How do you decide what book to read next?

Joshua Kim’s article in Inside Higher Ed made me consider this question. Here is the answer Kim provides:

I always go first to nytimes.com/books . A good review attached to a subject that I’m interested in, or an author that I like, will almost always result in a purchase (as an Amazon Audible audiobook or a Kindle e-book). A middling or bad review – no sale. Sometimes I’ll do a Google search for “book review (book title)” – and read reviews from other sites – but rarely. If the book is reviewed on IHE, then I’m definitely buying. This book selection process has been seriously disrupted by the NYTimes paywall. Sure, it is easy to get around (just do a Google search with the headline of the article you want to read) – but this is an extra and unpleasant step.

I find this account very curious because it is so different from how I buy books. For me, the main – and I’d say the only – source of reading suggestions is the Amazon. I’ve spent so much time and money there that Amazon really knows me well and always recommends books that will interest me. I’m very familiar with Amazon’s structure and the different ways one can search for reading matter on it. I now try to avoid the site as much as possible because it’s hard for me to leave it without a purchase.

It’s strange to me that Joshua Kim relies on the NYTimes so much for his choice of books to read. I dislike NYTimes and discontinued my Kindle subscription to NYTimes Book Review because, for the most part, the books it reviewed were part of what I refer to as “reading for housewives”: cheesy, overly sentimental fare of the tearjerker variety. The reviews were always dedicated to retelling the plot in as much detail as possible, which is something that even the least bright among the Amazon reviewers know not to do.

In my opinion, Amazon reviews are always going to be more reliable than the ones that appear in print media for the same reason that independent bloggers will eventually destroy traditional newspapers. Amazon reviewers and bloggers can only rely on their own hard work and the reputation they manage to build for themselves among their readers. The NYTimes, however, can manage its affairs right into the ground and then rely upon somebody to bail it out. Besides, there is absolutely no reason to believe that newspaper journalists will offer their honest opinion about books. They don’t seem to offer honest opinions about anything else, so why trust them on this subject?

And how do you decide what book to read next?

P.S. If this passionate diatribe on what might seem like a pretty trivial subject surprised you, I have to confess that I’m one of Amazon’s popular reviewers.

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9 thoughts on “How do you decide what book to read next?”

  1. I dislike NYTimes and discontinued my Kindle subscription to NYTimes Book Review because, for the most part, the books it reviewed were part of what I refer to as “reading for housewives”: cheesy, overly sentimental fare of the tearjerker variety.

    Ha ha, funny how we agree. For years I have been calling the NYT book reviews the “housewives book reviews”, and yuppie book stores that predominantly sell such books “housewives’ bookshops”! It’s also very amusing how solemn the NYT book reviews are…

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  2. If I enjoy an author I tend to look for all of their books, that’s an easy way to look for more books to read. I do use Amazon from time to time, and sometimes I’ll check it out just to look for ideas of books to buy. I generally shop at Barnes & Noble and when I go there I wander around and look for interesting books. I’m also a fan of the Writing Excuses podcast and they have weekly suggestions for books to read, they also give a brief description of the book, so I can pick it up if it sounds interesting. The last way I find new books is by going through blogs on wordpress (both those I follow and just looking through the books tag, how I found this post). I don’t read newspapers and don’t care about what most professional reviewers have to say.

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  3. Haha…it never occurred to me that people (or I should say, avid readers) have to stop and think what to read next. Me, I walk over to my bookshelf with about 75 works of serious literature or the boxes in my closet with about 200 cheesy sci-fi books that I haven’t read and grab what looks good. Somehow over the years I’ve built up such a list of “must-reads,” many of which I purchased back when I knew what money was, that I’ve never needed to look for a book to read.

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    1. I know. 🙂 I have such a huge list of things I need to read right now that it can last me a decade. 🙂 Still, I can’t control the need to buy more books. I was book-deprived when I was growing up, so now I’m out of control. 🙂

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  4. I usually go with word of mouth, or I’ll see what’s going on at NPR’s Literature section, and look at the lists that interest me, such as “Books for Harry Potter graduates”, or “Sci Fi that breaks the mould”. If Jon Stewart or Stephen Colbert feature an author on their show who seemed interesting, I’ll bookmark their book as well.
    It came in really handy when I was working at Barnes and Noble and had to make recommendations. 🙂

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  5. 1. New work by an author I like.
    2. Word of mouth on feminist science fiction book blogs
    3. Word of mouth on topical websites for how-to books (photography books on a photography forum)
    4. Browse Left Bank Books, including the used section – a Sunday afternoon walk for me.
    5. Reviews: New York Review of Books, London Review of Books, Women’s Review of Books, and occasional others that look interesting in the magazine section of the bookstore. I read the NYT Sunday book review much less than I used to, because the quantity and quality of the selections has gone down over the past 20 years. The daily NYT single review is often of interest, though.
    6. Academic reviews in the appropriate academic journals.

