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Six Steps to Choosing a Good Book

March 24, 2013
My Life 01a

She could have married a bibliophile instead, but he spent hours upon hours wandering aimlessly through the book store looking for something to read. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We book readers can spend hours at a book store or a library searching for the perfect book.  There are a lot of reasons for this.  Maybe there are no good books to be found (very unlikely).  Maybe there are so many good books available that it’s tough to pick the right one(s).  Maybe there are non-book distractions that keep us from focusing.  Maybe we’re feeling indecisive. 

Choosing a book can be time consuming, but it doesn’t have to be.  By following six quick steps, any reader can find a (probably) good book in a matter of minutes.

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1.  Set the timer. 

A time limit is important in choosing a book.  Without that self-imposed limit, readers can waste valuable time searching and over-thinking possible book selections.  Every second wasted picking a book is less time that we’ll have to read that book.  We readers often leave a store with a stack of books that we’ll never get to.  Setting a time limit will make that stack smaller while giving us more time to read.

DISCLAIMER:  If you enjoy wandering through the book store or library just for the sheer joy of wandering through the book store or library, then disregard Step 1.  Choosing a good book might not be your top priority.

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2.  Look for books with interesting titles. 

Reading titles (while ignoring authors and book covers) means we can scan aisles of books very quickly.  Each person has different criteria for what makes a good book title.  I think I’ve been attracted to books with prepositional phrases in them.  Talking to the Dead, The Power of Habit, The Lord of the Rings, Fifty Shades of Gray, A Game of Thrones, A Feast for Crows, A Clash of Kings, The Sword of Shannara, Love in a Nutshell, Rules of Civility, State of Wonder… 

I haven’t read all the above books; I just initially gave them a second look because of their titles.  I’m a sucker for prepositional phrases. 

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3.  Make sure the author is not on the DO NOT READ list. 

Every reader’s DO NOT READ LIST is different.  I don’t read more than three books by any author.  I don’t read books in a series if the series hasn’t been finished yet.  I rarely give (famous) authors a second chance if I disliked the first book of theirs that I read.  And (as I pointed out last week) I don’t read books if there’s a hot chick with cleavage on the cover.

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4.  Read the book jacket. 

Everybody knows that reading a quick explanation of the book can be helpful, but it’s just as important to ignore any reviews that are on the jacket.  The reviewers could be friends of the author.  The reviewers could have been paid by the publisher.  The reviewers might not have even read the book.  Or the reviewers could have bad taste in books. 

Readers are better off glancing at the plot summary and then moving on to the next step (if we choose).

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 5.   Read the first page (at least). 

No explanation needed. 

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6.  Choose a random page and read (the dialogue). 

I like to choose a random page just to verify that the quality of writing doesn’t deteriorate too much as the book continues.  Some books start off strong but fall off quickly, and we readers are cheated.  Perusing a random page might not prevent that from happening to us, but at least we give ourselves a chance. 

I also check for dialogue on a random page.  If the dialogue is unrealistic or too clever to be true, then I probably won’t read the book.  Dialogue is important to me.  Sometimes authors use dialogue to show how clever they are instead of using it to reveal their characters’ personalities. 

Readers who don’t care about dialogue can still choose a random page and check the descriptions or exposition, or even the punctuation.  The important thing is to make sure that the quality of writing meets our expectations throughout the whole book. 

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Ever since I have begun this six-step process, I have spent more time reading books and less time searching.  This doesn’t mean that every book I’ve picked out has been great.  I’ve still chosen a couple disappointments that I didn’t finish.  However, I feel less frustrated with a disappointing book now (unless I paid a lot of money for it) because I know that I didn’t waste time looking for it.  And I still have a (smaller) stack of back up books that I have more time to read. 

That’s the great thing about books.  Even when a book sucks, there will always be a better one out there to replace it.

20 Comments
  1. I agree with your list– except for #4. In my experience, if an author I don’t like writes a review that is featured on the front or back cover, I ditch the book. Those authors are featured prominently b/c the publishers think they are similar. If the reviewers are people I respect, then I’m much more likely to get the book! I totally agree with the time limits– it is easy to over think a book.

    • A few years ago Stephen King gave a very positive review to a novel that I then bought and thought was mediocre (at best). I’m not sure King even read the novel because his remarks about the book were so different from what I actually thought about it. I figure if I can’t trust Stephen King to review a book, who can I trust? And I like (a lot of early) Stephen King. That’s kind of what inspired part of rule #4

  2. Amanda permalink

    I love spending time in bookstores and libraries but ultimately I do want to come out with a good book to read.

