Book Selections Come From All Directions

With all the novels out there, how do we decide which ones to read?

Throwing darts in the general direction of library or bookstore shelves is one way, but not recommended. If you want a novel with holes, you don’t need darts to end up with Louis Sachar’s…Holes.

Anyway, several factors affect what I choose to read. For one thing, I’ve mostly given up nonfiction books for the time being in order to concentrate on fiction. That helps me read as many novels as possible, and feed this blog! Still, I miss nonfiction books — especially the biographies I used to relish — and eventually might return to them when the U.S. Congress passes a law expanding days to 48 hours.

But how do I pick which novels to read? Many are recommended by family, friends, and of course the literature aficionados who post great comments on this blog. 🙂 Also, if I like one novel by an author, I’m sure to immediately or eventually try others — whether it’s another stand-alone book or the next installment of a series. Familiarity breeds content(ment).

Selecting what I read also takes variety into account — making sure I mix literary and mass-audience fiction, different genres (mustn’t miss the occasional thriller), old classics and contemporary novels, long and short novels, fiction by women and men, fiction by authors of color and white authors, fiction by LGBTQ and straight writers, novels by authors from various countries, novels by authors from various planets… Well, maybe not the last category, but if Ray Bradbury could write The Martian Chronicles, why can’t a Martian wordsmith write The Earthly Chronicles?

Another factor behind what I read involves which titles my local library happens to have on its shelves when I visit. If certain novels on my list aren’t there that day, I immediately move on to others. And sometimes I see a book I had no plans to read (or never heard of) that intrigues me. I think that’s called serendipity; I hope to serendipitously stumble on an online dictionary to know for sure.

Other times, I read about a book or an author in a review or article and become interested. Or I receive a novel as a gift. Also, there are occasions where what I select to read is just kind of random and not really explainable. Finally, there are book-choosing methods that I’ve probably forgotten and thus don’t appear in this blog post. Agatha Christie wrote Elephants Can Remember, but that doesn’t mean human bloggers always do.

How do you choose which books to read?

My literary-trivia book is described and can be purchased here: Fascinating Facts About Famous Fiction Authors and the Greatest Novels of All Time.

In addition to this weekly blog, I write the 2003-started/award-winning “Montclairvoyant” topical-humor column for Baristanet.com. The latest piece — which opposes an unpopular annual standardized test — is here.

99 thoughts on “Book Selections Come From All Directions

  1. I have to say most of the time I come across something in the library that will draw me to them, or a books store is a mix of knowing the author, and or a title of a book that will catch my eye of someone I haven’t heard of. As to Bukowski, it was a friend who said to check him out. I’ve also gotten books where Bukowski mentions names that I hadn’t heard of, and I would get books that way, which turned out to be good reads.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Don! Several great ways you have to decide what to read! And, in some cases, unexpectedly finding books to read by…reading books is very “meta.” 🙂 (That has happened to me, too, once in a while. 🙂 )

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  2. Great post, but till January last year, my response would have been so different… Press reviews, WOM, writing friends – and every weekend, the town centre library, second home for all passionate readers, coffee not bad either. Closed March 2020 to keep us safe. Re-opened, briefly, under covid restrictions so strict, going to the dentist felt good, Now closed, indefinitely, closed, allegedly, for refurbishment. Better news – especially for writers ? Bookshops open at last, so many to buy and keep, no fines to pay. .

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Esther! Excellent descriptive comment!

      A terrific point about how the process of selecting books to read changed for many people during COVID. So glad that libraries and bookstores in some places are cautiously reopening, though of course the pandemic isn’t over yet. 😦 I hope your local library finishes refurbishing (?) soon.

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  3. Good morning, Dave 🙂

    Another great topic. I like the conversation about reviews. I must confess that one of my guilty pleasures is reading 1-star reviews on Goodreads. If I don’t like a book, I feel validated after reading other people’s rants about it. And if I love a book, then I feel somewhat superior because I obviously ‘got it’ while the people ranting just aren’t clever enough!

    For a second there, I thought you were actually telling people to stay away from their libraries! It’s nice to know your literal word puns can still surprise and delight me, even after following this blog for a few years. My own TBR is more than a little out of control and some of it is so old that I don’t really remember where the books came from. I try not to add to it too much but sometimes there will be recommendations here, or on social media, or from friends that I just can’t ignore. My list is quite convoluted but does have a mix of different authors and different styles of books. It’s also a mix of books I’d like to read, and books I feel like I should read. I mostly try to keep to it in order, but I allow myself quite a few deviations. But I’ve been in such a reading slump over the last year. I still turn a few pages over every day, but somehow, just don’t enjoy it as much. I’ve found it hard to comment here as I just don’t feel like I’ve read anything exciting enough to contribute. Ditto for my very informal book club.

