How many times have you thought this or said this?
When I say it, I actually don’t mean good; I mean that will take my breath away. That will make me want to read it again. So I say this, I’m guessing, three or four times a year. I’m not the only one. I found a blog post last week that actually illustrated the problem.
When I read book after book and they’re all just okay or not good at all and I long for a book where I’m rereading lines over and over again or reading as slowly as possible, then I either resort to one of my all-time favorite books or to a classic–Jane Austin, Faulkner, Dickens, Fitzgerald.
Which takes me to the question of how I choose what book to read next anyway. Because if I chose better, perhaps I would never come to… I want something good to read.
I discovered another blog post last week (yes, guilty of too much time on the internet) where the writer/reader decided to become more intentional about choosing what to read. She came up with specific criteria about what constituted a good book. The problem, of course, with this approach is that you can’t know whether the book meets these criteria until you read it.
Taking a look at how I chose what I’ve read lately:
Don’t Cry-writing group pick (one a month)
Stop-Time-recommended by a writer for its form
Out Stealing Horses-recommended by an independent book store owner when I asked “if you could recommend one book in your store, what would it be?”
Tender is the Night-never read it before and a classic about a marriage (my novel-in-progress is about a marriage)
How do you choose what to read next?
I am such a reluctant reader. It’s funny–I love to read, love good books, but am so unwilling to commit to one that might just be iffy and not great. I want to be moved every single time the way you described. I want to savor each line, want my socks knocked off, want to be undone, or inspired. So I read far, far less than you. Two books a month, maybe. Lots of short stories (they take less commitment!) and blogs and commentary…but fewer books than I should.
so, this is interesting, christina. is it the fear the book won’t be good that keeps you from reading more or does the process you go through before you commit prevent you from reading more?
Recommendations from friends.
And my recommendation to you is Disgrace, J.M. Coetzee. Powerful.
Thanks for the recommendation, Barb. You’re right. That’s an amazing book. Have you read any of his others?
Yes I have. Some I’ve really liked, but some not so much. In some of his other work I could see the writer. But Disgrace is definitely his best work. Not necessarily a joyful, easy read, but my god, the writing! And the truth! The dogs. I just keep seeing the dogs.
I know–the dogs.
The only other one I’ve read is Age of Iron. I just pulled it off the shelf. Although I have no real memory of it, from my underlinings, it looks as if I liked it.
Being a member of a few different book groups, I go a lot off the recommendations of my fellow group members or other friends.
But, I have a very “shallow” way of picking my next book sometimes too – of the over 200 “to be read” books I have sitting on my shelves at home, I will sometimes peruse the shelves and the one that just simply catches my eye will be my next read. Most of these are ones that I picked up at used book stores that had interesting titles/subjects or are by authors that I’ve enjoyed before.
Yay! Now I don’t feel so bad. Just counted 87 on my “to be read” shelf. And I’m also guilty of judging a book by its cover. : ) Nice to hear from you, Erin.
These days it seems like I’m frequently guilty of reading what I should read not what I want to read. Like you, I read stuff becuase its a wg selection or becuse someone says something about the form or voice or pov will help with my current project. Sometimes they’re right. But every now and then I do just put my foot down and read something because I want to — becuase it sounds good to me. And sometimes it really pays off. For example, the brief and wonderous life of oscar wao. Loved it in an indulgent way.
That is a great point, Katherine. I hadn’t even thought about looking at my list from the point of view of “should-reads” versus “want-to reads.” But now looking at the list that way, I see that most of my choices fall into both categories, which must be how I’m choosing…hmmm…interesting.
I think it’s more the process I go through committing… because once I’m in a book I love to be there…Also though, it takes me a longer time to read a book than it does many other people. I am compelled to read with a pencil in hand… and re-read often.
How do you read?
I can’t read anymore without a pencil, or if none is within reach, a pen.
But because there’s always another book waiting to be read, I don’t do much rereading, except of short patches–sentences and paragraphs that stop me because of …well, this actually bears more discussion. Perhaps a post later today.
Thank you, Christina : )
I have a very, very long wish list on amazon.com. Sometimes I go back to that list when I want to read something different, something that will surprise me. Or else I read a review about a book somewhere, or mom gives it to me (thanks, mom). Most of the time, I pick a book based on my mood or my setting. There are bus books, bed books, and desks books. Recently I read Dream When You’re Feeling Blue by Elizabeth Berg. (That was a mom gift.) It was easy to read, yet thoughtful and compelling. It even made me cry. And, sometimes, I think the books we need to read find their way into our lives.
I completely agree, especially about mood and setting. There are some books that just don’t go with the beach, for example. Also, if I’m in an impatient mood, slower books, which I often enjoy, seem to drive me crazy. I’ve learned it’s not necessarily the book…
Also, it’s uncanny how many times I’m reading a book that seems to answer another question. It’s like on House–how working out a personal problem or a different case will provide the answer to another one…
i loved Mitch Albom – Tuesdays with Morrie, it was the perfect book! i loved it!
@Annie : “books find their way into our lives!” so true! most of the good books i found were just a random pick!
can you suggest something light and fun to read? i love fiction
Thanks so much for your comments and your recommendation of Tuesdays With Morrie. I agree. I read it in 2001 and enjoyed it.
Oh, and some of my most random picks have been the best, which always makes me think about how close I came to missing a wonderful book. It’s so great that, as Annie wrote, books just “find their way into our lives.”
For light and fun, at the moment, I would suggest The Sweet In-Between by Sheri Reynolds, The Earth Hums in B Flat by Mari Strachan, The Good Thief by Hannah Tinti, and possibly my favorite book of 2009, which is not light but not dark and which is a little deeper than fun–Wildlives by Monique Proulx.
Nice to hear from you, Maggie. I hope you’ll be back.
Thanks a lot! you have a great blog!
Thank you for the suggestion of the Earth hums in B flat, it sounds interesting!
Maggie, give us a report after you read it!