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How I Choose Books

Last weekend I was out with my friend at a local bookstore and she asked me, “How do you choose what books to read?”

It’s a great question, because there are so many books out there that interest me, but even if I read all day and all night (what a great job that would be!) I could only read a small fraction of the ones that capture my attention. So I have to be somewhat discriminating. I thought I’d share with you a few of my favorite sources for finding great books.

My absolute number one source is the library. I am a huge fan of the public library system. I read so much that I couldn’t possibly afford to purchase or find room for all the books, so 90% of what I read is borrowed from the library or leant by a friend. One of my favorite things to do is go to the main branch and browse, although I tend to do that less often now that the online system for searching and requesting books is so easy. I used to have sort of a system for my library browsing though, because I wanted to choose a well-rounded stack of books to bring home for the next week or two. It sort of went like this:

1. Check out the new fiction. I almost always picked up a book from this section.
2. Venture into the cavernous halls of nonfiction and browse through subjects that interested me: history, music, arts and crafts, health. Sometimes I found things I liked, sometimes not. But I loved being in that section because it smelled like old, musty books.
3. Go to the mystery shelves and pick up an Agatha Christie, preferably one starring Hercule Poirot. I’m sorry to say that I’ve read them all. But I think I’ve forgotten most of the endings by now, so maybe it’s time to read them again.
4. Go to the general fiction section. This is where I got creative. I knew I couldn’t possibly browse through the whole section each time I visited, or I’d be there for hours. So each time I went, I chose a letter from the alphabet and only looked at those authors. I wasn’t totally regimented about it, though. I could have gone from A to Z in a year, but I just picked random letters. If I had less time, I’d pick something like O or E. If I had more, I’d go with M or S. Once I’d picked a letter, I’d choose a few books, depending on what caught my eye or whether there were particular authors I’d heard of but never tried. After that, I’d go hunting through the rest of the fiction stacks for whoever were my favorite authors at the time.
5. Finish with the YA and audiobook section because in the main branch of my library, they used to be in the same room, right near the checkout desk. I love audiobooks, although I am careful with my selections, because the reader really makes or breaks the book. I listen to them in the car on the way to work, and consequently, I love my commute.

By the time I left the library, I always had a stack of books I could hardly carry. It never seemed to occur to me to bring a shopping bag.

A more recent source of book searching is the website Good Reads, which has lists of top rated books in each genre and also shows you what your friends on the site are reading. I also like browsing Amazon and walking through Barnes and Noble with a pumpkin spice latte in hand. My Barnes and Noble browsing is similar to my library browsing, except I tend to spend more time in the memoir section these days. I also walk out with far fewer books.

I also check out recommendations on authors’ blogs. I figure they’re in the business and must have their fingers on the pulse. One of my favorite memoirist/novelists is Jen Lancaster, who blogs frequently at Jennsylvania. Every season she puts out a couple of lists of books she’s screened from the advance copies she receives. I recently read one of her summer recommendations, Girl in Translation by Jean Kwok, and it was fantastic.

Finally, I listen to recommendations from friends and family, especially my mother and mother-in-law, who always seem to know what I’ll like.

How do you find good books?

One Response to “How I Choose Books”

  1. Great post! I am on Goodreads too and now I’ve added several books to my “to-read” shelf from your blog!

    I do tend to find books I’m interested in on blogs I read and from friends’ recommendations. But to be completely honest I use the Amazon method from time to time too (my brother introduced me to this method). I search for a book I really enjoyed on Amazon.com and then look at their feature of “if you liked _____, you may enjoy ______.” And, “other people who searched for ________ also liked ______.”

    I used to really love the library but where I live right now it can be difficult to enjoy. It is a county-wide system and sometimes to put a book on hold, you’ll find you are the 259th person to request that book and it may be months before you can get your hands on it! So I tend to use that library search and find method in bookstores instead of the library (which can get pricey if I’m not careful!). Recently I got to spend a few hours in Powell Books in Portland OR and it was amazing!

    I also love to take recommendations from friends and family and colleagues too, once or twice a year we have a “teachers as readers” club and a group of us meet to discuss a “professional book.” (Last year we read Drive by Daniel Pink.)

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