    But I think it’s passing. This week I allowed myself another deviation and have picked up the very short We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson. It’s my first Jackson, but definitely won’t be my last. The page number is deceptive as it’s much denser than I would have thought, but boy am I enjoying it. I’m glad it’s lasting longer than I originally thought it would, and it’s making me excited about what else is coming up on my list!

    I hope you and all here have a fantastic weekend with much happy reading.
    Sue ❤

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Susan! Yes, I would never say a negative word about libraries, though I can see how my second paragraph might have been initially misconstrued. 🙂

      I agree — a great conversation about reviews! And I hear you about the potential guilty pleasures connected with them.

      Also, thanks for the interesting description of the varied ways you arrive at books to read! Your comments have not in the least bit suffered from being in a bit of a reading slump.

      I haven’t read “We Have Always Lived in the Castle,” but have certainly found Shirley Jackson’s eerie novel “The Haunting of Hill House” and her creepy short story “The Lottery” well worth the time.

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  4. As i have written previously, most of my book selections come from whatever is being sold on card tables and blankets in my neighborhood. As it’s near Columbia U., the selection is wide-ranging, and over the years, I’ve discovered a few writers there I might have otherwise missed. My sampling from those card tables and blankets has been augmented by knowledge I derive from my subscriptions to literary journals. Occasionally, maybe twice a year, I will buy a book at a bookstore.

    But even more occasionally, I read what I’ve been sent by authors of my acquaintance, the latest being the first in a series of detective novels written by a man I’ve known for half a century: Robert J. Ray, author of “Bloody Murdoch” and a half-dozen other Murdochs which I plan to get to, now that I’ve read the first.

    “Bloody Murdoch” is meant to take its place on that very long shelf of Southern California crime detective fiction, alongside, in historical order, Raymond Chandler,Ross MacDonald and John D, McDonald. That was its author’s intention, and by my lights, he succeeded splendidly. The plot is compelling, as is the pace of the narrative itself. The sentences are clean and spare and well-wrought. And like all the best crime detectives, Murdoch comes with a sense of humor, blunt at times, a strong sense of duty to those who hire him, and to justice.

    All of the Murdochs in print are available on Amazon.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, jhNY!

      Wonderful to have the books-on-nearby-card-tables-and-blankets option! One advantage of urban living, and of being near a university. 🙂

      Also wonderful to choose books by people one knows. Robert J. Ray sounds like a great author with roots in a long/esteemed tradition (Southern California crime detective fiction). I guess Walter Mosley and the late Sue Grafton are in that tradition as well.

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    • Thank you for the mention of those three reading-suggestion sources! I’ve certainly heard of the prestigious Paris Review but have rarely read it for whatever reason. And I can see that Twitter, while far from my favorite social media, has its positives. 🙂

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        • Thank you for the follow-up comment! Stephen King is indeed active on Twitter, with plenty of political tweets as well.

          And, yes, Stephen King is a logical segue to haunted houses. 🙂 I just read the Paris Review article; quite a quirky piece!

          Like

    • Thank you, Bill! Reading one’s own books during the writing and editing process (of course) and perhaps again after they’re published? I can see that. You certainly chose an important and personal topic for your latest book.

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  5. My philosophy in selecting fiction can be summarized in one sentence. “You may not can judge a book by it’s cover but that’s certainly the reason you pick it up.”

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Holes!!!! Oh my gosh I LOVE that book – the movie was pretty good too. I agree about the 48 hour law, I’ll sign onto that with you 🙂 As I always say – life is too short and my reading list is too long. But that being said, I get new recommendations all the time so my list only gets longer. Some from your blog which I always enjoy. Some from the book deals and book club recommends I hear about on Publisher’s Market Place – but most of my recommends, in these days of social media, are from Instagram. There’s a pretty amazing reading community on there that keeps me up to date on what’s hot and making the rounds in literature. The BBC also releases a “ten books to read this month” list every month, I’ve gotten some pretty good ones from there.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you, M.B., for sharing the various ways you find books to read. All very interesting!

      I’m not on Instagram myself — I find that Facebook (mostly), Twitter, and LinkedIn take enough of my time as far as social media goes. But Instagram’s reading community sounds mighty appealing from your description. 🙂

      I share your regard for “Holes” as a novel and as a movie that mostly did the book justice.

      “…life is too short and my reading list is too long” — great line!

