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When Books Surprise Us

March 18, 2014
I liked this book, but I wish I could remember the author's name.

I liked this book, but I wish I could remember the author’s name.

I was just surprised by a book.  I had read a sample of it a month ago and thought I knew what it was about.  Then I saw a copy at the library and checked it out.  The book went in a direction that I hadn’t foreseen.  It wasn’t a great book, but if you like action-thriller novels, then you’d probably like this book.

Runner by Patrick Lee is a guy’s book.  I hope it’s okay to call a book a guy’s book.  Sometimes when I refer to certain novels as women’s books, women (not all) get mad at me and claim that it’s sexist to call a book a woman’s book.  I’m not saying women’s books are inferior.  I’m saying that most men wouldn’t enjoy reading most women’s books, and most women wouldn’t enjoy reading men’s books.  I think a lot of men would like reading Runner, but most women wouldn’t.  My wife understands that.  She reads women’s books and doesn’t expect me to read them, and she doesn’t lecture me about centuries of repression when I start reading books with lots of explosions and high body counts.  She also watches football.  I can’t really ask for much more than that.

Runner was published in 2014, so there hasn’t been much time for other people to damage the library book that I borrowed.  Somebody had already folded the top corners of pages as bookmarks, and that would have ticked me off if the book had been mine, but it was the library’s book, so that didn’t bother me.  The book didn’t have any boogers or blood stains in it, so that made me happy.  When a library book’s worst blemish is a few folded pages, then that’s a relatively clean library book.  I was mildly surprised by that.

It’s rare that a book surprises me.  If it’s a classic, I know most of the story because I read a bunch of Classics Illustrated comic books as a kid (some might call that cheating).  If it’s a recent book, the book jackets usually give away too much information, and online reviewers sometimes reveal what the book jackets don’t.  So anytime I get surprised by what happens in a book, I’m… surprised?

Runner went in a couple directions that I never would have predicted from the sample or the book jacket.  And it worked.  I don’t do spoilers, so I can’t tell you what surprised me.  The pace was quick, but I knew that from the sample.  There was a lot of cat-and-mouse stuff going on, but I knew that from the sample.  The bad guys were powerful government people, and the protagonist was ex-military elite, and I knew that from the sample.  There was a lot of action, explosion, a high body count, but I had guessed all those things from the sample as well.

I’m glad I didn’t know ahead of time what the book was really about.  If I had known, I probably wouldn’t have read it because it sounds implausible, and I wasn’t in the frame of mind to read that kind of book.  But I was enjoying it too much to stop.    The turn of plot that surprised me wasn’t even on the book jacket summary.  Book jackets usually give out way too much information, like movie previews.  I wonder if the book publishers intentionally kept the plot of the novel off the book jacket because they believed it would have turned a lot of readers off.  I’m glad they didn’t mention what the book was really about.

I wasn’t wild about the cover of Runner because the author’s name is in bigger letters than the title.  I don’t know what it means when the author’s name is in bigger letters than the title.  I had never heard of this author Patrick Lee before.  Seeing his name in big letters didn’t help me remember his name any better.  I still had to look at the book cover a few times to remember who wrote the book.  I don’t like it that an author I’ve never heard of has his name in such huge letters on a book cover.  It probably shouldn’t bother me, but it does.  Maybe if his name were Stephen King, or John Grisham, or even (shudder) James Patterson, I could see why the publisher would put the author’s name in such big letters.  But I’d never heard of this guy before.  I should barely see his name on the cover.

On the negative side, about 2/3 of the way through the book, there was a really implausible escape.  Action-thrillers always have implausible escapes, and this was right up there.  It’s the kind of implausible escape that belongs in a Hollywood blockbuster, but I don’t like it when Hollywood blockbuster escapes are in the books I read.  I think a book should be more believable than a movie, but maybe I expect too much from an action-thriller novel.  I don’t mind implausible plots, but the escapes should be plausible.  Something in action-thrillers should be plausible.  But even with that highly implausible escape sequence, I still liked Runner.  I liked it more than I thought it would, and that was a good surprise.

