinks they know best when it comes to book jackets: the editor, the various departments of the publishing house, the author, the author's neighbors. And no one really knows.

But as hard as it's been in decades past, it's even harder now. Now a jacket must "work" in a bookstore but also "work" when it's the size of a postage stamp on a screen. We used to look at book jackets from 10 or 20 feet away and then up close, just as you would encounter them as you were wandering a bookstore's aisles. Now, a jacket needs also to look great tiny and backlit, as ...


Is Procrastinating Part of the Writing Process or Simply Wasting Time?

While writing my book, I did what many authors do — I procrastinated. I checked my email way too often; I watched thousands of videos on YouTube; I sought out offbeat covers of songs I loved; I organized my closets; I asked and answered obscure questions on the Q&A site Quora. I even paid bills. And when my boyfriend would come back after a hard day at his job to find me doing these things — and when he noticed a stream of Facebook postings — he often would give me "the look" and ask if I'd really worked as hard as I should have.

"It's all part of the process," I would say to him.

But is it?

The answer is: yes, no, maybe.

First: Yes. The truth is, I don't think many people can sit at a desk for seven or eight hours at a time and just write. Most writers agree that it's helpful to do something else every now and then — like make tea or get up and walk around. And the brain needs downtime, too — time to wander, refresh itself, problem solve from oblique ...


Books That Belong Together

I'm a big believer that books, like people, can have partners: there are pairs of books that complement each other and belong together. With some books, as soon as you mention one, someone is bound to mention the other. Obviously, this applies to sequels and prequels. If you say you like Hilary Mantel's Wolf Hall, someone is likely to ask you if you've yet read Bring Up the Bodies. And vice versa. But other pairings are more subtle or oblique.

When my mother was dying of pancreatic cancer, she and I formed a very small book club, one with only the two of us. I wrote about this club in The End of Your Life Book Club. Our reading selections were often determined somewhat arbitrarily. One of us would hear or read about a book and suggest it to the other. Or we would choose to read some book we'd always intended to read. Or we would read a book simply because someone gave one of us a copy. But often, one book led to another. This got me thinking about these literary pairs, and ...


The 11 Best Places to Read

When I think of my favorite books, I often remember exactly where I was when I first read them. Sometimes the associations are wonderful, and along with beloved characters and a fascinating plot, I'll recall a particular chair or a porch by an ocean. I first read David Copperfield lying on a small patch of grass outside my grandmother's house in Westport, CT. When the book comes to mind, I can almost smell the freshly mown lawn.

Sometimes books summon memories of places far less desirable. I've read books while standing on hot, crowded subway trains and while sitting on the floor in airport corridors during endless delays. In my book, The End of Your Life Book Club, I write about the books I read with my mother when she was dying of pancreatic cancer. During those two years, I often read while spending hours in hospital waiting rooms or doctor's offices, or while sitting beside Mom when she was getting chemo. And though I don't look back fondly on any of those places, the books I read in those spots have special memories for me; ...


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