How Did You Find It?

Will Hindmarch is a freelance writer, graphic designer, and game designer. He also blogs at Gameplaywright and The Gist. Look for him at Jeff VanderMeer’s reading in Atlanta at 8pm on December 11th at Manuel’s Tavern.

How did you find the book you’re reading now?

I first found Jeff VanderMeer’s books through this very instrument: the blog. First I discovered the writer, then I discovered his works. So I was a fan of Jeff’s before I was a fan of Ambergris. I read him, once, as the future king of Booklife, in a sense—as a writer talking about the writing life—and then, later, as a fantasist. So I don’t much remember Jeff’s work as a text alone, as stories from some mysterious stranger. I’ve always known it as Jeff’s writing.

How you discover a writer effects how you read the work, doesn’t it? Everything comes with this layer of context, and while we can relax our eyes and let it fall out of focus, so we see just the story on the page, it’s still there to be seen.

Thinking about it lately, as a I try to fathom how we find readers and how readers find us, I’ve realized that I find a lot of books by finding the writer first. It’s not usually blogs, for me, as much as it is hearing this or that story about this or that writer; catching a glimpse of an oeuvre before I go grasping for a bit of it. I read Michael Chabon’s novels because I’d read his essays here and there and thought, “I wonder how this guy builds his stories?” I read John Hodgman and David Rakoff after I heard them on This American Life.

I don’t do a lot of blind buying. I don’t gamble much with what I read. I’m not proud of that, necessarily, but there it is.

So I’m left wondering how you found what you’re reading now. How did you find your newest favorite book? And if that book is Finch, then tell me how you found VanderMeer.


  1. says

    I discovered Vandermeer in the bookstore, ironically. I usually don’t find anything of interest in big-chain bookstores, but two or three years ago I was in one such store and came across the newly released softcover of CITY OF SAINTS AND MADMEN. The title intrigued me enough to pick it up, and the quotes about it cinched the deal for me. I was ready to take a chance. Little did I know I would be amazed, inspired, and awestruck by this book…and become a hardcore Ambergris fan.

    I was gliding listlessly through the staid environs of the local Barnes & Noble (as I often do, wishing there was something worth buying on the fantasy shelves). I was about to leave with the taste of a familiar disappointment filling my mouth. But…something caught the corner of my eye…or my soul…and I turned toward a random shelf without any particular reason for doing so.

    There sat a book that drew my hand toward its spine, and before I realized what I was doing, I was looking at the cover to CITY OF SAINTS AND MADMEN. Something in the back of my mind rose (squid-like) to the surface. I read the comments on the back of the book, and on the first few pages. There was something here…something I’d been looking for. To my amusement, the book itself validated my thought seconds later as I read the quote from Mr. Moorcock: “It’s what you’ve been looking for.”

    Now, I should explain that this has happened to me before. I have a sort of mystical relationship with exceptional fantasy books…a radar sense, if you will…the bright works, the ones worth reading, the pillars of gold standing among the rotting piles of formulaic drivel, they sometimes call out to me. I can explain it no better than that. While I can’t stand to read 95% of “modern” fantasy and sci-fi, I seem to have this uncanny talent for finding the books that are true works of genius. But my theory is this…the books find me.

    I marched to the cashier and bought my first copy of CITY OF SAINTS AND MADMEN. Yes, my first copy. (I’ll get back to that in a bit.) I dove into the book and found that it exceeded my high hopes…”Dradin, In Love,” enthralled me, and I knew that I had discovered something truly special here. The kind of book (the kind of writer) that I’m always looking for but rarely stumble across. I poured through the book voraciously, enjoying every paragraph, every odd detail and eerie image of Ambergris and its sinister (yet often hilarious) inhabitants.

    And a funny thing happened as I was reading…the book began to fall apart in my hands.

    I was halfway through “The Hoegbotton Guide…” when, like some fungus-infested relic from the damp environs of Ambergris itself, the binding of the book began to disintegrate; sections of the book were falling out. I kept reading, unwilling to stop, with pieces of the book laying around me, but eventually I decided to take it back to B&N, and get a replacement copy. Must have been a bad binding job…some bad glue probably. Certainly no strange fungus or exposure to otherworldly vapors could be causing the book to fall apart like Tonsure’s dilapidated journal.

    So I obtained my second copy of CITY OF SAINTS AND MADMEN, because I simply had to finish this wonderful book, and because I knew I’d want a solid, intact copy to keep among my collection of truly precious volumes (alongside my Tanith Lee editions, my Thomas Ligotti, my Dunsany, my Lovecraft, my Schweitzer, my Bakker, my William Gibson, and my Brian McNaughton). I dove into “The Transformation of Martin Lake” as soon as I got home with my fresh copy.

    Perhaps there are invisible fungi in Ambergris, ones that have the ability to transfer themselves across the barriers between imagination and reality; if so, they certainly are the type that feed on book-binding glue. My second copy began falling apart in my hands as well. Undaunted, I completed my reading of Martin Lake’s harrowing tale before returning to claim another fresh copy.

    When I finally finished the book (my third copy of CITY OF SAINTS AND MADMEN), and this final copy has remained mostly intact–except for the fact that while I was reading the second half of the book, it split right down the middle. The binding decided to break itself apart in the middle of “The Cage,” right between the lines “No response.” and ” ‘Is something in there?’ ” Luckily, this single split didn’t spread to the rest of the book, and I was able to finish it without returning for a fourth copy.

    I was thrilled when SHRIEK: AN AFTERWORD came out, and it delivered in spades. As I write this, I’m about 80% finished with FINCH, the third Ambergris novel. I can’t say enough good things about it.

