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5 Tips to Reading A Wide Variety of Great Books

July 13, 2019

(image via wikimedia)

Choosing the right book to read can be frustrating, especially when you have a bunch of choices and not much time.  Most avid readers have dozens/hundreds of books piling up, and it’s even more difficult if you have other commitments like family and a time-consuming job.  Plus, the book publishers are glutting the market with books that aren’t very good.  With so much going on and so many books out there, how can a reader decide which books to choose?

After decades of reading, I have come up with several tips to reading only the books that I will enjoy the most.

Tip #1- Sample many, finish few.

I’m a big believer in NOT finishing books.  I used to complete every novel I started just for the sense of accomplishment, but then I started to accomplish real things in life (I hope that doesn’t sound like an insult to people who finish books no matter what because I mean that as a reflection of me and not other people).  Reading shouldn’t be a chore (unless you’re in school), and I’m getting old, and if I don’t want to finish a book (or wear matching socks), then I don’t have to.

I’m proud of the number of books I haven’t finished.  I used to lie to people and say I’d read the books that I had actually stopped reading, but conversations are more interesting if I’m honest and say “I started that book but couldn’t finish it.”  Plus, it’s not good to lie.

Tip #2- No more than three books per series.

I don’t read any series that goes over three books, or if I begin reading such a series, I stop after three books.  Seriously, how many stories truly deserve more than three books?  Not many do.  If The Lord of the Rings could be told in three books, then so should just about any other story.  Even The Bible is only two books; if God only needs two books, then who do we think we are to write more books in a series than God?

Tip #3- No books more than 500 pages long.

How many stories are truly worth the effort it takes to read (much less write) 500 pages?  A few might be worth it, but not many.  Usually a novel longer than 500 pages means that the editors didn’t do their jobs (or in the case of 19th century Russian authors, the translators didn’t do theirs either).

Yeah, The Bible is over 500 pages long, but that’s God for you. If any author is allowed to get long-winded, it’s God.  I pretty much allow God to write what He wants without complaining about it.

Tip #4- No more than 3 books per author.

There are a lot of great authors out there, and I’d like to read as many of them as possible.  Most authors who write lots of books follow a formula.  If you’ve read two or three of their novels, you’ve read them all.  When I think like that, I don’t yearn for the latest Stephen King horror/fantasy or the newest James Patterson schlock that somebody else probably wrote.

I don’t have anything against schlock.  I love schlock.  I write schlock.  I just want a variety of schlock in my life.

Tip #5-No books with bad dialogue.

This is probably the only subjective rule of the bunch because reasonable people can disagree about the quality of dialogue.  You can’t really disagree about whether or not a book is 500 pages or not or whether or not a series has more than three books in it.  I guess you COULD argue about it, but reasonable people would look at you funny.

Even though it’s subjective, dialogue is important to me.  If the characters don’t sound authentic, then I can’t put myself in the story.

Some of the dialogue in The Bible is kind of corny, but I’d never admit that to God.  As far as I’m concerned, God writes great dialogue, but humans mess up the translation.

*****

I like my tips for reading, but I also know they wouldn’t work for everybody.  Some people have a certain number of books they want to finish within a certain time.  Some readers want to consume every book by their favorite authors.  Some refuse to read any books written by certain authors.  Some readers might not even have any tips at all for reading books.

But enough about me!  What tips do you have for reading a wide variety of books?

13 Comments
  1. Marilyn Kriete permalink

    This is a great list! I’m 100% with you on not finishing books that don’t grab me after the first 100 pages or so. Sometimes less. Bad dialogue is painful; so is poor writing. If a book has cliched characters, phrases, description, whatever— I’m outta there.Interesting about allowing 3 books per author. I agree many good writers have their own formulas, apparent as you follow their work. But once in a while there’s an exceptional writer who mixes things up and continues to surprise: I’m thinking Margaret Atwood, for one. I also avoid most genre books— I look for what’s unusual, unexpected, quirky, unpredictable. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and criteria!

