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).
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?
05/12/2012 at 4:34 pm
I usually look for authors whose work I have previously enjoyed. Sometimes friends in my book group recommend what they have been reading. Sometimes it is pure serendipity. I have even, very occasionally, chosen books because I’ve been attracted by the cover. Some pleasant surprises have happened this way.
05/12/2012 at 11:49 pm
It’s a pity, I think, how much “You can’t judge a book by its cover!” is said – there’s something to be said for it. Publishers perhaps invest more money in original cover art? Cover art from stock photography collages is a very genre-based convention, though… That’s not to say it’s bad, just that it attracts certain readers. You know what you’re looking for.
Mary, if you know that original cover art is something that marks books you enjoy, I don’t think that that’s a bad thing to keep an eye out for.
05/12/2012 at 11:13 pm
I like the idea of the mini moleskin. I do mark the books I want to read on Goodreads, but it’s not really practical when you’re in a bookshop and the internet on my phone is slow.
Usually I just walk in with a few books in mind. If I don’t find them, I start browsing the shelves. If a cover/title catches my attention, I read the blurb and flip through the pages. If it seems interesting enough, I put it aside to be considered. When I’m down browsing I usually have a selection with me, so I end up narrowing titles down to suit my budget. 🙂
05/12/2012 at 11:53 pm
I’m a Goodreads user too, Zen. I do tend to forget the “to read” section when I’m in the library though.
If I have a good chat to someone about a book and write it down by hand, it’s definitely worth chasing up. Digital things (like taking notes by typing in lectures) don’t seem to stick in the same way.
Thanks for sharing, Zen!
06/12/2012 at 12:30 am
All of your suggestions are great. I have just one more thing to add. Around 10 years ago I recall reading in Bill Gates’ book of how he takes time to himself and brings along a load of things he does not normally read just so he can broaden his horizons. That seemed like great advice and, since then, I have acted on it. It’s not made me as rich as Gates in the material sense but–it was great advice, all things considered :>)
06/12/2012 at 11:25 am
What a fantastic suggestion, Maurice! I’ll be taking that advice too, and I’ll try reading something unusual just for the sake of it.
Thanks for commenting!