      Liked by 2 people

  7. Hi Dave, I often chose books based on recommendations by other bloggers. Sometimes I read books that my son recommends to me. These are novels he has discussed in his English class and have piqued his interest enough to share the discussion with me. That is how I came to read The Great Gatsby. Sometimes my choices are guided by research for a particular topic. For example, I have recently read All Quiet on the Western Front, A Farewell to Arms and now To the Last Man (31 hours of audio) because I am writing about WW1. I particularly wanted the American perspective and I’m learning all about President Wilson and General Pershing and the USA’s entry into WW1 at the moment in To the Last Man. A most informative book.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. This is really a very interesting discussion, Dave, about why we choose books and book reviews! I have to admit that I didn’t even know about the stars! Anyway, this morning I read on my Guardian about Elisabeth Knox from New Zealand and her “The Absolute Book” and that it has an immediate feel of an instant classic, a work alongside modern masterpieces of fantasy and that despite of all the mimetic and magical sides, the social and political ills seem to be at the centre of her concerns! This book is really tempting me!

    Liked by 2 people

  9. I know exactly what you mean about biographies and autobiographies, Dave. One of the best biographies that I read was by Christopher Hitchens (although I do disagree with him at times) One of my takeaways from Hitch 22 is “A life that partakes even a little of friendship, love, irony, humor, parenthood, literature, and music, and the chance to take part in battles for the liberation of others cannot be called ‘meaningless’…” You will notice that I love quotes, which is how I find books that say, “you need to read me.” For example, I came across this quote by Pascal Mercier from his book, Night Train to Lisbon: “We leave something of ourselves behind when we leave a place, we stay there, even though we go away. And there are things in us that we can find again only by going back there.” I knew I had to read that book. And then there is serendipity. About three weeks ago, I met a friend in the grocery store. I hardly recognized her in her artistic mask. From a distance prescribed by social distancing protocol, she said that I must read “The Weight of Ink” by Rachel Kaddish. Of course, I went to the quotes and found this gem: “Our life is a walk in the night, we know not how great the distance to the dawn that awaits us. And the path is strewn with stumbling blocks and our bodies are grown tyrannous with weeping yet we lift our feet. We lift our feet.” It is a wonderful book and I’m enjoying every minute of the slow read. Don and I are reading it together which makes if even more memorable. Another wonderful post, Dave – I look forward to my Sundays with Dave and company!!! A great discussion always.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you, Rebecca, for the comment and kind words!

      Yes, biographies, autobiographies, and memoirs can be SO compelling. The best ones almost feel like novels, and readers of them can learn a lot about history and other things along the way.

      The late Christopher Hitchens was a fascinating man who I also disagreed with at times. Kind of a curmudgeon, but brilliant. I heard him speak once at a meeting of newspaper editors, back in the 1990s, I think. The Hitchens quote you cited is great, as are the evocative Pascal Mercier and Rachel Kadish ones! Your collection of memorable quotes is awe-inspiring.

      Last but not least, wonderful that you and Don read some things together!

      Liked by 2 people

      • I do love quotes because they are a starting point for an excellent discussion or reflection. As you know I just read Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich. This is the quote that stayed with me: “Can a man who’s warm understand one who’s freezing?” The Weight of Ink will take several weeks to finish – and every minute of reading this book is valuable.

        Liked by 2 people

    • I love your conversation wtih Dave and us Rebecca,the Sundays friends about the marvellous books and quotes you have mentioned here above:)
      I absolutely love Pascal Mercier’s “Night Train to Lisbon”, because of sentences, such as mentioned by you, or by the the teacher’s courage to take that train, go to an unknown place and change his life! I think in the course of my adult life I have often read books, which told me something about other countries, people and cultures. When I wanted to know more about Africa I read the terrific book “Heart of Darkness” by Joseph Conrad and while I am flicking it through, there is the following sentence: ” How did that ivory come all this way? growled the elder man, who semed very vexed! So let’s try to lift our feet

      Liked by 2 people

  10. Browsing in bookstores and libraries used to be one of my pleasures before the pandemic
    , but i also read book reviews in the TLS and other magazines. My reading is pretty random but often goes in jags and chains.. In 2014 I read a lot of books about WWI, for instance. Sometimes I set myself an ambitious goal, such as reading great works of literature. Lately I’ve been reading a huge number of new novels in translation by authors you would never find in most libraries. The NYT publishes previews of these twice a year. My sister-in-law is a great source for new authors too. She basically specializes in novels by women in English, and she’s read everything.

    Liked by 4 people

    • Thank you, Jean! Great that you read many book reviews!

      I also miss browsing, though as I mentioned to Mary Jo in a comment below I can do some time-limited browsing in my local library.