  2. I don’t have any rules about reading and none of the above fit my style of reading. I do have favourite authors and read on in their series right up to book 33 and I admit that in many cases anything over five starts to sound repetitious and drek like. I have read many books over 500 (Lord of the Rings being one..since I bought it in one volume back in the 60s and it is tattered now). Or Seven Pillars of Wisdom. However, most of the books with that many pages are encyclopedias or like my most recent book The Assassin’s Cloak about Diarists..over 600 pages and loved every page. I have always been that person who had to finish every single book which really hasn’t been too difficult since I am not a very critical reader just addicted to print. However, as I am now in my 70s I am trying valiantly to break myself of the habit. I got half way through Remembrance of Things Past twice and have admitted failure and will not try again. I reread a lot and I am possessive of books. Most new fiction does not appeal for one reason or another and I have no clue what those reason are. I never did read best sellers or other people’s suggested lists…a line in a book or a name or a situation can send me off into a new genre, introduce me to a new author and I find myself switching horses in mid stream. My library is very eclectic just like my grasshopper mind. My Kindle currently has 550 brand new unread books and my paper TBR stands at 50. I got the Kindle because there is no more room for paper books. I usually read about 300 books per year (retired and single and introverted and lazy so this is not a problem) and I spent the last four years rereading from my personal library but still buying books at my usual rate as things appealed so my TBR pile has gotten out of hand. I am trying to read my sci fi collection from the 60’s and 70’s but like the Assassin’s Cloak..I keep getting distracted. So I am currently reading Poul Anderson’s series Flandry of Terra, The Greville Diaries and The Essential Dave Allen and H.L. Mencken’s gigantic book of quotations. Just reading Assassin’s had me buying 3 more books of memoirs…sigh…breadcrumbs, I am always following breadcrumbs.

    • “My Kindle currently has 550 brand new unread books and my paper TBR stands at 50.”-

      You could bring those numbers down a little bit if you used my book selection tips! Haha! But I understand we don’t have the same reading styles.

      • Anonymous permalink

        You just have to join a monthly book club of ten women to find out how much of an oddball you are. Every single time I came away knowing I was the black swan. The expressions on their faces when I brought out my pile of books (it was one where we each talked about what we read..not where we all read the same book…I could not, for the life of me, join one of those. There is a poem:
        The books we think we ought to read, are poky, dull and dry.
        The books that we would like to read, we are ashamed to buy.
        The books that people talk about, we never can recall,
        And the books that people buy us, oh they’re the worst of all.

        It takes all kinds to keep the book stores in business.

  3. Don’t you think James Patterson should be exempted from the “3 books per author” if different writers keep writing books for him?

    • Probably not. If he’s actually writing the books, then the “three books per author” rule applies.

      If he’s not writing the books, then he’s very dishonest and shouldn’t be rewarded for it with book sales.

      Plus, he’s James Patterson, and that by itself should be enough to not buy his books.

      • Anonymous permalink

        Never read a single one of his books. Are they like Grisham or Clancy?

  4. Thanks for the laugh. I’m with you on tip #1. Recently returned from the library with a bag full of books and high expectations, only to be disappointed by many of them after a few dozen pages (which, incidentally, is why I get books from the library rather than buying them). I don’t mind reading many books by the same author. As a fan of Tudor and Plantagenet history, I love Philippa Gregory’s historical fiction and have read just about everything she’s written in that genre (though you could tell that with the one she wrote about Margaret Douglas she was just milking it. Like: Crap, I’ve run out of interesting Tudor and Plantagenet people to write about, but I’m used to this luxurious, well-known author lifestyle. What minor historical figure can I write about next to keep the good times rolling?)

    • Who is Margaret Douglas?

      I’ve read only one Philippa Gregory book, so I guess I can read her book about Margaret Douglas and still have one more Gregory novel remaining.

  5. It might be a good rule that three books per author, but what happens when a reader comes across Joseph Conrad or George Orwell?

    • The occasional exception is okay. Whenever I make a set of rules or tips, the occasional exception is implied. If the English language can have exceptions, so can my reading tips.

  6. “I don’t want to finish a book (or wear matching socks), then I don’t have to.” Yaaaasssss. I used to feel guilted into finishing books, but I can say that 2019 is the year of the most unfinished books, often decided mid-bath. I simply say, “Enough already” and toss it into the donation pile. We only so much time here; why waste it on crap. Another rule I find is that is if there is ZERO humor, then I can’t finish it. I’ll get halfway, and if it’s all been somber, forget it. This is also a good point: God writes great dialogue, but humans mess up the translation.

  7. Thank you for posting this. I feel like a beginner when it comes to collecting books but I think I have come up with my own style of reading. I agree with your tip #3 “No books more than 500 pages long. I just finished a book that was 253 pages long and I found it more interesting and exciting than the book that I read that was close to 600 pages. I believe that books that are less then 500 pages just get to the point. Some might even say that there is so much too cover with a 500 page plus book but it can be cut down when you get to the real meaning of the story.

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