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