Reader Question: How do you know you’ve found your next book?

February 11, 2010

Confession: I dither. I dingle. I dabble in and then discard. I have an ongoing disinclination to commit. I’m talking about books. Though I maintain a categorically obsessive list of books slated for reading this year, and even a second-tier categorically obsessive list of books pegged for reading at some point, whenever I finish a book I find myself puttering around in my library, caroming off bookshelves, staring at rows of books in a helpless mire of field dependence*, starting and aborting a few volumes before settling on my next read.

This current round went like this:

  • Finish Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann. Elect not to write a review just yet, as this sometimes bugs the other members of my book club, who want to discuss it (next Tuesday, if you’re counting) before I blather on about it publicly.
  • Stagger into library, stare.
  • Pick up Far from the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy. Enjoy the first several pages of it, peer at the introduction and some of the end notes. Realize it’s not part of my 2010 classics reading plan. Panic slightly. Besides, it’s a bit dense. Re-shelve.
  • Pick up The Zookeeper’s Wife by Diane Ackerman. Read the first several pages. Sigh in a way that expresses my deeply troubled soul. Re-shelve.
  • Receive The Sagas of the Icelanders from Amazon serendipitously. Consume Jane Smiley’s preface, read slowly through the nearly 60-page introduction, fall asleep, possibly drooling.
  • Realize the next morning that The Sagas of the Icelanders is almost as big as a breadbox and would probably take much of the year to read.
  • Repeat.

How do you find your next book to read? Intuition? Happenstance? A rigorous curriculum? I try a combination of all of those things and just end up befuddled.

Before you go to town on me in the comments, yep, I realize I sound like I should be psycho-analyzed. Through all of this, I feel happy, though. These things bemuse me; I’m not going to slit my wrists over literary indecision or anything.

*Field dependent people tend to stare at things and perceive them globally, as a big ol’ mass of stuff. Thus: they have trouble locating the right brand of crackers on the grocery shelf or, more apropos, individual titles and concepts of books. Its inverse is field independence. If the dependent version sounds a weakness of character, well, watch out, I’m about to go all feminist for a moment. Women tend to be field dependent, men, independent. The concept was identified and named by a man.


  1. EMM says:

    I seem to read about 4 books per month on average. Like you, I have little reading assignments for myself. That usually takes up about one of the four books per month. Book club takes up one more. I have a “someday/maybe” list that I keep on Amazon with books that I’ve read about on other people’s blogs, or in book reviews, etc. that sound interesting to me. I keep it on Amazon so I can “browse” and easily remember what the heck that book I put on my list 2 years ago was about. Then I put some selections on my library waiting list and wait.

    I rarely wander the library or bookstore these days. I find that it is harder to tell if I’ll like a book when I know nothing about it. Blogs, book reviews, and Amazon comments/descriptions give me a better idea if I will like a book or not. I’ve had a better success rate with this method.

  2. Amy says:

    To me it’s like choosing dessert. If you have a dessert cart in front of you, you have to dither a bit and explore the options. Am I in the mood for chocolate? Do I just want some berries and cream? Is that carrot cake fresh?
    I usually have several stacks of books around to choose from. My bookcase is sort of neglected as I don’t always have time to choose from it, but it’s filled with potential titles to start. I have a pile of ARC’s and Review Copies that I try to alternate one with each other chosen title. Then I have books that are just treats, and I tend to savor looking at them before I start.
    All in all I’m like you, I don’t just pick one up instantaneously, but I do love that delicious feeling when near finished with a book that I get to explore another.

  3. Cork Catherine says:

    I have a shelf of books waiting to be read but also in a different bookcase, the stack of half read books to get back to. So sometimes I wander to one or the other – pick up Ursula la Guin’s version of Lao Tzu or The World without Us (recognize your influence?) and think – I should finish this now, read few pages, put it down. Then I remember that my half finished copy of Huckleberry Finn got left at home when we left on the trip to Portland because I didn’t want to take a book along I would finish on the trip and I feel, oh yes… Not an organized approach but it works for me. Got the idea to reread Huck Finn from A Reading Diary by Alberto Manguel although it is not on the list of books he read.

  4. Fran says:

    All these books in piles. I am a multireader, usually working on three or four books at once: a YA or mystery novel, a “real” novel, a self-help or spiritual book, a current affairs or science book… Many of the nonfiction books I read (and I read mostly nonfiction) are so dense with meaning that I can only read a few pages at a sitting. I need time to absorb the information. Or maybe it’s ADD–too many interesting books. I’m such a butterfly. Many of the books on my shelves have bookmarks about 2/3 of the way through. What’s up with that?