Saturday, March 21, 2009

How Do You Choose What To Read?

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...


Eva said...

Let's see...I used to have a TBR list, but then my computer got all cranky, and I don't know if I'll be able to save it. *sigh* It was a thing of beauty too!

Anyway, here's how I pick books to read:
1) my challenge lists. I spend an inordinate amount of time deciding which books to put on these lists, so they're a handy reference! And, I'm in so many challenges, I have to read quite a few books every month just to keep up. :)
2) craving a favourite author. Unlike you, I try to space out books from my favourite authors for a long while. So I wait until I absolutely have to read another book of theirs, and then go for it.
3) research for some kind of theme (Black History month/Women's History month/etc.)-usually I use blogs and Amazon lists/so you want to... (this is also how I get the books on my challenge lists).
4)my TBR case (I have probably 80 books on my shelves that haven't been read, so I can always try one of those! Most of them were bookmooched on the advice of book bloggers, back when I was on BM.
5) every once in awhile, a book I read about on a blog sounds so good I immediately have to go try it out.
6)Browsing in the library-this is how I find most of my audiobooks. And occasionally a new release looks really neat, and I'll pick it up.

Also, my new method of making a TBR list is to look the books up in my library catalog,add them to a 'list', then e-mail them to myself. Then, I archive them and can just do a search to bring them all up! (And if my library doesn't have them, I forward the e-mail to myself with the non-library-owned books added.) So far it's worked. :) And since it's in cyberspace, it doesn't matter how cranky my laptop is!

However, I haven't run out of stuff to read since I began book blogging, lol. If you join way too many challenges, you'll always have a pool of ideas! hehe

Anonymous said...

I'm rather like Eva. I've come back to serious reading in the last year after quite a few years of much-less-than-formerly. The internet is wonderful, for (i) challenges - I had set myself some personal challenges for this year before I even knew that challenges are organised online! (ii) lists: "Top Australian fiction writers" or whatever; (iii) for keeping a list at my local library, also for ordering books from another branch so that when I call into my local branch they are there, ready and waiting for me; (iv) for reading reviews and others' blogs... but of course there are so many blogs that it's possible only to dip a very little into each of them; (v) for blogging myself - I'm very new to this, but I find that writing a review of a book really helps me to focus on it, to pay more attention, and not to give up too easily. So: three cheers for the Great Old Interweb! Abbie

Nymeth said...

I keep far too many lists. A .txt file, an assortment of actual handwritten ones, a wishlist on Amazon, a wishlist on Bookmooch, and also a mental list. And then there are my challenge lists, my tbr pile, and the list I made of 25 books I'd like to read this year.

As I keep adding more books to all of them, I've yet to run out of ideas about what to read :P

Speaking of The Terror, have you heard of I May Be Some Time: Ice and the English Imagination by Francis Spufford? I'm reading another book by the author and it was mentioned on his bio, so I immediately added it to my wishlist. Arctic exploration! The hold icy landscapes have on people's imagination! There's no way it won't be fascinating.

Susan said...

Let's see: I have pen and paper, my tried-and-true method of keeping lists. My only problem is, like you, they either go missing, or get torn. But I find putting a book on a list has the amazing effect that I usually have it soon after.

Currently I have to write down books i see on other blogger's sites, or I forget what I've seen - there are so many good books out there to read! If I'm not sure about a book, I'll look at Amazon for a book synopsis, and possibly a few reviews, although I tend to trust bloggers more than the average amazon review (I don't know them!) Then, I have my Locus for science fiction and fantasy roundup - an amazing resource, and then i have my favourite authors. I also check out the Guardian in the UK for their book reviews, because they have a good mystery scene. And BookSlut is another good online resource for books.

but how to solve that list of books we want to read, to make it permanent and unloseable? Ah, that is the question, Daphne!!!

Great post, too :-D

Miss D. said...

Eva: great suggestions! I'm going to start a "TBR" file in my email so I can keep track of the ones I come across digitally. I forgot about amazon lists, those are great, too! I definitely need to make a huge TBR list for Once Upon A Time...

Abbie: the internet definitely helps with book research. Have fun book blogging; it's pretty amazing. I only discovered it last year!

Nymeth: You sound like me with the multiple lists. I've already lost the one I made for this year... good thing it's in my blog! Thanks for the book rec, that sounds really good. I don't know why I love that ice exploration stuff!!

Susan: You're right! Once you write it down, it does seem to appear. What's Locus? I will check out BookSlut... yes indeed, how DO we keep track of all the books we want to read??

Such great suggestions, everyone! This is fascinating!

Stefanie said...

I keep a TBR list in an Xcel spreadsheet on my computer. When I am looking for a new book to read I choose from the TBR list as well as leap off into sudden moments of whim-ish inspriation (letters and handwriting anyone?). I find books to add to my TBR list through book reviews and bloggers and looking out for new books from favorite authors or old books I haven't read yet by favorite authors. I also have a collection of books with lists of books in them. And when I read books that have notes or bilbiographies I also scan those looking for interesting books. Oh, and of course there are the piles of books I already own and haven't read yet!

If you want to keep a booklist yourself there are many things you can do from a spreadsheet to a text file to using Amazon or Goodreads.

Grad said...

Lets see, where do I get titles for my wish list? Nowadays I get most of my TBRs from book blogs I've grown to respect. Like you, once I find an author I like, I try to get more of his or her works. There used to be a lovely, small magazine and website called The Common Reader that was edited by James Mustich. Sadly, it folded. But the magazine was so wonderful, I kept a lot of them. If Mustich liked it, I got it or put it on my list of "musts". I credit him with tuning me into Wilkie Collins and Beryl Bainbridge, for instance. We have a lovely, old bookstore (not a chain) where the proprietor and crew really read and know their books. Once established as a customer, they tend to gauge your taste and can recommend books they think you'll like. They have been remarkably accurate, for me at any rate. Big drawback - expensive. They find it hard to compete with the big chain guys. Nevertheless, if they recommend something to me, I feel like I have to purchase it through them, so I have to be careful how often I go in. Certainly, I take the advice of friends - most of whom love to read as well. Lately, I've been reading Bookpage - a publication I get through my library. It usually discusses books that have a broad appeal, so not a good place to find something by an obscure writer - or an out of print one. I do keep a TBR list posted on my blog, and add to it. I'm always updating it, and I can print it out. Nothing beats just going through the stacks at the bookstore or the library, though. These days, like you, I'm more apt to be in the library, though.