How Do You Choose Books?

How do you choose the books you read?

To me, there are way too many good books, too little time (for values of “good” that are personal, not objective). I’m constantly running across a new book that sounds intriguing, but I’m only reading about 25 books a year. That means I somehow have to narrow down the list. A lot.

Here’s what a book has to go through before it gets into my hands.

1. I find out it exists. This usually happens through blogs such as The Whatever, Cheryl’s Mewsings, or The World SF Blog; from awards shortlists; from various best-of lists; and from (mostly online) friends or acquaintances. I find so many books this way that I don’t browse in bookstores anymore — when I go into a bookstore, I’m looking for something that’s already on my list.

2. The book languishes in my TBR overflow. The books I find in Step 1 go into a massive overflow list in my email or my RSS feed for future investigation. Lately, they’ve been stopping here because I haven’t had time to check them out  further, but when I do…

3. I look up the book on Amazon (or Smashwords, or wherever). I read the “back” and then the first few pages. I’m getting increasingly picky about narrative voice, so the “first few pages” test is huge for me. If the opening grabs me, or if I’m still reading by the time I get to the end of the sample, it passes the test. I’ll read Amazon reviews for non-fiction, but for fiction I’m only interested in my own impressions.

4. The book goes onto my real TBR list. This is a list in a Word document — still ridiculously long, though. There’s a TBR shortlist in here as well, with 10 or so books on it. These are the ones that I’m going to pick up next.

5. Eventually, I buy it. Because I only read 20-25 books a year, and some of them are loaners and others are gifts and still others are ebooks in the public domain, I don’t need to stretch my budget by using the library. Instead, I use my dollars to support the industry I’m a part of. SF&F usually gets bought at my local genre indie bookstore, Bakka Phoenix. I have an ereader, but it’s not a Kindle, so I buy off Kobo (or Smashwords, for indie books) instead of Amazon.

6. The newly bought book languishes on my bookshelf. I limit myself to one shelf of unread books, but that’s still a year’s worth of reading, and some books stay there for longer. I tend not to save ebooks for later. Out of sight, out of mind for me, and tucked away on my ereader doesn’t have the same impact as taking up shelf space — so if I buy an ebook, I usually start it promptly.

7. Someday, if all the stars align, I read it. After all that, I very rarely quit a book — even if it’s not quite my cup of tea, I’ll read it to the end just to see (a) what happens and (b) what draws other readers to it.

There’s more to say about my reading habits and how I split my reading across genres, but that’s enough for now.

Your turn! How do you choose the books you read? Am I the only one with a long and convoluted system? Do you have a huge TBR list/shelf, or are you an impulse buyer…or both?



4 responses to “How Do You Choose Books?

  1. I can totally relate to #6 and #7. Like you, I like to support the industry, and especially all my writer friends, so I’m constantly buying books at a MUCH faster rate than I read them. I don’t think I get near 25 a year. Most evenings at the moment, I fall into bed and don’t read at all 😦

    My TBR pile consists of: a) books I’ve bought in paperback or hardback, sitting on my bookshelf (some I might have bought decades ago!), b) books I’ve downloaded onto my kindle, c) books on my Amazon wishlist, d) Books people have lent me, e) books sitting in a pile beside my bed with bookmarks in them (some for years — I have every intention of finishing most of them one day)…

    I don’t know how I choose which ones to actually buy – usually something I’ve heard about from several sources… or something light that takes my fancy for a ‘right this moment’ afternoon read… or something new from a favourite author.

    I think I have to accept the fact that there are not enough years left for me to actually read all the books I wish to!

  2. I’m with Ellen on just about everything.

  3. I buy ebooks all the time, both to support my fellow writers and also to ensure that I have a very large pool to choose from when its time to pick what to read next. Somehow I just know what that next book is going to be by the time I finish whatever I’m reading at the time…I don’t really understand how it works 🙂

  4. Interesting. It sounds like all three of you have a much larger TBR pile (whether physical or virtual), whereas for me the monster pile is the list of books I want to buy but haven’t yet. But we all agree that having nothing to read is highly unlikely to ever happen!

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