Six ways to choose books to read

Recently I collected a novel from the library that I had reserved about a month ago. It was Who will look after the Frog Hospital? by Lorrie Moore. I couldn’t remember why I had made a note about this book and subsequently reserved it. Perhaps it was the title, or the main character is over 60 (she isn’t) or … what? I can’t remember, and it doesn’t really matter. I’ll take my chances with it.

Last summer Kate Vane posted on her blog: The mysterious world of book discovery. She considered how she identified books she wanted to read, including overhearing a recommendation in a bookshop. Recently, as I was listening to the podcast of some writing friends I found myself reaching for a pen to make a note of a recommendation by a guest on their show. These events made me think about all the occasions when I note down the title and author of a book that sounds interesting.

My sources: 1 Bloggers and blog readers

I often read books that have been recommended by fellow bookbloggers. Recently I enjoyed The Girl on the Via Flaminia  byAlfred Hayes, recommended on JacquiWine’s Journal. I rediscovered Barbara Comyns through bloggers’ enthusiasms too.

And on my blog I encourage readers to leave recommendations on the various themes I explore: older women in fiction, children’s literature, on books and trains, books with Miss or Mrs in the title, and so on. 

Some of the books that I have enjoyed most were recommended through comments on the blog: for example All Passion Spentby Vita Sackville-West, or The Stone Angelby Margaret Laurence were both recommended for the Older Women in Fiction series.

My sources: 2 Reviewers

Reviewers can be professional as in the quality papers. Kate Vane was unenthusiastic about them as they cover a restricted range of authors and they operate within the same social circle.

I agree that they are limited, but I like to see what is being reviewed, and what is being said. 

My sources: 3 Literary Prizes

As with the broadsheet reviews I keep an eye on prizes to see what’s around. I especially take note of the Women’s Prize, and usually read the winner and several others from the long and short lists. This year’s winner of the Man Booker prize is Milkman by Anna Burns. It is the choice of my reading group for January, so I am pleased to be trying to finish this at the moment.

My sources: 4 Word of Mouth

I often exchange ideas about reading, with writer friends, with others in my social circle, and I often take note of books recommended on podcasts, on the radio, and I love reading those cards in libraries and bookshops: staff picks. These personal notes reveal what the readers responded to. I might disagree, but I’m always pleased to have books pointed out to me.

On holiday recently I asked the others in my walking group what they were reading, and this led me to one of the most beautiful novels I know: That they may face the rising sun by John McGahern.

My sources: 5 Subscriptions

In order to introduce a little serendipity into my reading I receive books chosen by others. There is Peirene Press, whose lovely editions of European novellas frequently find their way onto my review pages. The most recent was And the Wind Sees All by Gudmundur Andi Thorsson in December 2018.

Then there’s the Asymptote Club. This aims to bring books from across the world to the attention of members. I have reviewed these too from time to time. For example Brother in Ice by Alicia Kopf in July 2018.

You will notice that both these subscriptions promote books in translation. I take advantage of this because I have few ways to know what is rewarding to read in translation. Prizewinners and bloggers’ lists are good for this too.

My sources: 6 Accidental

Books picked up while staying in in other people’s houses, or in cottages or bookish hotels; books found in charity shops and second hand shops; books with alluring covers or intriguing titles; books I have been given; books I come across at the library on the recommended shelf … 

Your sources?

What are the ways in which you find books that you want to read?

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Filed under Books, Libraries, Reading, Reviews

16 Responses to Six ways to choose books to read

  1. Lynda Haddock

    In one of the two reading groups I belong to we don’t have set book but share what we have been reading with each other. The group is for women only and we talk about our lives as well as discovering new books to read!

  2. Bloggers and random accidental browsing for me mostly! 😀

  3. Marianne Coleman

    Hi Caroline It was me who recommended the Lorrie Moore book so it was source 4.

    I hope you enjoy it. Let me know what you think. We read it in my book group and picked it as we wanted a short novel to read that month. We put a request for a good short novel into Google and it was one of those suggested.


  4. Susan Kavanagh

    I get recommendation from blogger like you. Now I am keeping my eye out for books about women over 60. I often read interviews in which favorite authors of mine are asked to suggest five books or sometimes books they feel were overlooked. Anne Patchett and Kate Walbert, in separate interviews, both recommended The All of It by Jeanette Hain as an overlooked novella. I thought it was great. Recently I read another good book, Death and the Nightingale, that was recommended as overlooked by Colm Toibin..

    • Caroline

      So pleased that you get your book recommendations from book bloggers. It’s one of the reasons I blog. And btw there are more that 60 books about women over 60 in the list on the page about the series. Feel free to add to it.

      And good to get your recommendations of overlooked books and writers. Thank you.

      Please leave comments again when you are moved to. Caroline

  5. Rosie Amber

    I’ll read books that book bloggers I trust recommend, or from friends, but sometimes, it is from a randon review that I spot.

  6. Thanks for mentioning my post. The random finds are sometimes the most fun!

    • Caroline

      Thanks for this Kate. Your original post really interested me as you can see.

      I agree, too much planning can stultify the reading.


  7. Eileen Carnell

    At the moment I’m reading Milkman as I commented on in your last post. I gave this to Isobel fro Christmas. I find that a good way of selecting books to read. And I also had a very lovely gift at Christmas from Caroline called Better Fetch a Chair. An excellent pock of short stories. For my birthday I was given The Butcher’s Daughter by Victoria Glendenning and also a book of poems Staying Alive, edited by Neil Astley. My gym has a special arrangement with Islington libraries where a corner is given over to a book swop area. This is a great idea as I often pick up something I may not know about and it’s good to give items that I no longer need. And an American women in my writing group tells me about what’s she is reading and I have been introduced to some wonderful novels by her. I just need a few more hours in every day.

    • Caroline

      Hi Eileen,
      It’s a not-so-crafty way of getting books, to give them to the one you love! (See post call The Last Book I …)

      Full marks to your gym. I love these tiny library ideas. I would like to set up one on my garden wall so visitors to the post office would see it and use it. Not sure how that would work. I need an old phone box really.Actually we get the local mobile library and our community him also runs a library. Perhaps I’ll just go on thinking about it.

      And what nice friends you have to give you such gifts. Happy reading. See you soon. C xxx

  8. Margaret Guest

    My main sources are book bloggers, and lucky finds in bookshops. I am a great browser and books are about the only thing I buy on impulse.
    I also track down books on Amazon then go to my lovely local bookshop to order them.

    • Caroline

      Hi Margaret,
      I love your reversal of common practice, of which booksellers complain. I too try to avoid Amazon, although occasionally it is the source for some difficult to find books.
      Browsing is such a pleasant experience, although I found myself in a second hand bookshop this week where all the interesting books I had already read and often owned a copy. Not good for new material that mood.
      Thanks for the comment. Look forward to more from you,

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