It’s the bookworm’s perpetual dilemma, wondering what to read next: how to choose from that towering to-be-read pile? Whenever I’m perusing my own shelves, or those of a bookstore or library, there are a few things that will always push me to pick one book over another. I saw a little while back that The Hungry Bookworm did a post on this very topic as part of a Top Ten Tuesday prompt (hosted by The Artsy Reader Girl), so I thought I’d borrow the idea. Here are ten things that will make me pick up a book (almost) every time…
1. The book is about an experience that’s different to my own or unfamiliar to me.
As far as I’m concerned, one of the best things about reading is getting to live a thousand lives. Whether it’s the chance to be an ageing gay man travelling the world, or the American children of Chinese immigrants, or the founder of an underground book club for women in Tehran, I want to live it all through literature. Bonus points if it’s an #ownvoices book – I’m far more likely to pick it up if that’s the case!
2. The book has beautiful cover art.
Save your “don’t judge a book” speech. I’m really not that fussy about my book covers, not in the way I know some other booklovers are. I once knew a woman who would only read first-edition hardcovers, can you imagine? I’m fine with movie poster covers or plain-Jane block lettering on a pastel background… but I can’t deny there’s a special place in my heart for beautifully designed paperbacks. I love covers that catch the eye with clever design and colour!
3. I’ve heard other readers talk about the book (even if they hated it).
I have a hard time convincing authors that even bad reviews can be a good thing. I’ve picked up more than a few books after hearing critical comments from others, and loved them. Word of mouth is still the most powerful marketing tool when it comes to books, and I’m far more likely to pick up a book if someone else has talked to me about it. That’s why it’s so important that we booklovers take the time to leave a short review on sites like Goodreads and Litsy – whether what you have to say about the book is good, bad, or somewhere in between.
4. The book has a premise that bowls me over.
A judge is called to the case of a seventeen-year-old boy refusing medical treatment on religious grounds, and she must decide whether to force him to live or let him die. A man tracks down the victims of vicious online public shaming, and uses them as a lens through which we can examine our digital world. A small town wakes to find that overnight the ocean has receded. Don’t they all sound really good? I’m a sucker for a strong premise, no matter the subject or genre. If a one-sentence summary of the book makes me go “ooooh!”, I’m picking it up for sure!
5. The author wrote another book that I loved.
I picked up Great Expectations because Charles Dickens knocked it out of the park with David Copperfield. I picked up Purple Hibiscus because Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie killed it with Americanah (also because the two editions had beautiful matching cover art – see point number 2). I picked up Depends What You Mean By Extremist because I found John Safran’s Murder In Mississippi so gripping. This strategy doesn’t always outright guarantee a great read, but it usually works.
6. The book suits my mood at the time.
Sometimes, I’m looking for a book that will affirm whatever I’m currently feeling. In that case, say I was experiencing a loss, I might turn to The Year Of Magical Thinking. Other times, I’m looking for a book to take my mind off things. Then, if I was feeling down, I might pick up The One Hundred Year Old Man Who Climbed Out The Window And Disappeared for a few laughs. I hold off on books that are heavier or more challenging until I’m in a good frame of mind; that way, I can be sure I’ll handle it and get everything out of the book that I can. My attempt to read Wuthering Heights when I was emotionally preoccupied was a total disaster!
7. It’s a non-fiction book on a niche subject.
I love a book that delves into the nitty-gritty of something! I tore through a 450+ page history of the humble mosquito. I adored The White Mouse, a small print-run autobiography of an amazing woman of whom most people have never heard. I’m really looking forward to learning how Proust might change my life from Alain de Botton’s book. As long as the author is passionate and excited about their subject, no matter what it is, I’ll get passionate and excited, too!
8. It’s a pervasive and influential book that I’ve seen referenced elsewhere.
Vanity Fair was named for a setting in John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress. A colleague who transferred left me a farewell note that said “so long, and thanks for all the fish” – I had no idea what that meant until I finally read The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy. There’s an Alabama legal society named for the fictional Atticus Finch. I love picking up books that help me understand the origins of concepts, characters, idioms, and ideas we take for granted.
9. The book is different in content and style to whatever I’ve read most recently.
I know a lot of readers love to do “book flights” (which I call falling down a reading rabbit hole). They find a subject or a writer or a genre, and read as many books in that one area as they can until they get tired of it or find something new or exhaust their options. I’m not one of those readers. My tolerance for same-ness is usually one book. Occasionally, usually by accident, I’ll read a couple of similar books back-to-back, and it always makes me antsy. It’s a one-way ticket to Reading Slumpville! So, if I’ve just read a gritty account of an Australian true crime, I might reach for a classic romance or a collection of essays next, just to keep things varied and interesting.
10. The book was shortlisted for an award.
Note that I do say shortlisted – I don’t pay all that much attention to the actual winners of major literary awards. In fact, I usually don’t realise that a book has actually won a prize until after I’ve finished reading it and I’m starting to write up a review. I do, however, really enjoy looking over award shortlists. I always end up adding most (or all) of them to my to-be-read list. With the growing push for diversity and inclusion, these lists are usually goldmines of wonderfully varied reads with literary chops. Plus, picking a winner is basically a crapshoot, so I may as well just read them all and love them all for what they are!
What makes you pick up a book? Do you go for cover art as well? Do you stick with your favourite authors or genres? Or is it something else entirely that makes you pull one down from the shelf? Tell me in the comments!