Today when I went to the library, I was approached by a training librarian who asked some questions about how I choose my books.

It’s a pretty simple question, yes, but it’s also hard to answer, and it made me stop and think. Poor librarian, I’m sure she was after a simple answer! I think what I gave her was something along the lines of, “I look at displays to see things I wouldn’t otherwise consider, for anything eye-catching, but otherwise I keep a list of books I want to read and I work my way down the list”. She asked a follow-up question about whether I find authors I like and spend extended time reading more of their work. My answer, sadly, is that often I don’t have time to do this. I do a lot of reading toward my writing, whether means research for articles or the blog, or reading works like my own WIP to get a sense of context or some inspiration – not to mention assigned reading for uni. Now that I’ve finished uni classes until 2014, though, I probably will have a lot more time to do things like getting properly obsessed with one author and spending weeks in their back-catalogue.

All this has me thinking about the extended answer to the librarian’s question – how do I choose my books?

There are two main sources: work and word-of-mouth.

This source is made up of books I’m sent by publishers or publications for review. I always dreamed of having a Meyer-esque Tower of Hope, and my desk is slowly starting to develop one. Of course, now that I’ve got one, it’s impossible to reach the bottom of. These books usually take priority, depending on whether there’s a deadline (magazines) or not (blog). 

The Mini-Moleskine:
I have a teeny tiny Moleskine that fits in the front pocket of my bag. It’s the size of my palm. And it contains a list of all the books I have been recommended by a friend (or at least, the ones I intend on chasing up), or read an interesting review of, or not understood a reference to and felt silly so need to read in order to increase my literary nous, or … so many things lead to a book ending up in my little notebook. I stole this idea off Veronica Sullivan, when I saw her scribbling away in a baby notebook at the library. This system ensures that I don’t miss anything. And it feels so good to cross a title off the list!

It’s also a great grab-bag of surprises – the list currently contains about 150 books I still haven’t read, and by the time I get around to crossing the title off I may have forgotten why I wrote it down in the first place, just that I knew I wanted to read it. This makes a lot of the titles a really pleasant surprise.

It also decreases reading anxiety. It reduces the hugeness of all I haven’t read to a finite list of things I need to chase up – like a never-ending “To Do”. Yeah, it’s old-school to do it in a book, but I like it. It’s a handy habit. No, I’ll never reach the end. But I’ll always be adding things and crossing things off. I’m never stuck for what to pick up from the library – just open up the book and pick one!

And then there are the other sources:

The last source of my reading material comes from necessity. Today’s library trip was to look for gift ideas for Christmas: recipes. Of course, I ended up with two accidental books, because there’s always the Can’t Say No category. I saw Julie and Julia just staring at me from the shelf, and I couldn’t leave it there. I need some indulgent holiday reading!

So those are my sources for reading material. How do you decide what to read next?