When Books Surprise Us
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”?