    Ambergris Rules.

  2. Steve Roby says

    For the book I’m reading now: I just finished David Peace’s Nineteen-Seventy-Seven and am about to start Nineteen-Eighty. I saw one of the four books in the series in a mystery bookstore, thought it looked interesting, made a mental note to find out more online and keep an eye out for the first book, and found it before too long. The cover copy suggesting the book was like James Ellroy doing the north of England wasn’t far off, but Ellroy hasn’t been this good in a long time.

    As for the works of Jeff VanderMeer, I must have read a review of City of Saints and Madmen in Locus. Didn’t act on it right away, but occasionally googled it, and finally bought it. And then Shriek: An Afterword and Finch. Haven’t read anything non-Ambergris yet, but it’ll happen, because I really enjoyed the Ambergris books.

  3. Cora says

    The book I’m reading right now was actually found while randomly browsing the display tables at a bookstore. It’s not my usual genre and I’d never heard of the author before. However, I’m glad I picked it up, because I’m enjoying it very much, so much that I already ordered the author’s previous two books.

    The book I read before that was accidentally discovered while looking for something else in the bookstore. A copy had ended up on top of a stack of the book I was really looking for, so I picked it up to look at the other book. Both the other book and the author came highly recommended, but neither the blurb nor the writing inside appealed to me, so I put it back. Then I wondered where to put the book that had been misplaced and chanced to look at the blurb and thought, “Well, this one actually does sound good.”

    That’s why random bookstore browsing is valuable on occasion, because it exposes us to books and authors we’d probably never have found otherwise. I’m pretty sure I’d never have found either of the books mentioned above, because one is YA and the other chick lit or romantic comedy or whatever you want to call it and both are genres I don’t usually read.

    That said, my usual path to finding books is via recommendations from trusted people, watching which books are getting a lot of good buzz online and finding a books via an author and his or her blog. I actually discovered one of my favourite authors, because I ran across the her blog and liked what she had to say so much that I kept reading and ordered her books.

    As for how I discovered Jeff VanderMeer, I honestly don’t remember. I suspect a couple of people I was hanging out with online for a while must have mentioned his name, so that I recognized it when I saw it at the bookstore and bought “City of Saints and Madmen”.

  4. David H. says

    I’m pretty sure I had heard of Jeff VanderMeer before and added his books to my 3000-book-long “list of books to read sometime,” but I didn’t have any impetus to actually check them out until I picked up Nick Gevers’ “Extraordinary Engines” anthology. It’s supposed to be a steampunk collection, but there were only a couple standouts to me–VanderMeer’s story and Robert Reed’s.

    That finally got me ordering City of Saints and Madmen, and then a few months later, I ordered Veniss Underground and Shriek, and then I preordered Finch.

    I’m reading Joe Abercrombie’s First Law trilogy right now, about halfway through the first book. I don’t remember how I discovered it, though–I think I simply came across names from other author blogs and added his books to my list, and I happened to get around to checking out the books this weekend.

  5. says

    I’m currently reading Shauna Cross’ YA novel Derby Girl. I first heard about it from a very dismissive brief review by Hannah Wolf Bowen (too much boyfriend. not enough roller derby). The fact that I still remember it two years later (and was able to GOOGLE the phrase to check who wrote it) goes to show – as reviews go, that one is somewhat iconic. I heard the phrase mentioned again recently with people comparing the film to the book (the film has exactly the right amount of boyfriend) and thought “oh that’s why the premise of the film sounds familiar.”

    That was two years ago. Recently I saw the Drew Barrymore directed, Ellen Page-starring film Whip It, based on Derby Girl, and loved it. The screenplay was written by the author.

    I’m now reading the novel and love-love-loving it. The voice is marvellous, and every page is interesting. I’m not far enough into it to be able to judge for myself if the balance is too much boyfriend and not enough roller derby, but so far I’m raving about it as much as I have about the film, and at least one person this week has already bought it at my recommendation.

    Sometimes it takes me a while, but I get there in the end.

  6. says

    I just finished reading Finch. So, finding VanderMeer: an in-house promotional ad in the back of KJ Bishop’s The Etched City for Veniss Underground. It sounded interesting, so I bought it. A while later I bought CoSaM, then Shriek, and now Finch.

  7. says

    I just finished reading Finch, which I absolutely adored! Oddly enough, I found Jeff VanderMeer’s work, because in one of the bookstores I visited frequently, City of Saints and Madmen was consistently shelved out of alphabetical order for some reason, so it stuck out. I kept picking it up and putting it back, and finally I decided if I was that intrigued, I should just buy it. I’ve been a fan ever since.

  8. says

    I discovered Jeff when he was late for my chat with him on the now-defunct Clarion Circle. Fortunately, my co-conspirator Nancy Etchemendy had his phone number. As I recall, it went something like this:

    Me: Hi, Jeff, it’s Tim Keating
    Jeff: Oh, shit!

    But then I read City of Saints… and all was well :-)

  9. says

    I usually find books through every imaginable avenue: browsing bookstores, friends’ recommendations, book reviews, interesting covers, blogs. I do screen many of the books through book reviews before I check them out… helps whittle down the wheat from chaff. (Not that my to-read list is getting any shorter, alas…)

    I found City of Saints and Madmen a few years ago in a clearance book sale, and it was the oversized paperback wraparound cover that grabbed my attention. A story on the book cover! How quaint! It must be worth something. At the same time I also found Thackeray Lambshead’s Guide to Diseases and decided to get them both. Then I managed to find Jeff’s blog and have been following ever since.

    I must say that I actually read more of Jeff’s blog than I have his books… hopefully that’d be remedied soon!