A few days ago, looking at my stack of unintentional book purchases (I tried not to, but gift cards and 4 for the price of 1 [expensive book!] sales made it a little difficult...), I noted two interesting things. The first is that that when I buy books at a bookstore with my own two hands, I'm a little more careful about which specific copy I get to make sure the one I take home won't be bent or dusty. The second is slightly more interesting. Once home, I realized that I hadn't read a single one of the summarizing blurbs for these six books. I purchased based entirely on previous knowledge: sometimes complete, sometimes not.
Two books I purchased because they're part of a publisher series I quite like. One of these came heavily recommended while the other I looked up beforehand online. It looked interesting and was on sale. Alright, legit. The third book was also recommended by a couple of trustworthy sources. Actually, the author had been mentioned; I had no idea which book of his to read. I ended up picking the fattest one. The fourth book I took because I'd heard about the author. That's all. Name recognition and nothing else. The fifth and sixth books I chose because I've already read a book by their respective authors. In both cases, I wasn't blown away but felt I should give the authors another chance.
So the question: Do I actually need to know what a book is about before reading it? I'm leaning towards the "no" end of the spectrum. Several times in the last few months I've read books when I've known next to nothing about them and I've enjoyed them. The good ones, at least. Books with blurbs lead to expectations. You expect the book to follow the story summary and fit those perfectly chosen publisher phrases to the T. If it doesn't, it's a disappointment. If you're apathetic about the book, you end up feeling whatever the publisher wanted you to feel. And manipulated. If you liked it, no harm no foul. But reading a book ignorant is like eating with a blindfold on. Sure, you know the general genre (and if you spend as much time researching books as I do, tend to know a little bit about the author and writing style - thank you internet), but surprise and excitement lie within the story, in the "meat". It unfolds with no expectations and progresses as simply as any book can. If it's bad, it's bad. If it's mediocre, it's mediocre. And if it's amazing, it's your new best friend.
There's a second part to this question. What does it mean that a book sounds good? Essentially, books sound like they've been marketed. If a publisher tells me a book is a great work of international literature, something that will change how I view the world... yeah, I'll probably bite. But for all I know, it's a love story that just happens to take place in the non-Anglocentric world. Do I need a book to sound like it might be interesting in order to enjoy it? The books I hated most the last year have had "intriguing" stories. That's not enough. So once I have a vague notion what type of book it is (based even on a bookseller saying it's vaguely like this other book I liked, or the publisher selling it alongside a superb book, for instance), why should I bother?
I have no idea. I'm curious to know what others think, though. The floor is open.