Tuesday, November 25, 2014

How to choose which books to read

There is nothing that makes a book lover more content than book shopping. Sometimes though, you log in to your Amazon account to buy the latest best seller and the next thing you know is you spent $70 on new “promising” books you don’t even have time for. Sounds familiar?
While there’s nothing wrong about buying books – I consider it an investment actually. But in order to control what you bring in your house and life in general, you should play security guard with each and every one of the books you pick up to read and display in your bookshelves. After all, they tell a story of what you like to read, therefore who you are in the general context. Ever thought about what people would think of you if they found a specific book on your shelves? I wouldn’t be that content if they framed my personality over 30 books of Danielle Steel or the trilogy of  50 Shades of Gray” – not judging anyone, it’s just not who I am and I shouldn’t be paraphrased like that, so I avoid buying them just because they’re famous.
After going into that much deep, let’s take a breath to the surface and lay down some easy and practical ways to help you decide what to pick up next. Everything can be applied when buying online (I get mine from Amazon), going to bookshops or borrowing from libraries. Also, these are based mostly on my own personal experiences.

1. Utilize key words and ratings
If there is something in particular you have to or like to be reading about currently, try searching by keywords and use the rating system to shortlist the best ones. Now go through each of the books and read through the longest reviews, a couple of the highest ratings, with 4 or 5 stars. Then don’t skip the lower ratings, those 1 and 2 stared reviews, as they have seemed to be the most helpful for me when buying books (or anything actually) online. Aside from the “I never actually received this book” ones you randomly find on Amazon, people don’t waste their time writing a long negative review, unless it is for helping other people understand a fault and avoid making the same mistake.
This way you will avoid a pretty light style you’re not fond of, an extended version of a blog post or a very misleading advice book.
When in a bookshop or library, cut time by checking in the right section and ask questions to the people who have experience and maybe have already read the book and can give you a quick opinion.

2. Read about the book and read inside the book
I assume you all read the plot of the book or it’s description and even some of the best single line reviews (the last one that fooled me was “Go read now, it’s that good!” – Um, no, it wasn’t) online or you look for a short description on the back cover when shopping in person.
Anytime you can though, take your time to “Look inside” when online shopping (through clicking on the cover and reading a few digital pages from the book) or quick reading a random page or two in a book you have in your hands. I would choose the first few opening sentences and a couple paragraphs in the middle, but never spoil the end.
Doing this, you are assured you like the flow of the writing and the tone or language used. This can be especially helpful when reading something not written in your first language, so you want to make sure everything is easily understood and you won’t get stuck on ten words you don’t know the meaning of in every page.

3. Be cautious with the “should read” lists
I bet not everyone reads every book before they come up with the list and publish it somewhere (I am talking about you, blogs). Although I am totally guilty of basing my “wishlist” on posts like that, I make sure I take the advice of people whose literature taste I am familiar with, or at least decent human beings who are normal enough to have read a book and share their two cents on it. What I don’t bother reading are actual lists, bulleted points or numbered lists with titles and links.
I was really looking to reading Tina Fey’s “Bossypants” because it was smacked to my face everyday for more than a year, along with pictures of peonies and the birkenstocks comeback. While I wasn’t sold on the birkenstocks (yet! – I can’t trust myself 100% anymore), peonies took my dreams and I got obsessed over “Bossypants”. After costing me some ashamingly 11 GBP, because I was determined to get it before leaving for holidays, so I could read it on the beach like it was the world’s last book, I haven’t finished it yet, three months later. I am not usually one to drop books in the middle and read other ones, but maybe the high expectations I had for it made me feel like I had to like it and when I wasn’t even smiling that often (while other people said they were literally crying over the great humor) I let it go.
Well, I am not saying the book is bad. Let me explain, in case there is a single one out there who hasn’t cried over it yet. First of all, it’s a little short, like short for a 11 GBP, but that’s my fault. Secondly, you really need to be immersed into American culture and especially television shows and comedy personalities in order to be able to laugh at all the lines. Although I know who Tina Fey is and have watched her movies, I have never watched 30rocks or anything like that. But of course I knew Amy Poehler, who was mentioned even more than Tina’s sad straight Greek eyebrows through the pages.
So, you get it, it’s a great book for the right audience. I just foolishly assumed being all best friends (I mean bloggers), we would have the same expectancies on what’s funny.

4. Don’t read after you watch the movie and don’t fall for media reviews
Another slightly disappointing pick was “Gone girl” by Gillian Flynn, which I have to admit I added to my Amazon basket because it was around 3 GBP that day. But of course I had ran over it a hundred times on the “should read” lists and I knew the movie was out but hadn’t seen it. I was familiar to the plot but not details, so I was really excited to find out more through the read.
As one would assume (mothers neglected their children for three days until they reached the end of the book, they say) it would be only a few days of reading, typical situation when I am captivated by a book. But the first pages took me forever to read.
Maybe it was the writing tone, new to me, a little dull and sharp and movie scrip like, or the annoying structure of chapters written in husband’s voice or wife’s voice. Switching through the chapters and the two different voices and parts of the story was a little tiring and I caught myself a few times looking at the tittle of the chapter (when not bothering reading it initially) to see who’s diary/story I am reading because it wasn’t that clear. It was a little difficult to be thrilled until the half of it, but then things got interesting and the writing flow was more detailed and lingering, thus making it easier to follow through.
The one annoying thing that continued until the end for me was that I couldn’t picture some of the characters even when I was one reading. From a book with as few main characters and not a lot secondary ones, I’d expect a better unfolding of them. Ironically the whole story is tightly linked to personalities and early life events, behaviors and thoughts, but beside the two main characters, I couldn’t put many of the others together. Go, for example, Nick’s sister, I couldn’t imagine anyone as her. I read the whole book and never managed to picture her as a real human being with a particular face, which is so unusual for me, as my imagination runs faster and wilder than it should usually.
If I head watched the movie prior to reading the book, I am sure I wouldn’t have made it to the half. The most interesting thing about this book is the storyline, so with that spoiled I wouldn’t find the writing style worth reaching the end I was aware of, without any of the suspense required.
Also, when you pick up a book with amazing “Read now! – New York Times” on the cover, take it with a grain of salt and do a little research before going for it. After all, you are investing your money and your time reading a book and it should be worth at least your time, 100 % worth it.