What books have you been surprised by?  How much do you usually know about a book before you start reading it?  Should action-thriller novels have implausible escapes?  Am I wrong to care about how big the letters of an author’s name are on the cover?  Is it sexist to call certain books “men’s books” and other books “women’s books”?

  1. Anonymous permalink

    Well, you didn’t make me want to read the book. Why tell us a ook surprised you if you aren’tgoing to say how?

    • I think I know what you mean (but my purpose wasn’t to get people to read the book). I didn’t want to ruin anybody’s surprise by saying what the surprise was (if they did choose to read the book), and if I had known ahead of time what the plot was (which was the surprise), I wouldn’t have read the book. I don’t know if that even makes sense.

  2. It’s rare that a book really surprises me, although the twist in Ender’s Game totally came out of nowhere, and I loved it. I find books are better about that than movies. Most movies are so formulaic that there’s nothing surprising and if there, it’s usually stupid (Cabin in the Woods is a notable exception).

    • Ender’s Game is another book that came out of nowhere and surprised me. I read it in the late 1980s (I think), and only read it because a sci-fi buddy said Orson Scott Card was the next Isaac Asimov. I wouldn’t go that far, but I didn’t expect to like it, and I did (even the controversial ending).

      • Have you read any of his other books? I’ve only read that first one, although I’ve heard pretty good things about them.

        • I just read Enders game and Enders shadow. Both blew my mind. I would recommend Ender’s Shadow for your next Card book. It’s the story of Ender’s Game from Bean’s point of view. Highly recommend!

  3. I have to agree with you re: books being gender specific. There is no question pulp fiction in the 40s/50s was guy-centric and although there has certainly been an evolution of style, there are still books that gravitate toward men and others toward women. The last books that surprised me…the two “Fringe” novels by Christa Faust. I thought they would be unreadable based on many reviews and a general bad feeling, but they weren’t bad. I will most likely be picking up the third novel in April.

  4. Definitely not wrong to care about name size in this case. That is shocking and gratuitous.

    I’m sometims bothered by author photos on books. Brad Thor, for example. Every time I see him posing, I hear that voice from The Simpon’s saying “I’m actor Troy McClure,” just changed to “I’m author Brad Thor.”

    • Is Brad Thor his real name? I don’t think Brad Thor is a real name. I don’t mind writers making up fake names, but Brad Thor just doesn’t sound right. I think I’ll change my name to Clint Conan and write a bunch of action books

  5. It doesn’t bother me to hear someone describe a book as a “men’s book” or a “women’s book” as long as the speaker isn’t being sexist in other things that s/he is saying. When I was writing my comment to you on The Apple Tree Yard I was totally stuck as to how I was going to explain that I wasn’t sure if you would like it or not, and the only way I could think of was to say that it was a “women’s book” in that it is most likely going to appeal to women. (Long sentence – sorry!) So it makes sense to me.

    I usually read as little of a jacket cover as possible. I like to just have a general idea of what the book is about.

    Glad you liked your book!

    • I’m glad you wrote that because now if anybody calls me a sexist or genderist, I can guide them to your comment and say, “See? See? She said it too!” I went to the library today, but Apple Tree Yard was still checked out. I hope I can get it before the library’s copy gets too dirty.

  6. Deborah S. permalink

    I always love unexpected twists and turns in movies and in novels; something that keeps me on the edge of my seat! I recently read a thriller (that could be categorized as a “Men’s book”) that I really enjoyed so I will be sure to check out “Runner.” I think you and your readers would really like the novel “Human Source Code” by author Lubos Borik ((
    It really blew me away and I definitely wasn’t expecting to get into this book – my husband recommended it to me. It follows Detective Klapman on a hunt to expose an international organization who has been manipulating peoples very DNA, but to what end? (don’t want to spoil it!). It explores the subjects of DNA manipulation and how much of our very nature could be changed by it in a very interesting way. I love novels that leave me with questions and new ideas and this one definitely did and then some. The writing and character development is top notch as is the very unique storyline. This one will leave you with many questions and could be a frightening real prediction for the future!

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