When we pick up a book to read we essentially enter into a pact with the writer. We are going to donate our time and the author, in turn promises to make such a donation worthwhile. The promise is not literal, or legal, or binding, or written, or sworn upon or anything like that. The deal is, let’s say, tacit. Just understood. Because in reality, we don’t even know the author personally. We only know of him or her, and that may happen through public news medias, or by word of mouth. Or, we may have come upon the book while engaged in a spot of browsing for something to read. We may have had time hanging a bit heavy on our hands (a rare occasion these days, admittedly). But if, indeed, this were the scenario, our first and usually only recourse is to read the synopsis before buying the book.
Of course, nobody buys books blindly. There’s always some pre-knowledge involved before one opens one’s wallet and forks over anywhere between twenty and forty dollars on average. Hence the pressure on writers and publishing houses to really come up with clear, concise but catchy synopses. A short burst of words that have magnetic quality. And after satisfying ourselves as buyers that these ‘magnetic’ words are exactly the key to unlocking and unblocking several hours of boredom, then off we go with the book to the counter and make the purchase, for better or for words, as they say in Western marriages — not that I, as a writer, wish to remotely link the buying of a book to marriage.
If there are any lessons to be learnt in today’s reading world, it’s that the use of too many metaphors are a classic honey trap, for social media dines out on honey of this variety. So writers, increasingly, are taking to explaining themselves, as in the above case of writing/marriage. It’s becoming common to read someone say, ‘this is what may be written, but that is not what I mean; what I mean is this …’ It’s a writer’s way of putting up his guard, defensively, to pre-empt and ward off any blows from the army of keyboard warriors.
But back to books and reading: what do you do when you’re given a book by a very good friend but it comes with a caveat: ‘This is one of the best edge-of-your-seat thrillers I’ve read in a long time, perhaps ever. Read it. It’ll keep you up all night flipping pages. However, I have two criticisms. The binding is shoddy. And it comes without the last page which somehow got lost.’ No, not many, perhaps nobody, will embark on such an expedition. No last page? I mean, what’s the point of sitting up all night, denying one’s self sleep only to arrive at an inconclusive ending?
It’s like entering into a pact with the author who, at the last minute, reneges, and says something like, ‘Sorry, I’ve taken that bit out because I really want to change the ending.’ Which is not uncommon in storytelling, as we all know. Writers sometimes write a variety of endings to their books before settling on one that they feel fits best. And even after that, they have doubts. But I’m one of those who’s taken that ‘road less travelled’ and, to tell the truth, I’ve waited 37 years to finally get my hands on a copy of the aforementioned book with its final page intact and, finally, close the chapter on a mystery that’d been bugging me for years. And it wasn’t even the author’s fault. In the grand scheme of things I can say she, the author, upheld her part of the bargain.
— Kevin Martin is a journalist based in Sydney, Australia.