Over the years I’ve come to pride myself at picking out exactly the right kind of books at a book sale or from the library. Right for me, of course. It’s either, of course, that I’ve heard about the author or the book, or the blurbs decide it – any book that has a prologue, introduction or recommendation from one of my favourite authors has to be my kind of book. I’ve also come to notice, though, that I end up picking up books that have particular words in their description. These are some of those words.
1. voyage / ship / boats / expedition:
Books set on ships fascinate me SO much. I don’t know just when this fascination began, but I have many favourites crossing genres; from The Terror by Dan Simmons, This Thing of Darkness by Harry Thompson to The Sea of Poppies by Amitav Ghosh and Jamrach’s Menagerie by Carol Birch. I just ordered George R. R. Martin’s Fevre Dream. And perched on my shelf waiting to be read is The English Passengers by Matthew Kneale. Water makes a great setting – thrilling, mysterious and isolated.
Unless the book cover screams paranormal young adult fantasy (we all know how to spot them) the word magic makes a book irresistible. And for all the misreads (you know, picking up books I was too old for or books that ended up being soppy romances that had very little to do with quirky magicians) this word led me to some of my all-time favourites. The single word made me pick up the huge Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell at the library, and it sufficed to make me read The Chronicles of Chrestomanci followed by everything Diana Wynne Jones ever wrote. I even read an interesting non-fiction on magic called A General Theory of Magic by Marcel Mauss, and ooh… wait, you probably get my point.
3. carnival / circus / clown
Creepy, I know. Which books did I pick up because of these words? IT by Stephen King, then because apparently I still hadn’t learnt to be afraid of clowns I read Joyland by Stephen King. I also picked up The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury, The Clown by Heinrich Böll. They weren’t all as great or what I expected, but the words still intrigue me enough to want to pick up the book. Take Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen for instance – it doesn’t sound like my sort of book, but I do want to read it just for the word ‘circus’!
4. mythology / retelling
I know you can necessarily club these two, but I haven’t read any fairy tale retellings and I don’t think I’d ever want to – so I suppose I like retellings of myths and books about mythology in general. It all started when I found A Short History of Myth by Karen Armstrong at the library. I loved it. It’s the first book in the Canongate Myth Series. Oddly, I’ve only read one other book in that series – Ragnarok: The End of the Gods by A. S. Byatt, but the words have led me to many other treasured reads. Till We Have Faces by C. S. Lewis and Kassandra by Christa Wolf are two favourites. I only recently picked up Ransom by David Malouf.
5. cat / animals / pets
I’ve read some really good and really strange stories because of this word. The Unadulterated Cat by Terry Pratchett, White Cat by Holly Black, Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats by T. S. Eliot, I Am A Cat by Soseki Natsume. I even read this weird Enid Blyton story called The Pantomime Cat when I was a kid that still freaks me out. I do want to read Doris Lessing’s and Paul Gallico’s apparently really apt books on cats.
I picked up some of my all-time favourite books solely because they star animals though, from Life of Pi by Yann Martel to Watership Down by Richard Adams. So I guess the words that I look for are animals or pets!
Are there any particular words that make you instantly pick up a book?