5. Don’t feel guilty
On the same note, don’t feel guilty to leave a book half read, if you can sense it’s not interesting or helpful enough, if it’s far from the writing style you prefer and in general seems not worth your time. Put it away for a later read or a possible reference or pass it on to a family member or friend you know will appreciate it more. You can also swap such books with others, making sure you don’t loose your money.
There are so many books out there and you don’t want to spend your time reading the ones not worth it.

6. Judge by the cover
The only appropriate time to judge a book by it’s cover, it’s when there is more than one edition available or different publishing houses have translated the same author. Pick up the one that looks more professional and not tacky, related to the tittle and it’s brief in a direct or abstract way.
In case you are wondering why I mention this, two weeks ago, at the annual book fair I saw the same books published by two or three publishing houses (this is how it works in our country). Sometimes the choices were tough and I would pick the one I knew had published other tittles of the same author before. Many times, sadly, the choice was between a watercolor cover or a Google image of Richard Gere and some woman from a movie. I know, copyright and rules and aesthetics and design! But until that happens, judge by the cover for quality.

7. The right way to read
Everyone has their own personal style of reading. I admire those who take their time to read and reread favorite passages and pages, mark them, underline phrases, highlight paragraphs, put flowers to dry in between romantic scenes etc. But I am a flash reader and I like to go and pick up what I can throughout. It is really difficult while reading challenging authors and I have to go back twice to understand or go back to the initial pages to find who that name stands for. I guess I picked this up from the habit of reading books beyond my age, when it was impossible to understand everything as I should, so I just read for the sake of reading.
You might hate not being able to recall every single detail from the book you just finished, but to me what matters most is that the crucial things were picked up and what was meant to be recalled will be, the rest is just material added to your “benefits of reading bank”. What I hardly forget though is how the book made me feel. Understand how you like to read best and find that golden ratio between your method and the time you are willing to spend reading.
There is no wrong way to read!

8. Know what you like
Knowing what you like is a great asset when choosing perfect authors and tittles. But it can also serve for the exact opposite.
From time to time, force yourself to pick a genre you don’t normally like reading, such as sci-fi for romantics or history for contemporary lovers. This will help strengthen your senses and alert your mind in ways you didn’t know before.
And who knows, you might end up liking something new, but you have to try first.

9. When to pick the same author
I usually pick up the same author’s books when I have read great ones before, whose style I admire and whose words flow like a river when reading. You can’t resist another book by Stefan Zweig or Theodore Dreiser, can you?
The last book I bought because I love the authors’ writing style was by Carlos Ruiz Zafón. I hate it when the book doesn’t live to my expectations for the writer, so I really hope it’s as great as the previous one.
A topic I am biased about is trilogies. I like three different books that you can totally read individually, but are tied together by context or atmosphere. But I really hate having to read three different books of the same looong story. It seems very manipulative to me and I don’t want to spend six months reading the same thing. You can tell I get bored easily, can’t you?

10. Sharing books
Sorry, I don’t like sharing. I dread the idea of someone asking to borrow a book, because I know I will loose it forever. I still have a friend’s book at home from 3 years ago and it is one of the very few I have borrowed in my life. So I only imagine what borrowing a lot and forgetting or neglecting could mean.
Everyone has their own style of reading, some mark the pages, some underline or hide notes inside of books. I used to be a page marker, but I use anything that can serve as a bookmark now to keep books in good condition.
So if you are a freak like me, never agree on someone borrowing a book you don’t want loosing. If you can afford, buy the book as a present for them for the nearest holiday/birthday or direct them to a library that carries it. Also, I don’t like the smell of old and dirty books, only the smell they pick inside the house. So getting a book returned to me with yellow stained pages and smelling like curry would be a nightmare.
You get it, I vote no for sharing!

11. Going through old books
I am not a fan of reading the same book twice, unless it absolutely adds value to my life. The books I have read twice are not my favorite ones, but those I was too young to understand when I first read them. Thing is, I read most of the classics and “deep” ones until I was 14, then some more classics that high school demanded, making a big pause during university years and coming back to them shortly after. Reading “The tunnel” by Ernesto Sabato at 12, means I didn’t understand all the layers I was supposed to, but being so eager to read, I didn’t stop myself in front of any book I picked from my father’s library and never left anything unfinished. I have to go back to many books, because I know I will gain a new perspective or a deeper layer of understanding at this age. In case you like reading your favorite books over and over, absolutely do it, just consider going through any of the ones that will shift your current mindset, anytime you can.

What do you think? Is it easy for you to always choose the best books or have you fallen into the above mentioned traps more than once? Share your book secrets, please!

| Love, Lisa |


  1. So interesting, loved this advice Lisa. I never know what books to buy when I walk into Chapters or browse online, I'll be booking this one to come back to! xo

    1. Thanks Lauren! The more you love books the more difficult it is to choose actually. Hope you find some of these tips helpful in the future :)


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