Last time I talked about my “To Read” list, but I didn’t get to the gist of what I wanted to talk about, which is: How do you decide what goes on your reading list? How do you find books you want to read? How do you learn about new authors?
For myself, the books on my list have ended up there through any number of circuitous paths. The George R. R. Martin books, for instance, I’d been hearing good things about for years before I finally bought a copy of the first four at a used book store. I think I first heard about them on a forum I used to frequent at an RPG community site, where those books came up often in favorites lists. Brandon Sanderson, meanwhile, I became aware of when he was chosen to finish “The Wheel of Time” after Robert Jordan’s untimely passing. (Jordan’s books, on the other hand, entered my consciousness mainly because my parents bought them when I was younger).
Most of the books on my list, however, came to this list over the last couple years, and especially after I started this blog. I started collecting links to the websites and blogs of different authors. I think my first one may have been for Brandon Sanderson’s blog. But John Scalzi‘s came very soon thereafter. And Scalzi’s proved very entertaining and informative – especially a regular feature he does on his blog called “The Big Idea“. “The Big Idea” features authors who talk about the central idea or core inspiration at the heart of their recently published or soon-to-be-published books. I thought it was great of Scalzi to make his personal platform available to other authors to pimp their upcoming books… and many of those books thusly pimped sounded pretty cool. This is the case, for example, for Ready Player One. Another example: The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms. A significant percentage of the books on my list got there by this vehicle.
Others created buzz in other ways. The Hunger Games generated a lot of excitement among the Harry Potter-loving ladies in my church community, which is how Dear Wife learned about them, I believe. Regardless, Dear Wife read them, and enjoyed them. So now, they are on my list. Or others because one author or another I follow has recommended them. Several are on this list because I follow the blogs of the authors (and I followed those blogs, usually, because the author has said something insightful and useful about the publishing industry at one time or another, and was linked by an author I followed before that) – and feeling some gratitude for the useful things they sometimes say on their blogs I wanted to pick up one of their books to read, and those that ended up on this list were the coolest-sounding of those books they had written. And still others were just racking up awards and nominations and recognition and buzz in the industry in general, so that wherever I looked, I saw references to how awesome that book was.
These days there area ton of ways to find new books to read. Amazon recommends similar books if you browse or buy something. Lots of folks are on Goodreads, which is how Dear Wife learns about a lot of books (such as The Help, which she’s in line for at the local library when a copy comes available). Blog Reviews are a dime-a-dozen.
In fact, there are so many ways to find out about new books to read, that a lot of those ways can sometimes just become noise. And then we start tuning it out. In a way, that’s why all these different sources even exist. Each is trying to cut through the clutter and provide a clear, objective, and reliable way of learning about new books. Any given reader probably has a few sources he or she turns to most often that they consider consistently reliable at recommending good books to read.
Myself… I find myself increasingly ignoring most of the sources that generated this book list in the first place, at a semi-conscious level. Not because those sources have produced bad results but because they’ve produced so many good books that I now want to read, at a rate much faster than I can possibly hope to read them. Until I can make progress reading through the books already on my list, I’m not really very interested in making it longer. Which only means it take a lot more to impress me enough, now, to want to add a book to this list.
Actually, I talked about this problem before, in a blog post I titled “A Surplus of Quality“. In it, I touch on the problem of an unmanageably long reading list, but the main thrust of that post is that as the “walls” of traditional publishing come down and the publishing of books is increasingly disintermediated (i.e. self-publishing and digital self-publishing increase) that the loss of the gatekeepers will actually lead to a dramatic increase in the availability of good quality fiction: dramatic enough that many readers will be unable to keep up with the overflowing blessing of great reading. It’s a thesis I still believe is essentially true – for me, at least, and for others like me who don’t read nearly as fast as we’d like to.
In this world, high quality sources of reading recommendations will become even more important. Because wherever we look, there’s plenty to read. But for many of us, we don’t have time to read all of it. We need a filter to help us keep our reading lists manageable and enjoyable.
How about you? How do you find books to read? What sorts of selection criteria and filters do you use? What sites do you frequent? What reviewers do you trust?
Do share in the comments.