Quite often when I’m reading a novel, usually during the first couple of chapters or if I’ve put the book aside for a few days, I’ll need to remind myself what the book’s about or where it’s set. Now I don’t think I’m particularly forgetful, and I doubt I’m the only person who has this problem, but it stems from never getting only one book out of the library at a time, and frequently leaving a book on the To Read pile for ages before I get round to it. Questions such as these arise:
- Is this the one where the vaccine gets stolen, or the one where they accidentally travel forward in time and start a war?
- That detail seems a bit out of place – is this in fact set in the 1960s? Or Australia? Or 1960s Australia? By default and until instructed otherwise I read contemporary-ish fiction as though it’s set in contemporary-ish England.
- Is this a crime novel or literary fiction? If the former, the crime that’s just taken place will be what I need to focus my attention on, if the latter it’ll all be about the aftereffects, so I needn’t bother trying to spot clues.
- Isn’t this a fantasy novel? So far it’s all in 1980s Manhattan and nothing unusual’s happening.
Particularly where it’s an author that’s new to me, and the title’s not giving that much away, I might have picked up a novel I’m not quite in the mood for today, which is where the synopsis on the back of the book comes in really handy. Simply flip the book over, scan the paragraph or two on the cover and you’re as clued in as you were when you first chose the book from the library or shop. Except you can’t do that with an ebook.
It seems fairly common with ebooks (and I’ve done it myself. Twice) that the front cover and the whole contents of the book are set up as if for a print book, with the copyright page, acknowledgements and all the rest of it. All that’s missing is the back cover. The blurb sits on the webpage that you found the ebook on, which is great when you’re choosing books, but by the time you get round to reading the thing three weeks later, on the bus with no wi-fi access, you have no idea what that blurb said. If I should ever release another ebook I’ll try and remember to slot the back-cover in somewhere, even if it’s not actually on the final page. In the meantime, compilers of ebooks please take note – some of us need a little reminder to put a novel in context.