As you read the reviews on Bookshop Talk, you'll notice that every review is positive. No, we're not a bunch of literary
pushovers who love everything we pick up; we just see no point in telling you about a book if we didn't like it.

May 11, 2012

Gab Bag: Picky, Picky

By Kim Harris Thacker: Writer, Mommy, and Bookshop Talk Host

I’m a list girl. I keep lists of the things I need to buy, the things I need to sell, the things I need to do, and the things I get done. You name it, I list it. My favorite list is a lovely, tidy little thing I call The Queue. Isn’t “queue” a great word? I have a British friend who uses it, and I think it’s posh. But back to The Queue itself. Here’s what’s on this list currently:

Inside Out & Back Again, by Thanhha Lai
The Thirteenth Child, by Patricia C. Wrede
Lark Rise to Candleford, by Flora Thompson
Dogsbody, by Diana Wynne Jones

There’s more on it, but that’ll do for now. As you’ve guessed, The Queue is a book list!  My Books to Read list, to be precise. And how do I decide what books make it onto The Queue and therefore into my hands and (hopefully) my heart? That, my friends, is the topic of this Gab-Bag Post.

Because I’m a list-y sort of gal (not to be confused with the “listing”—as in “listing ship”—or “listless”—as in “All the gentlemen have gone riding and what’s a young lady to do in this blasted excuse my French weather”—kind of gal), I have three rules that I’ve created for myself when it comes to picking the books that end up on The Queue:

1) Always have at least one recommended book on the list. For my purposes, I consider a recommended book to be one that I learned about from a friend, a professional (writer/editor/agent/teacher/librarian), or someone on a book-loving website/blog (such as this lovely blog!)

2) Always have at least one award-winning book or book by an award-winning author on the list. I’m a writer, and I believe very strongly that if I fill my head with excellent books, I’ll be less likely to write rubbish (I hope, I hope, I hope!). But this rule is great for non-writers too, because award-winning books win awards for very good reasons, including the fact that loads of people love them. I often choose Newbery Award-winning books for my queue, a list of which you can find here.

3) Always have at least one recently published book on the list. For me, recently published means published within the last two years. I like books like these on The Queue because I’m a writer and I want to know what kind of stuff is being written and sold nowadays.

Sometimes I have books on The Queue that don’t fit any of these requirements, but are just books that caught my eye at the library, or are books that I read once, a long time ago (or not so long ago), that I want to read again. But generally, I stick to these guidelines.

I have friends who read their way through lists of the purported best books of all time. I have friends who read only Dickens books one year, then Crichton books the next, and on and on with various authors. I have friends who join book clubs and read only the book selection of the month. I have friends who read Oprah book picks or only books that are mentioned on NPR or Ellen or Good Morning America. I have friends who make themselves read contemporary realistic adult fiction, even though they prefer middle grade fantasy. We all have reasons for picking what we pick to read, and now I want to know yours!

How do you choose the books you’re going to read? Do you have a list a mile long, or do you keep the physical volumes in a stack beside your bed? Sound off in the comments below!


MKHutchins said...

Oooh -- I read The Thirteenth Child not too long ago (it's great!) and Dogsbody is sitting on my bookshelf.

Mostly, when I hear about a good book I've got to read, I immediately click over to my library homepage and put it on hold. When it shows up, I read it! Not very scientific...sometimes I don't have enough books (though usually there's at least one or two books we own that I haven't read yet), and sometimes (like right now), I have three books I might not be able to get through before their due dates. All of the latter are recommendations: one from here, one from Twitter, one from an author's blog.

Anonymous said...

I've got several lists: a "to read" list on Goodreads, a wish list on Amazon, a Nook full of downloaded classics and freebies, a hold list at the library, and a tattered yellow notebook page in my purse. Oh, and a stack on my nightstand, which currently includes The Clockwork Prince by Cassandra Clare, K9 Heroes by Nicole Arbelo, Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins, and The Selected Works of T.S. Spivet by Reif Larsen.

Amy Finnegan {} said...

What a fantasic topic, Kim! Great stuff here :)

I would say that 80% of the books I read are picked due to word of mouth. Others I read because I have liked books in the past by the same author, and many books I read because they are in a genre I love (like historical fiction).

I'll admit, though, that I am almost always reading 2-3 books at a time. It's a bad habit, I know, because it takes me a while to get through my stack that way, but the problem is that I HAVE to be reading a book, but I get easily bored with slow stories, etc. So I just pick up another book if that happens, but continue to go slowly through the "boring" one if the story still interests me at least a little bit.

Also, I tend to read the same books that I absolutely LOVE over and over again. Right now I'm reading the entire Harry Potter series again (for, no kidding, at least the tenth time for some of the books - I've lost count), but I can't stop myself. I got an itch to read book one, then I couldn't help it!! I kept going. I'm on book 4 and I started maybe 2 weeks ago. I'm a hopeless Potterhead. And I'm so glad!

It's funny that you mention the Oprah book club, because I learned pretty quickly that if it's an Oprah pick, I should totally avoid it. They are so depressing!! Ugh.

There are two particular things that determine if I want to keep reading after a chapter or two: great writing and compelling characters. If either one of those are missing, I don't bother. There are toooo many good books in my list to waste time on something I don't like :)

E. C. said...

My method of finding books is not really a method. I avoid whatever is the most popular at the moment, mostly, though.
I take recommendations from various book-loving friends of mine whose judgment I trust. Also, I like to look through the library shelves and pick out a random book or two or five every week. And I try to have at least one nonfiction book on hand. And I look for reviews of books, just to see what else I can find. Usually, I have a wishlist that's anywhere from five to fifty books long. It's a good thing I read fast! I use the hold system at my library copiously as well, and I look up whatever new books they acquire at the beginning of each month to see which look interesting.
Basically, I'm slapdash, but I have lists and lists of books to recommend to others and also to read myself. I read old books, new books, and middle-aged books. I will read classics, horror stories, science fiction, fantasy, poetry, nonfiction ... anything but romance. I even try that again on occasion, though I haven't found many that I'm actually fond of. One of my life goals is to read as many books as I can possibly fit in during my lifetime.
So, that isn't really a method, I guess. I just try to read widely and take whatever books come my way.

Rosebriars said...

I usually read the latest thing reviewed here! Which is serious, not sucking up. I also hear about books from friends, and check lists out. One year I tried to read everything from the 100 best books of all time list that came out of Yale or somewhere; after a few I abandoned for content I started checking them all out on goodreads to get an idea of 'ratings' before I read them. I also used to keep lists of all the books I read; my old journals have hundreds of book titles inscribed on the covers. In the next few years I also want to have read all the Caldecott and Newbury winners.

Rosebriars said...

I'm much more likely to read a book if I can get it from the library on my kindle; there's nothing like free books delivered to Athena wirelessly (that's right, I named my kindle after the goddess of wisdom - and handmade her a cute little protective case out of an old puffy vest. I'm deeply in love.).

lucaseth said...

I have a TBR list...
it hangs on my closet door...
I add books as I find them, maybe word of mouth, maybe a book review I have read, maybe a cover that caught my eye; I also have a physical stack on the bedside table..I love to read and always have one close at hand.

Valette M. said...

That sounds like a fantastic system to follow. Personally I have no particular system, other than what sounds interesting. But I probably should instill one soon, because my list is getting pretty long...
"I want to win a book."