    I definitely agree with reading the first page. While there are a few books that took longer than one page to grab my attention, I can usually tell if I’ll like it based on that.

    • I love wandering the book stores too, but it seems like the more time I spend there, the more indecisive I become. That’s where the timer becomes so important. Now if my wife and kids are shopping and I’m just killing time until they’re done, the timer is turned off.

      • Amanda permalink

        I agree! The more time in there, the harder it is to pick something.

  3. I like your cleavage cover rule. I’m with you!

  4. Those are some good tips, except I think there is really no bad place for cleavage. 😉 On my DO NOT READ list: Anything in a series, anything by an author who seems to publish multiple books every year.

    • It’s not cleavage itself that I have a problem with; it’s that cleavage on a book cover is a sign that the book probably isn’t very good. I have no proof of that other than personal experience. Other than that, I think our DO NOT READ lists are similar.

    • Thank you for the nomination. I appreciate it, but I have to admit… that question that you asked was way out of my league.

      • You’re welcome !

        Haha ! That question is way beyond myself also. Worry not, just jumble something together, afterall, what’s a mad cackling duck going to say for better?

  5. Good rules. I especially like “don’t read books in a series if the series hasn’t been finished yet.” I like to know what I’m getting into before I start. I think a lot of people got burned with that one with the Wheel of Time series.

    • Thanks. How many books were in that Wheel of Time series? 13? 14? I’m wondering if the same thing will happen with George R. R. R. R. Martin and his Game of Thrones Song of Fire and Ice (or Ice and Fire) series. I hope it doesn’t happen, but I wonder.

  6. I love reading the author blurbs, about how wonderful the book is … I don’t know why, because, more times than I care to think about, the blurbs have built the book up to be better than it is. But, still I love them.

    I used to be a wanderer of the bookstore, but, now, with a Kindle, and a Kindle app on all my devices, well, I just browse the web… not quite as fulfilling, but, it’s satisfying, especially since my insomnia keeps me up, and I can buy books at 3 a.m.

    I’m with you on the series… at least as far as SciFi/Fantasy series go. If it’s a series that seems never to end, like detective series, I’ll read those whenever the new one comes out. It’s only the ones where the story is spread across several volumes, where I no longer read them one at a time and then wait (Thank You Very Much, Robert Jordan — reading thousands of pages, then having to wait years for the next one… my memory is not that good. Thankfully, the new book is just about here and I can finally start from one and read all the way through…)

    Mostly, though, I just buy a book because I want it.

  7. I think you and I do our book shopping at the same time (depending on time zones). LIke you, I’ll read a detective book or a thriller that’s in a series as long as each novel is kind of self-contained. When I was in my fantasy/sword&sorcery phase, I loved the Kane books because it didn’t matter which one I was reading; I think they were all great (or pretty good). That kind of series, I may read. I’m not even going to touch that Robert Jordan series (but I never read his Conan books either, so maybe I should just to see what his writing is like).

  8. Your DON’T READ list is fascinating. So what happens if a series is more than three books? Do you just stop after three, or not read it at all?

    • If I know ahead of time that it’s a series (the kind where you have to read them in order), then I probably won’t start it at all. For example, I love sword&sorcery fantasy, but I won’t read the Game of Thrones (Song of Fire and Ice?) series because it’s too long and I don’t want to wait for the next book (if I get that far), and it probably has too much filler, and it might never get finished.

      If I don’t know ahead of time that it’s a series, I’ll probably figure it out at some point (hopefully before the fourth book).

  9. I loved number 6. Dialogue, to me, is the one thing that makes a story believable. You can have the most off-the-wall plot, but if the interactions between the characters are realistic, you can believe it. And sadly, it’s one of the things I’m most disappointed in when reading. The things that characters do and don’t say throughout the course of a story (again, to me) is the biggest way that you understand who they are and the way that they operate. You’re absolutely right that a lot of authors use it to show how clever they are. Most people speak to communicate, but there ARE some people out there who speak for that one purpose – those, “Look How Intelligent I Am,” people. It’s realistic in that respect. Some people just can’t help themselves. I apologize for saying PEOPLE fifty times. 🙂

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