Friday, July 13, 2007

How to Find Your Next Good Read (and your next...)

When I worked at a bookstore, people occasionally asked for reading suggestions. The problem with that is that everyone’s taste is different and not everyone is up on all the new books. In fact, there are so many new books published each year, it would be impossible to keep them all in mind. Plus, there are always little gems hidden in among the swell of okay-reads that pass through bookstores all the time, and those are usually passed along as readers discover them, not as they’re hyped. So I have a better suggestion.

BookSense is a group of independent booksellers, and they have a Web site. The site includes reading picks (recommendations) by independent booksellers from across America. Booksellers are the people who work in the bookstores and keep the shelves full. They read a lot and they know what’s popular as well as what’s new. Because they work for independent bookstores, they are less pressed to push particular authors and they are usually closer to their clientele, more loyal to reader tastes and more aware of what readers like. Independent booksellers have a closer read on the reader’s pulse and the market of good books, IMHO. Consulting BookSense for a book recommendation taps into the wisdom of thousands of knowledgeable bibliophiles. The Web site also includes a store locator for independent bookstores associated with BookSense, in case you’d like to visit a store and talk to a bookseller in person.

So, look at the reading recommendations on the BookSense Web site. Consider those in addition to sources like newspaper bestsellers lists, online bookstore bestsellers lists, magazine Best 100 Books lists, book award lists, and various critical book reviews. Online bookstores also offer the “if you bought this you might also like this” or “readers who purchased so and so also bought this…”, although that isn’t always reliable. A better option is to go to your local bookstore(s) to see what the book clubs are reading. If you have access to cable TV or satellite TV and C-SPAN2 over the weekend, watch BOOK TV for non-fiction author interviews and coverage of book fairs (or consult the
BOOK TV Web site).

What I wouldn’t necessarily consider is what bookstores highlight on their end caps and shelves. Why? Part of the display is hype, part of it is mere positioning, part of it is art, and part of it is filler. I’d also take with a “grain of salt” the recommendation tags bookstores put on their shelves (“I’d recommend…”), because sometimes that’s hype rather than true, heartfelt passion about a book. Sometimes.

Often, the best recommendation is that of a friend or relative or colleague whose opinion you hold in high regard. Someone whose taste is sound in books, movies, music, television, and other “artistic” forms.

If you’re going to lone it in the store, browsing for instance, I wouldn’t buy based on the book jacket or leaf. It can be a good guide to storyline, but it is hardly an objective view of the quality of the read. I always fan through the pages and pick a few at random, reading a few passages to see how well the book is written, getting a feel for the plot and dialogue, and discerning if I can stand to read a whole book of the author’s prose. That’s always the best test.

Good luck! Tell me how you find good reads.

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