Monday, 7 March 2016

Never judge a book by its cover

Here's why.

This afternoon, I visited the Books by Weight exhibition where they—you guessed it—sell books by weight. How else? There I came across a hardback with an uninspiring but intriguing title. And now I'm kicking myself for not picking it up.

The book was A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian (2005), a 336-page novel by Marina Lewycka, who, I read later, was born in a refugee camp in Kiel, Germany, after World War II.

I did not read the back of the book at the time. I weighed the book in my hand, looked at the cover, raised my eyebrows and nodded my head, so to speak, and put it back in its place.

This is what the award-winning debut novel was all about.

"Two years after my mother died, my father fell in love with a glamorous blonde Ukrainian divorcée. He was eighty-four and she was thirty-six. She exploded into our lives like a fluffy pink grenade, churning up the murky water, bringing to the surface a sludge of sloughed-off memories, giving the family ghosts a kick up the backside.

"Sisters Vera and Nadezhda must (set) aside a lifetime of feuding to save their émigré engineer father from voluptuous gold-digger Valentina. With her proclivity for green satin underwear and boil-in-the-bag cuisine, she will stop at nothing in her pursuit of Western wealth.

"But the sisters' campaign to oust Valentina unearths family secrets, uncovers fifty years of Europe's darkest history and sends them back to roots they'd much rather forget..."

See what I meant. I'm sure you feel like kicking me too.

This "hilarious" book has over 300 reviews on Amazon. I read and liked quite a few of them including this little piece by Georgie.

"The deceptively light tone has baffled some reviewers into believing this is not a good book, but if you look at what it actually tells you about the famine and war in Ukraine, you'll find the whole of human tragedy is there. If you prefer to feel like you're reading an annotated text book then perhaps this is not for you. This is how Eastern Europeans deal with the deep betrayals they have dealt with in living memory - cry about it, laugh about it, grow some vegetables and get on with it. This, I assume, is why the author has chosen to deal with the topic in this faux-comic way. It's a lovely, touching read with well-realised characters."

So now you know what I missed.
Never judge a book by its cover

Coming up: Pictures from Books by Weight, now more or less an annual feature on my blog.

26 comments:

  1. Funny post, Prashant. When I was in my early 20s, I found but passed on buying a somewhat rare history book that I really wanted to read. Next day, I went back for it but it was gone. Now I try never to pass up a good thing. That is why last week when I found a dozen crumbling Perry Mason paperbacks, I grabbed them. I didn’t need them. I might even have some of them. But I like ESG and they only cost a few bucks. Luckily, I got them home before my wife caught me hauling more books into the house.

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    1. Thanks, Elgin. In the past I have bought and reread Perry Mason and James Hadley Chase paperbacks. In fact, the ESG novels had some fine illustrations on the covers. I don't see them often now.

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  2. I am a sucker for good covers. Here the title would also put me off! That is before I read the blurb.

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    1. Ditto, Mystica. This is not the first time I put back a book because I did not like the cover or title. Next time I'm going to read the blurb carefully.

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  3. You're not alone, I think my sister passed this book onto me and I liked the cover, but found the title too clunky so moved it on. Sounds like I would have gotten something from it.

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    1. Col, the writer has an interesting history which, I think, reflects in her book that has sold very well.

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  4. Books by Weight! How I envy you Prashant. The other day I picked up a vintage mystery (second hand) and that single book cost me 80 rupees. Wish I could visit this exhibition. They seem to be pretty common in Mumbai.

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    1. Don't they sell books by weight at Big Book Bazar, Daryaganj, Delhi ?

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    2. Neer, as Santosh points out, I have heard that Daryaganj is a haven for secondhand books. Books by Weight is run by Butterfly Books. The exhibition is held across the city, though the one in south Bombay is by far the biggest.

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    3. Santosh, I have never been to Delhi though I often think of browsing old books and comics at Daryaganj.

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  5. Some sales around here sell books by the bag, stuff it full and pay one dollar. Great deal! The book sounds like something I would like to read.

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    1. Oscar, I have heard of "books by the bag" sales over there and it sounds even more tempting than books by weight.

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  6. Never would have guessed it. Good point about judging a book

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    1. Charles, this is not the first time. In fact, I have dropped books without knowing that the author is a pseudonym for a famous writer.

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  7. This does sound like a fascinating book, Prashant - really fascinating. And I know what you mean about not judging a book by its cover. You never know what you'll get until you actually start reading...

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    1. That's so true, Margot. The story can be good even if the cover and title are not convincing enough.

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  8. Very funny story Prashant. The book was very popular in the UK a few years ago, and there was a lot of similar stories to yours - it became a talking point, and actually a selling point for the book. It is a funny, entertaining novel.

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    1. Thanks, Moira. You have made me want to read the book even more now. I missed out on a good hardback edition.

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  9. That is precisely why I end up with way too many books when I go to the annual book sale every September. It is too hard to tell whether I really want the book so I just buy it. Of course I often end up with books with great covers and great titles that don't live up to the cover.

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    1. Tracy, I remember the book exhibitions you go to and the variety of books that you and your family pick up. I don't buy as many as I used to in the past because of my existing pile of unread books.

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  10. I've been meaning to pick this one up actually Prashant - sounds great, thanks chum.

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    1. You are welcome, Sergio. I'm glad you, Moira and others have heard of this book. It does sound very interesting.

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  11. I'm just the opposite. I've always loved the title and the look of the cover, but have never bothered to find out what it was about so I thank you for telling me!

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    1. Nan, you are welcome. I'm glad I discovered the author and her book even if I'm not going to read it soon.

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  12. In Kolkata also, we have a book shop Book Took at Kalikapur (recently opened) which sells books by weight (Rs 200 per Kg for all types) !

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    1. Hi Santosh! I suppose it makes sense to sell books by weight, as it allows the buyer a certain number of books at a reasonable rate. It's a win-win situation for both buyer and seller. Book Took sounds like an interesting bookshop.

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