    I have descended to keeping books tightly packed in standard size cardboard file boxes packed onto 6 foot tall industrial wire shelving – catalogued so I can ID file box number with the item I want. I do have reference, how-to non-fiction, specific sub-topics of history, sociology, and religion, the current queue of unread books, and art books on 5 bookshelves. All work-related books are in my office on 2 6 foot steel bookshelves.

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    1. “Browse Left Bank Books, including the used section – a Sunday afternoon walk for me.”

      -You are a very lucky person. I have been 3 times this far and I loved it. Also the Big Sleep bookstore down the street is amazing. I’d just live there if I could. This is my motivation to attempt to learn driving – to move closer to these wonderful bookstores.

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  6. It depends on what I am interested in at the time. I love the Germanic migration period, the transition from the late Roman Empire to the various Germanic kingdoms, duchies, etc. and medieval Iberian history. One of my favorite resources is LIBRO, the Library of Iberian Resources Online at the University of Central Arkansas. This contains copies of out of print monographs on Iberian peoples, societies and history between the fifth and seventeenth centuries. After I read these books online, I look in the index for other authors and works cited and do a Google and JSTOR search for them. My oldest son is 9 credits short of a Master’s in Classics from the University of Colorado so he makes suggestions once in a while. Last year he suggested “Empires and Barbarians:The Fall of Rome and the Birth of Europe” by Peter Heath. It is an excellent book, although not edited as well as an Oxford University Press book should be. I found some errors that I am sure would have Prof. Heath smacking himself in the forehead. OTOH, this is the first book in English that I have read that deals with Slavic migrations and various theories coming out of the FSU.

    In reading the reviews of Heath’s book on Amazon (where else?), I found Bryan Ward-Perkins’ “The Fall of Rome and the End of Civilization”. My son hadn’t read it, but said that Ward-Perkins is highly respected among classical archaeologists and historians. So, I bought that.

    Next I decided that I didn’t know enough about early Christian history and the relationship with the Roman Empire. I started doing a Google search based on emperors names in Heath’s book. Eventually I bought “The Closing of the Western Mind: The Rise of Faith and the Fall of Reason” by Charles Freeman and “AD:381: Heretics, Pagans, and the Dawn of the Monotheistic State” by the same author. I also bought “When Jesus Became God: The Struggle to Define Christianity during the Last Days of Rome” by Richard E. Rubenstein. The final determining factor in these choices was reading all of the reviews on Amazon.

    Then I decided that I didn’t have my own copies of books that I had read years ago and enjoyed, so I bought “Pedro Paramo” by Juan Rulfo,” La Muerte de Artemio Cruz” and “Aura” by Carlos Fuentes, “Doña Perfecta” by Galdos, “Doña Bárbara” by Rómulo Gallegos, “El Cartero de Neruda” by Antonio Skarmeta and “Rayuela” by Julio Cortázar. I read all of those again except “Rayuela” which I am still working on. It is like I never finished it 20 years ago. Of course I can quit anytime I want and pick it back up, start anywhere, and it will be the same, on and on and on.

    This stimulated me to think about films that I should have and didn’t, such as “Soy Cuba”, “Hable con ella”, “Todo sobre mi madre”, “Gabriela, cravo é canela”, “La vie en rose” and “David Oistrakh-Remembering a Musician”. So I bought them.

    My wife was home for a few days two months ago and she left copies of “Latitude: How American Astronomers Solved the Mystery of Variation” by Carter & Carter and “Longitude: The True Story of a Lone Genius Who Solved the Greatest Scientific Problem of His Time” by Dava Sobel. Those are next on my list.

    My wife and I are planning a motorcycle tour of the Ecuador highlands next year, so I am starting to feel the urge to read more about the country and cultures. At this point my knowledge of the country is limited to being the birthplace of Manuela Sáenz and the location of some great peaks like Chimborazo and Cotopaxi that I will never climb. I will probably start looking for anthropology or history books centered on Ecuador on Google and Amazon and follow the trail of crumbs. Should I look for resources for Northern Quechua, or will Spanish be sufficient? I’ll have to look into that also.

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