Getting Back to Judging Books by Their Covers

I often find myself thinking about how things used to be. How they used to be before the advent of the Internet, social networks, and instant access to just about anything. This way of thinking lies behind the existence of this blog and many of the things that interest me. And one thought that I have been pondering recently is the idea of book discovery and how it has changed since my early years of loving books.

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Thinking back to those “olden days” of my tweens and early teen years, I have so many fond memories of time spent looking at books. Whether I was at one of the local libraries or more often, at one of our mall bookstores, I loved to look at the books. I would pull them from the shelves and admire the covers and anxiously read the blurbs and descriptions on the back or inside the flap on the hardcovers. I was always on the hunt for my next read, for that next great fantasy or science fiction story that would sweep me away.

During this time, the mid-1980s, there was no Internet, there was no Goodreads or Reddit. Pretty much all I had to go on to choose my next story were the books themselves. Occasionally a friend might recommend something but that was rare, as I was a bit of a loner in my love of books. I distinctly remember discovering the Xanth series by Piers Anthony in a library, because they sounded so whimsical and fun. I discovered the sword and sorcery of David Eddings’ Belgariad on those same shelves. Perhaps my favorite series of all time, the Dragonlance Chronicles, was first stumbled upon at a Waldenbooks in the Gainesville, FL mall because they had beautifully illustrated dragons on the covers. A Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin. The Dragonriders of Pern by Anne McCaffrey. The list goes on and on.

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Flash forward thirty years and the way I discover new books has fundamentally changed, and not necessarily for the better. Now I have access to more book recommendation engines than I know what to do with. Amazon and Goodreads use complex algorithms to suggest books based on my history. Reddit has some fantastic book subreddits like the r/fantasy, where kind people will suggest what might be your next great read. But what I have noticed is that these things are making the process less enjoyable somehow, less serendipitous. I have become so consumed with “Will I love this?” rather than just taking a chance and giving it a go based on the fantastic cover or a well-written blurb. The fact is, my success rate with enjoying books has actually gotten worse while utilizing all these seemingly great resources. I have abandoned more “recommended” books in the last ten years because I just didn’t like them than I have in my entire life up to that point. I wonder why that is?

I want to take more chances. I want to teach my kids to do the same as they read and hopefully fall in love with reading. Just wander around, pull them off the shelf, look for a cover that triggers something and maybe, take a chance.

Me vs. The Restaurant

Eating out is almost always a great time… unless you are blind like me. Okay, so that might have been a bit of a “shock” opening line but, unfortunately, it is true for me. Like most people, I love eating good food with family and friends. I especially love it if I don’t have to help clean up the dishes afterward. This is where the restaurant comes in, those nearly ubiquitous dining establishments that can be spotted on just about any street corner in our town. However, I have begun to notice that I don’t enjoy eating out as often as I used to as my sight deteriorates. There are a number of reasons why and none of them have anything to do with the quality of the buffalo wings.

The first thing is the seating, especially when we are talking about a non-fast food, sit down and order joint. Navigating the maze of tables and chairs, that to me seem like they are scattered haphazardly, is nearly impossible without help from my wife and kids. I get it. These places need to maximize their seating to get in as many customers as possible to maximize food sales and I don’t begrudge them that. But, you combine the table and chair arrangement with the dim, mood lighting that most places seem to love and I’m definitely running into a chair or three.

Secondly, is the process of selecting and ordering food. In a fast-food spot, reading the menu boards hanging behind the counter is nearly always a no go for me. The font is entirely too small and I often wonder why considering how much white space I can clearly see. Isn’t the point of these things is to help you choose what to eat? Then I have to either rely on my memory of what I enjoyed the last time we came here or I have to lean over to my lady and ask for help. Not ideal and it definitely does not inspire a feeling of independence. There have been a few places that have self-ordering kiosks, that I’ve been able to use for checking out what they offer, and that has been nice and somewhat liberating. More of those types of screens please, where I can actually walk right up to them and see what’s what.

In a sit-down restaurant, ordering from a laminated menu offers its own challenges. As mentioned earlier, the lighting is usually dim which by its very nature, makes reading difficult. And similar to the menu boards, the fonts are usually small and there is clearly a real emphasis on making it look cool rather than making it easy to read. In these cases, I can pull out my pocket magnifier, if the lighting is decent, and make my selections. But in poor light, I once again have to ask for help. (Are you picking up on a pattern here?)

My final reason for falling out of love with eating out so often has been touched on already. It is that I simply don’t feel like I could eat out on my own, independently, without assistance, and that is not great. I don’t feel safe navigating the dining areas and often even need help to find the restrooms unless I have been there a few times. Certainly not the most dignified thing for a man in his mid-forties.

So, I add all those reasons together and I just don’t have the level of enjoyment eating out as I did when I had more sight. However, I do still enjoy the wings.