Saw a good post on the Guardian website about “lucky dip” reading – buying a book you know absolutely nothing about. It makes the valid point that people who shop online are less likely to stumble on new books than they would if they were browsing a bookshop. That’s certainly been my experience – I’ve never just randomly browsed on Amazon in the way I would in a bookshop. I just log on, buy what I want and log off again. Perhaps that will change, though, as online bookshops improve their designs and use better technology to approximate the real-life bookshop experience.
A separate question, though – is “lucky dip” reading a good thing? I actually used to do quite a lot of it when I was younger. I never really read newspaper reviews, and in those days there were no book blogs or social networking sites like Goodreads or Librarything. I don’t really remember getting recommendations from friends very much either. So I more or less just walked into bookshops and chose books based on the cover or the blurb. I read randomly.
I suppose I discovered some good books that way, although my memory’s so awful that none spring to mind. But I know I also wasted a lot of time on mediocre books or ones that just weren’t really my area of interest.
These days I put much more effort into deciding which books I want to read. I have long lists of books to be read, based on reviews or recommendations, and I work my way through them. I do have the occasional surprise – in Barbados recently I finished all the books I’d taken with me, so picked up a few that my in-laws had lying around in their living room, and enjoyed all of them – Commonwealth Short Stories, West Indian Folk Tales and Global Shift. And in bookshops I sometimes just buy something based on whim, especially in second-hand bookshops (I love rummaging through those bargain bins outside full of faded yellowing books at £1 or 50p each!).
But in general, I am more organised now, and I like it. I rarely read a book that I thought was a waste of time. And I do come across a wide range of titles in my time spent on the internet reading other people’s reviews and recommendations. So I’m not convinced of the merits of lucky dip reading – although I am definitely convinced of the superiority of a good independent bookshop over the online shopping experience.