Thursday, May 03, 2007

Choosing What to Read Next

I note that this conversation has been going on all week with entries supplied by JenClair and Dani among others (see Cam and Quixotic Miss, for instance). How do you decide what to read next from that intimidating TBR pile? What seduces you into reading a particular title?

I suppose the influences that have the greatest impact on me are in order of importance (1) the personal voices of others who read and who seem to have similar tastes or standards as I have; (2) my mood in the bookstore when I'm looking for something to read, and (3) a peculiar brew of Web review outlets, ranging across a spectrum that includes Amazon as well as Green Man Review (sci-fi) and Cluelass (mysteries). Author web sites are also something I check (more on that below).

Like so many of you, I pay an increasing amount of attention to the bloggers on my blogroll. Indeed, one of my recent purchases, Silent in the Grave, was made strictly because three of you had read and praised it. In that instance, I had picked up the book myself in a bookstore and read the first sentence, considered the price of the hardcover and my mood and put the title back. But when JenClair and Mary both passed positive comments on it, closely followed by a third blogger, I felt that I should follow my first instinct that the book would appeal to both me and my husband.

That said, I won't rely on just one voice. I wait and listen for multiple opinions to be expressed, because each of you is apt to pick up on a different aspect of the book. I'll glean just enough information from the combination to be able to make a judgment as to whether or not the book is likely to interest me. (You all are good that way.)

Reading challenges have pointed me to many titles that I might otherwise have passed over as well. Sometimes my book group drags me into reading something new and foreign to my mindset.

My mood in the bookstore is another barometer ; what topic catches my interest? Am I in a mood to read fiction or non-fiction? Do I want something to challenge me? Or am I looking to be soothed?

Then there is the physical examination of the text. How long is it? How big is the print? How much of a strain would it create physically and mentally to read the book? Unlike JenClair and Dani, I don't much care about the cover art or the blurbs on the book itself. Having said that, however, I admit that I prefer to read from a quality archival paper stock rather than the coarse newsprint that many publishers are resorting to. (How's that for an elitist attitude?)

Canned reviews in newspapers and magazines don't influence me to any discernible extent. Frequently, they are just too short to be useful or too objective in tone. For example, Library Journal keeps its reviews to under 150 words due to space consideration. I do think such reviews are useful for making me aware of the availability of a title, but in most cases, I just assume the vast majority of magazine and newspaper reviews are largely marketing twaddle. If you read Scott McLemee's alarmed op-ed in InsideHigherEd last week, you know that my thinking reflects that of a large percentage of the current population; newspaper book review sections are folding at a record rate.

That said, a well-written marketing newsletter from a publisher can do an effective sales job on me. I picked up Few Eggs and No Oranges because the Persephone newsletter had included a paragraph summarizing the book discussion held that month in the shop. That write up was just enough to persuade me that it might be a worthwhile read. Again, though I think it has to do with being able to hear an individual's voice behind the marketing.

I find author interviews to be useful in making a decision. I even like author web sites (as long as I find they are personally evocative of the writer and not just a corporate billboard for sales).

Maybe the real message here is that Jill hates marketing...

This entry probably contains too much detail to be interesting reading, but I must confess that I am too tired to be both intelligent and brief this evening.