Now I know you’re not supposed to judge a book by its cover, but I’ve never really heard the policy on judging one by a randomly selected page, so for the sake of argument, let’s assume it’s an improvement.
One of many neurotic tendencies I have when it comes to books—other examples: always buying the second or third book back on the shelf, never lending books I haven’t read yet, dog-earing the tops of pages to mark my place and the bottom to mark favorite quotes—is reading a random page from a book I’m considering buying, and basing my decision almost entirely on that page.
Now I realize this isn’t entirely fair; every author is entitled to a decent amount of exposition, and certainly to a fair shake at having their words consumed in the context of…all the other words. But given my extreme inability to not buy at least three books a month, cuts have to be made somewhere, and I’ve found that one can tell a lot about a book by picking it up in the middle, if only for a few paragraphs.
Which brings me to my point. In developing this bizarre little habit, I’ve found that some of the best books—certainly not all, but some—are good on every single page. Some books are so beautifully written that even though it’s obviously advisable to start from the beginning and end with the end, any glimpse, however brief, into the title’s center, offers a preview of the greatness. Zadie Smith’s White Teeth, well, it’s that kind of book.
(Sidebar: Not to make it seem as though Smith is more of a writer than a creator, it’s worth noting that some of the best books are also very “book”ish, which is to say that even as you appreciate the depth of their characters and sincerity of their scenes, you’re hard-pressed to envision a movie or other visual adaptation that would even hold a candle to the hundreds of pages of text. White Teeth is that kind of book as well. …It’s a really fucking good book).Continue reading “A book not about dentistry”