Wednesday, March 18, 2015

To Read Or Not To Read

All of the talk on Type M recently of launch parties, blurbs and author appearances has made me think about how I select my reading material and why I choose one book over another. So here’s my thought process as it relates to fiction. I have a whole other set of criteria for non-fiction, which I’ll mention later on.

The first two things I notice about a book, pretty much equally, are the cover and the title. If either one (or both) catches my eye, I’ll read the text on the back of the book to see if it’s the kind of book I’d enjoy reading. (Okay, I’ll admit to buying a book based on cover art alone, but it has to be a really, really good cover.) A bad cover turns me off more than a bad title.

When I read the text on the back of the book, all I’m really looking for is what kind of book it is (historical, romance, western, crime/mystery...) and a little about the story line. For crime novels, I’m also interested in the sub-genre such as thriller, cozy, paranormal, etc. One of my pet peeves: giving away too much of the plot on the back of the book. I would rather experience it myself. If I’m still not sure, I’ll read the first page to get a sense of the author’s writing style and the main character. (I don’t know if it’s because I’m a writer, but the writing style can make a difference.)

Setting is also key. Stories set in Scotland, Ireland, the English countryside are winners as far as I’m concerned. For a series set in the U.S., I don’t have any real preferences though stories set in places I’ve enjoyed visiting have a leg up.

If the protagonist has an interesting profession or hobby, the book is more apt to get my attention. If there’s a house with secret passages or there’s a historical mystery mixed in with a contemporary one, I’m so there.

If it’s another book in a series I love, I don’t care what the cover’s like or what the back of the book says. I’ll just buy it. But, just because I like an author, it doesn’t mean I’ll automatically buy books in a new series by that author. I have to at least read the back of the book to see if it’s a story line that I’ll like.

One thing I’ve noticed: I’ve gotten pickier as I get older. The thought that I don’t have all the time in the world to read everything I’d like to has begun to invade my head so something I might have read even ten years ago may not get a look from me today.

Where do reviews and blurbs from other authors come in, you ask? I don’t really notice them. I know they may be a factor for other people, but for me they barely register. Recommendations from friends, though, are a different matter. I read “Gone Girl” and “The Hunger Games” trilogy because of glowing reviews from friends. But I still won’t read just anything. It has to have an interesting premise.

I’ve bought books written by people I know just because I like the person. I’ve bought books after hearing an author speak at a convention just because I liked how they came across.

So that’s my take on selecting fiction books to read. For non-fiction, it’s a whole different matter. Book covers and titles don’t matter much. (Though a really good title gives it a slight edge.)

In non-fiction, subject matter is key. Books on languages/linguistics – you’ve got me. History books about time periods or places I find interesting – I’m so there. Books on natural disasters such as volcanic eruptions, major earthquakes – oh, yeah. Historical true crime of the 1800s or the early 1900s – yep.

If I like a non-fiction book by an author, I’ll generally see what else they’ve written. I’ve read a number of books by Erik Larson because I loved his “Devil in the White City”.

As you can see, I’ve discovered a lot of factors go into selecting my reading material. I suspect my reasoning isn’t much different from others. So, I’m curious...what criteria do you use?


Anonymous said...

I will often go with a bookstore staff recommendation, too. And I also read cookbooks, so the picture on the cover really matters to me. If it's a dessert, count me in.

Sybil Johnson said...

Hadn't thought of bookstore staff recommendations. Don't know why, 'cause that's a good one! I'm with you on the covers of cookbooks.

Eileen Goudge said...

Like you, I've gotten pickier as I've gotten older. Too many books already on my Kindle. I may not live long enough to read them all. I judge by sample usually. If the first chapter grabs me, I'll download the whole book.

Sybil Johnson said...

I don't take advantage of the Kindle sample thing very much. Don't know why. I probably should.