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Authors, readers, critics, media — and booksellers.


FPP#15: Decide

From a novel to be published in June by Broadway Books:

If you choose books the way I do, you still have a chance to save yourself a few bucks. You are probably standing, feet comfortably spread, before the shelves of the Fiction section of your favorite bookstore. Having made a selection, you've settled onto your dominant side (for me, it is the left) to decide, based on the first page or two, whether or not this one is worth either the trouble or the cover price. You aren't looking for anything in particular. Even a single word can win you. You once bought a book because the word macadam appeared on the first page.


The author — okay, the narrator — is actively soliciting our attention. All novelists face the same challenge, of course, but few are so up front about it.

This one brings to the table self-deprecation, humor, a genuine stab at camaraderie...

"The whole conceit behind your First Paragraph Peek series is faulty," Valaas declares. It's a noteworthy criticism if for no other reason than Valaas rarely speaks.

"First Paragraph Preview. Not peek," I clarify, "preview." He probably got it wrong just to irk me. "Faulty how?"

"I can't make an informed decision from just one paragraph," Valaas says. (He doesn't like people calling him by his last name. I'm doing it to irk him back.)

Georgie jumps in. "It's like speed-dating," she argues. "If you want more, go back for more. But if you want to run away — from, for instance, a very strange man who smells like a cheese shop..."

"Who has a dominant side?" Brockman interrupts. "What does that even mean, in terms of reading?" I make a mental note to ask Georgie about the date who smelled like cheese.

Over by the door to our foyer, Jereme stands up to announce, "I'm more agile on the left side of the spine." (What is it today that's got the tech guys talking?) "On average," he goes on, "I read even-numbered pages — those are generally the ones on the left side, when a book is open — about six percent faster, according to tests I've performed."

That shuts us up.

But what say you? You. Can you identify one or more specific characteristics of a first paragraph that are likely to keep you reading? Does this week's satisfy any of them?

[Turn back to last week's First Paragraph Preview, or skip straight to its author and title.]

Update: Find the author and title.

÷ ÷ ÷

Dave interviews authors for Powell's. He created our Out of the Book film series. He likes cats and dogs.

Books mentioned in this post

Dave is the author of Out of the Book, Volume 3: State by State

5 Responses to "FPP#15: Decide"

    Georgie May 3rd, 2006 at 12:12 pm

    I have never said anything about speed-dating or cheese shops! I am quite a big fan of cheese actually. Dave has taken poetic license and created poetic libel. And speaking, in a very roundabout way, about libel, I nominate Peter Carey's opening lines from his new novel Theft : A Love Story as a pretty great way to start a novel (albeit a rather controversial one).

    I don't know if my story is grand enough to be a tragedy, although a lot of shitty stuff did happen. It is certainly a love story but that did not begin until midway through the shitty stuff, by which time I had not only lost my eight-year-old son, but also my house and studio in Sydney where I had once been about as famous as a painter could expect in his own backyard.

    Brockman May 3rd, 2006 at 2:30 pm

    Carey's opening paragraph reminds me a bit of Greene's The End of the Affair: "This is a record of hate far more than of love."

    Which is one of my favorite novels — and that could mean I'll love the Carey... or I'll be comparing the two, which can't possibly bode well for Carey. Or can it?

    Venkman May 3rd, 2006 at 2:32 pm

    I've never bought *anything* because the word "macadam" appeared on the first page. Perusing this paragraph in a bookstore, I would have to conclude that the author had me confused with someone else, then close the covers and return it to the shelf from whence it came.

    Laslow May 3rd, 2006 at 2:36 pm

    It kinda feels like some sort of "If On a Winter's Night a Traveler" rip-off? Am I wrong? Is that not how Calvino opens his novel too?

    KyleRanger May 3rd, 2006 at 2:50 pm

    I do like the word "macadam," though, if memory serves, the appreciation has never affected my consumer spending.

    Calvino, for what it's worth, does start If on a Winter's Night by directly addressing the reader, but -- and here's where his approach differs -- with the assumption that the reader has already made a commitment to read it. How old-fashioned! How confident! Oh, those Italians.

    You are about to begin reading Italo Calvino's new novel, If on a winter's night a traveler. Relax. Concentrate. Dispel every other thought. Let the world around you fade. Best to close the door; the TV is always on in the next room. Tell the others right away, "No, I don't want to watch TV!" Raise your voice -- they won't hear you otherwise -- "I'm reading! I don't want to be disturbed!" Maybe they haven't heard you, with all that racket; speak louder, yell: "I'm beginning to read Italo Calvino's new novel!" Or if you prefer, don't say anything; just hope they'll leave you alone.

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