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How Do You Choose What To Read?

March 21, 2009

I’ve been thinking about this one lately, since I had quite a dry spell towards the end of the year last year, and until my current de Lint gorge, had a hard time finding something to ‘get into’ this year. I’m dreading the next dry spell and am trying to find a way to avoid it. Forever.

So that got me thinking about my own methods of finding books. I, shockingly, do not keep any sort of TBR (to be read) list — I’m terrible at keeping track of those sorts of things. I write them down, but then lose the list, and then write something else down elsewhere, and then lose THAT list, and so on. I need to figure out a good way to keep one, because I hear about so many. I *think* I can keep a list on my account on the Oakland Library site — that would be ideal, at least for books available through the library. More investigation needed. (thoughts, anyone?) I’d love something digital and printable. I love notebooks but, see above — they get lost.

Anyway, I currently use these methods:

1. Utilize “Best Of…” Lists. You know, those Best American Literature or Best Horror or Most Popular Books From The Harvard Bookstore types of lists. These are all over the internet. I frequently browse these sorts of lists for inspiration. Once I choose a book, I then…

2. Scan Reviews of Books. Either blogs or more formal reviews. I usually don’t read in-depth reviews of something I’m considering reading because I find that enjoy books less when I’ve got a certain idea about how it’s supposed to be beforehand. But I do like to get an idea of what it’s about, the general consensus of whether it’s worth reading, and any ‘hype’ around it. This method often leads me to other books, as well. However, I usually only use these two methods for very popular books, or classics. Otherwise, I go for methods such as…

3. Take Book-Blogger’s Advice. People are so generous with posting wish-lists and favorites and All-Time-Best lists… this is an enormous resource for someone like me who adores reading but is still fairly picky about books. I love finding out about new books and authors that haven’t made a splash in pop culture but are bloggers’ favorites. This is how I found The Terror, my favorite book from last year. Of course also just keeping up with reading people’s blogs nets a wide variety of books I’d love to read. If I find something that sounds amazing, I immediately see if my library has it, and request it. Otherwise… see above… no TBR list, so it gets forgotten. Must find a way to solve this problem.

Other than using the internet, my other favorite methods include:

4. Browsing The Stacks. Of course! At the library, usually. A bookstore is a dangerous place for me. I try to only go to used bookstores because I generally leave the store with at least two or three books and that can get quite expensive when buying new (I know, I know, I need to support authors and bookstores and such, but hey. This is a tough year, we can all only do so much.) but $5 a book, I can do (occasionally). But I try to get as many books from the library as I can. Because also? Books accumulate as quickly as dust bunnies and stay around even longer.

Thankfully I live in a large urban area and have three great library systems at my disposal (four, if I wanted to go over to San Francisco more often). Anyway, I first check the New Arrivals section to see what’s come in. This usually produces at least one selection. Then, I browse the genre sections, just seeing what pops out to me. If I like a cover (we all know how choosy I am about book covers) then I’ll read the flap. If the book doesn’t grab me, I will sometimes read the blurbs on the back to see which authors have blurbed the book and sometimes will then go check out THOSE authors. This usually nets at least one book as well. And then I’ll go for a no-brainer — either the new non-fiction section for something pop-culture-ish, or a check out a favorite author to see if anything new has popped up, or go to the YA section to grab an old favorite.

Once I’ve got a few good books going, then the real fun begins. I generally then follow one of the following trajectories (you’ve seen this in action if you’ve been reading my blog)

5. Read everything by current favorite author. I like to indulge in greedy overconsumption of a current favorite’s books. If I love a book, I will then immediately see what else the author has written, and then will find out if there’s a particular order in which the books are supposed to be read, and then I completely overindulge and go on a reading spree. Recent examples have included Neil Gaiman, Nick Hornby, Christopher Pike, Ann Patchett, Lincoln and Child, and, currently, Charles de Lint. I find this incredibly satisfying. It’s like having an entire box of favorite chocolates all to myself. I just read and read until I’m completely full and feel no desire to continue on the spree. Generally this takes at least three books. In the meantime, I’ve been…

6. Researching Related Topics. An example of this is while reading The Terror, I became fascinated with Eskimo culture and igloos. If we hadn’t had to move, I would have immediately indulged in a few non-fiction books about Eskimos (Esquimaux, love that spelling!) and gone off on an Arctic tangent, I am sure. I will also pick up on references to topics, authors, artists, places or foods in books, and that will take me off on related tangents until I’ve exhausted my curiosity. Another example which I didn’t fully explore was while reading American Gods, I just HAD to research many of those gods and will probably draw from my favorites for the current Once Upon A Time Challenge.

and then when all else fails…

7. Ask for help. I ask friends what they’re currently reading. I ask librarians. I ask patrons, innocently browsing. I (gasp!) read the newspaper book reviews. I look on my own bookshelves for inspiration.

See, this is where a TBR list would come in handy, because inevitably, eventually, I run out of stuff to read. And then the withdrawal starts, the shakes and the tremors. I’m very unhappy when this happens and would like to avoid it at all costs.

Would love to see others posting about their book-acquisition methods! We all have to get our fix somehow…

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