      And I hear you how personal reading can have certain cycles, as with your World War II binge in 2014.

      Can’t argue with the goal of reading great works of literature! Also, wonderful to read novels and novelists who are lesser-known (at least in the U.S.?). And having a sister-in-law who’s a literary expert…priceless. 🙂

      Liked by 3 people

    • Thank you, Shehanne! Reviews — whether written by “critics” or posted online by readers — can indeed be really useful when choosing books.

      I’ve purchased and read various books written by personal friends and colleagues over the years, but I need to expand that to some of the wonderful authors I know through the blogging community. That support is indeed very important. Finding enough time to read lots of books is always the conundrum.

      Liked by 2 people

        • I know. I agree Audrey, especially where an author friend is supportive but they seem to have fallen into the trap –perhaps because they have overstretched themselves on contracts and deadlines — of churning out the same book multiple times ….. (that’s if you don’t want the name of 5 starring everything because that just devalues the entire process.)

          Liked by 2 people

      • They are really hard to write actually. I did comment here I can be drawn to a book because the reviews says this is right up my street. I can think of one recently, a glowing five star recommendation —and bad reviews don’t put me off– but this was past a best seller. That book was binned after 3 chapters, the writing was so bad, I wasn’t clear if it was for an adult or a child. Also there was a recent spat all over twitter caused by some writer taking great offense at a 3 star review written with what I’d say was honesty integrity. It wasn’t even negative. (Authors clearly get awfully precious.) Anyway after the initial jump in by the ‘We all deserve 5 stars brigade’ this author was so taken apart by book reviewers who rightly said, ‘Who do you think you are?’ and authors who said, ‘ How dare you say we are a bitchy community.’ because that was also what this author said, that she has taken her books down. Oh yes, this is a fraught subject. Equally, you should really not be in the writing biz unless your hide would give a rhino a run for its money. m

        Liked by 4 people

        • Great discussion and points and frustrating-citing, Clanmother, Audrey, and Shehanne!

          Yes, the review process is fraught. I tend to give five-star reviews to friends unless I really don’t like their books — then I just don’t post a review at all. And I must admit to being initially stricken when I received less-than-five-star reviews for my two books, but did ultimately respect those reviews — even if I didn’t agree with them 🙂 — if the points were made cogently and relatively kindly.

          Liked by 3 people

        • Hi Shey, I’ve seen some tweets and social media about reviews recently. Personally, I read them all. If a review has constructive criticism that I can learn from, I make use of it; if the comments are due to a dislike of the genre, writing style, or because the book seller has provided a bad service, I don’t take it to heart. Of course, good reviews are always nice.

          Liked by 2 people

          • You’re right Robbie. And good reviews ARE always nice, alas not always possible. I saw someone on SM today saying they’d had a bad review but at least they just said, can I get some funny memes to cheer me up, which seemed a pretty good way of handling it. Both the publishers I have been with always said, don’t go having a go at a reviewer because it can backfire, so your approach is wise.

            Liked by 2 people

      • I would like a discussion about book reviews too, Rebecca. I have my own method and mine tend to be on the longer side as I like to cover 5 aspects: overview of the story, uniqueness, characters and their growth and development, relevance and genre and general presentation including editing issues, if any. I am always interested in how other people approach book reviews.

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      • When I was fresh from school, I landed a job on a major metropolitan daily, and after a while there, in a lowly spot, I aspired, and wrote a review of an lp recently released. The review was accepted for print, and after, I wrote a few dozen others, mostly of live performances, as assigned. Since then, for the most part, especially in matters of popular entertainment, I figured the difference between me and the next guy at the bar with an opinion was simply that I could write an essay probably better than he could.

        But that’s unfair, I’m sure, to the more meticulous and studious of the reviewers plying their trade, particularly those who write for literary magazines and write an overview of an author’s opus, often an author dead for many years. I find the trickiest reviews tend to come from those who feel they are in competition with the authors they write about, though even in such instances, con grani salis, there can be something to learn, more than occasionally, about the reviewer as much as about the reviewed.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Interesting thoughts about reviews and reviewers, jhNY.

          It seems there are fewer reviewers these days doing that as a full-time job; so many reviews are written on the side, or written by freelance or guest reviewers — including authors reviewing the work of other authors, as you allude to.

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  11. I love that you mentioned Sachar’s Holes. Many years ago I was at a conference for English teachers and Louis Sachar was one of the speakers. He was working on Holes at the time and read the first chapter to a small group of attendees. Then he just sat and visited with us. I was a bit star struck, and he was just this wonderfully talented, down-to-earth guy.

    Liked by 5 people

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