What do you hope for in a book?

I talk a lot about re-reading here, but I was just thinking about the wonderful feeling of holding a new book in your hand and not knowing what it might be. It might be awfully disappointing, of course, which a re-read usually isn’t, but it also holds infinite promise. A new book by a favourite author delights me so much that sometimes I’ll keep the book unread for a little while just to enjoy the feeling of having all of it ahead of me. This goes double if it’s an entirely new book, a standalone book or the beginning of a series, rather than the latest installment of an ongoing series. Unstarted, it’s an uncharted voyage of discovery stretching out before me. There’s something about a new book that smells of promise.

I’m in Cardiff, visiting family. I just went to Waterstones and picked up some British books that I’d otherwise have to buy irritatingly online. I like buying books in a bookshop. I know this is old fashioned of me, but I like the experience of walking into a bookshop and finding the book on the shelf and holding it in my hand and then paying for it and then walking out of the shop with it. It’s a physical experience. (I will forgo this on occasion for the convenience of having the book right now.) This is also one of the reasons why I’m not an enthusiastic consumer of e-books—I like bookshops, I like physical books. The books I bought and have gloatingly in front of me are not available in Montreal.

The first is Francis Spufford’s The Child That Books Built, a memoir about reading from the author of The Backroom Boys, recommended to me by a lot of people in the comment thread to my review of that book here. I’m hoping that this will be as good as The Backroom Boys but in a different kind of way. The salesguy in Waterstones said “How can you go wrong with a book about reading and loving books?” I’m hoping it will talk about books I also loved.

The second is Ken MacLeod’s The Night Sessions, winner of the BSFA Award for best science fiction book published in Britain in 2008. I haven’t read it, I have no idea what it’s about, except that it’s science fiction and by Ken MacLeod. I’ve enjoyed all MacLeod’s books so far. They tend to have a Scottish flavour but to range quite widely within SF, from the near-future to the stars, from political day-after-tomorrow to space opera, from first contact to UFOs. This could be anything, but I’m pretty sure it’ll be good. Once I start reading, once I crack the first word, I’ll be limited to whatever it actually is. Until then, I have a new Ken MacLeod book!

The third is Georgette Heyer’s Envious Casca. This is a reprint. I love Heyer’s Regencies, but haven’t much enjoyed her historical novels or mysteries. But at Fourth Street, Sarah Monette told me that only one of her mysteries was good, Envious Casca, but good luck finding it. Well, I found it. This one I’m looking at with some trepidation. Heyer was really really good at a very narrow range of things, and when she stepped outside that range results could be regrettable. I do trust Sarah’s taste to have a reasonable amount of congruence with mine, but I’m hesitating. It could be awful. Or it could be really good. Until I pick it up and start reading it, it remains in a Schrödinger state.

(The fourth thing I bought doesn’t really count, as it was a book that I already own, and my husband owns his own copy, too. I bought it because I couldn’t resist getting a new shiny attractive copy of it when I saw it, to replace my old tatty copy. It’s John M. Ford’s The Dragon Waiting, in a beautiful Gollancz Masterworks edition. This is a book I’ve already read many times and love. It’s a classic fantasy novel, no doubt I’ll be doing a post about it here in the fullness of time. I was very pleased to have a chance to snag a such a nice edition.)

So with the Spufford, I’m hoping to be surprised and delighted, and I’m really just keeping it to prolong the anticipation while I finish the two books I’m reading at the moment. With the MacLeod, I’m not so much hoping it’s any one particular thing as enjoying keeping my options open as to which kind of particular thing it is. And with the Heyer, I’m hoping it really is good and delaying finding out.

So they’re sitting there in a little pile singing their siren songs of new book possibilities, and I’m keeping them unopened and full of possibility for the time being.

Does anyone else do this?

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