Another reason behind my reading dry spell after college was the difficulty I had finding books I liked. I'd go to the library, browse, find a book with a shiny cover and a reasonably interesting back cover, check it out, read it, and HATE it, which leads us to Principle #1 of picking out books.
Principle #1: Front covers mean NOTHING and back covers mean even less.
I'll cover Principle #1 in more detail in later posts, but it boils down to the reality that browsing the library is probably not going to be the best primary method to select books. I know, I know, a lot of us have an innate "good-feelings" response to walking down stacks of books and the little kick of serotonin we get when we pick out a previously unknown book from the shelves. If this describes you, you don't have to kick the habit entirely. Every time you go to the library, allow yourself to pick out 1 or 2 random "browsed for" books, but you'll find that they won't quite enthrall you like the books picked using the following principles.
Principle #2: Make a To-Read List
Never settle for a book again because you can't think of anything else to read. Do your research (more on this below) and make a list that you can reference when picking out books. I highly suggest keeping the list online for easy access. Goodreads, inarguably the largest reading community on the web, has an easy-to-use list system and a lot of features that will make creating your To-Read list that much easier.
Research changed my reading life. There are millions of books out there. Unfortunately, they're not simply laid out in a continuum from best to worst - they each have a target audience. What your 12-year-old nephew thinks is the BEST BOOK IN THE WORLD may not exactly be your cup of tea. It doesn't mean the book is bad, you're just not the target audience. So the secret is to figure out how to find books books that are GOOD and that you'll also LIKE.
Unfortunately, it's not as simple as being able to say, "I love fantasy and I hate suspense/horror" (a statement that could objectively describe me). Genres are way too broad: while I'm a huge fantasy fan, it's also true that some of my most hated books of all time also firmly fall in this genre. By the same token, shunning an entire genre can also be a mistake: while I'm usually not a suspense/horror girl, there are a few notable exceptions that I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE.
So, how DO you find books that are going to make you, a unique target audience of one, gloriously happy?
Principle 2.1: Ask your friends for book recommendations.
This one is kind of "no, duh" and if it was my only suggestion, this blog would really be a waste of time. However, you can't overlook this one entirely. Our friends shape our interests and we also make friends with people who share our interests, so there's a higher chance that they'll suggest books you like than a random stranger would. Also, as time goes on and you collect more book recommendations from your friends, you'll discover which friends most closely match your reading tastes. Here's also where Goodreads comes in mighty handy. Goodreads allows you to friend your Facebook friends if they have a Goodreads account. You can browse their book lists to see what they like and they'll pop up in your Goodreads feed as they read more books.
Principle 2.2: Friend your favorite authors on Goodreads.
You know how they say, if you want to learn to write, read the books your favorite author reads? Well, here's my twist: if you want to find books you love, read the books your favorite authors read. How do I find that out, you might ask? This is perhaps the true magic of Goodreads. It's such a behemoth in the reading world that it's attracted many, many authors to participate. You can "become a fan" and their reading activity will pop up in your Goodreads feed next to your friends'. Probably the closest I've ever gotten to perfect reading nirvana have been those occasions when I've had conversations on Goodreads with one of my favorite authors about the books of ANOTHER of my favorite authors. Now that's a rush!
Principle 2.3: Check out online recommendation engines.
While still in some ways rudimentary, online recommendation engines can suss out books you might like to try. Goodreads has several built in. Its Netflix style recommendation system that looks at all your books and recommends based on all of them is not terribly good/accurate in my opinion. I find it better to use their "this book is like" system. So, find one of your favorite books on Goodreads. Scroll down the right hand side and you'll see: Readers Also Enjoyed Similar Books. I've found a lot of good stuff this way. There's plenty of other online book recommendation engines as well which I'll cover in a later post.
Principle 2.4: Give 'em a chance: give authors a trial run.
For all that research, books from previously-unknown-to-you authors can always be hit or miss. I like to give an author a trial. I try to be fair - I pick their best-rated book (that's also the first in a series or a stand-alone book. No jumping into the middle of series for me). If I don't like it, no harm-no-foul, I note that in goodreads and I know to avoid that author in the future. If I like it, I have opened up a whole new line of reading, only limited by the amount of books the author has/will pump out!
Principle #3: Utilize your library's hold system
I'll cover Principle #3 in more details in later posts, but here's the synopsis. Most, if not all, libraries at this point have a hold system. If you live in a medium to large sized library district also more than likely your library has a web-version of their catalog that you can use to put holds on books. If your library system contains more than one library, more than likely, they also have developed an inter-library loan system where you can put a hold on a book from a more distant library and have it shipped to the library nearest you.
Let the following sink in: if you have access to the above components, you have at your fingertips what's essentially a FREE NETFLIX FOR BOOKS - you select the book online, it's shipped to you (in this case, to near you, not quite as convenient as your mailbox, but all in all still pretty dang convenient and amazing). You have already created your "Netflix" queue of books on Goodreads, so let's put in some holds!
Principle #4: Timing is everything: Remember to put your holds in for your next set of books when you're running low.
Timing is crucial, don't wait til you're OUT of books, as most library hold systems have around a week delay from the point of putting in the hold to the point it's available for pickup. So when you're running low (whatever a weeks worth of books is for you), pull up your Goodreads to-read list, your online library catalog and get started putting in holds! Go with your gut when picking books off your list - don't force yourself to go with whatever is next on the list, but browse through the selection and see what calls to you right now. Remember to keep in mind your personal ratio for Level 1, 2, 3 books. You'll need more level 3 books, than level 2 and 3 books.