How I Choose Books

IMG_20140709_152639348Recently I’ve been thinking about how I choose books and why I choose them.

Since I discovered this part of the Internet where like-minded people talk about books and I started blogging myself, the majority of my TBR list has been filled with the books talked about by bloggers and Booktubers. After reading reviews or watching videos, I find myself adding to the Word document that is my TBR, and it’s continually increasing.

But then I think back to how I chose books before I even knew this corner of the Internet existed and before I started recording and reviewing the books that I read. I was an avid library user (I still am, but I don’t borrow as many books as I used to as a child) and I used to make trips to the library to return my books and scour the shelves for my next reads. My head tilted to one side to read the spines, I’d walk slowly along the shelves, picking out titles that looked interesting, look at their covers, read their blurbs, and if I liked what I read, it would stay in my arms. The pile would build, full of titles and blurbs that held promises of an interesting and engrossing story. And when I’d had my fill – or reached the limit of the number of books I could borrow in a week – I’d make my way to the desk (and later, the self-service machines that we now have to use) and check-out my books. I’d go home and read. More often than not, I’d read nearly all of the books I’d chosen, one after the other, devouring each one.

Recently, I’ve begun using my library service in a different way – now, I order books through their online catalogue. It’s a great, invaluable service and one that I will continue to use. Now when I need something to read, I look through my TBR list, choose a few books, and order them through the library online service. The library will phone me when they’ve come in, and I’ll go and pick them up. I love this way of using the library – I’m always coming home with the books that I’ve chosen, that have been recommended, where I have an idea of the writing style or plot or characters because someone’s reviewed the book or recommended it to me. I know the type or genre of books I’ll be reading and, in some ways, what to expect. This way of choosing books means that I rarely read a book that I don’t like or don’t enjoy – because I know what I’m getting.

When I used to scour the library shelves for my next read, I didn’t know what lay around the corner; I didn’t know if I was going to like a certain book and I went into reading it with no expectations, no preconceptions, and little knowledge. By ordering my books online now, I know that there’s less chance of spending my time reading a book that I don’t like. And this is great.

But I miss that organic way of choosing books. That way of walking along my own path and unexpectedly finding authors whose work I enjoy, the kinds of stories I like to read, the kind of writing style that I admire. I’m not saying that I don’t want to add books that are written about on blogs and talked about on Youtube videos to my TBR list – there are too many great books being talked about that I’ll miss out on. But I’d like to visit my library or local bookshop more with no titles in mind and run my fingers along the book spines and pick out a book at random, take it home, and see where the story takes me.

There’s no real conclusion to this post, but as this blog is mainly a record of what I’ve read, I wanted to record my current thoughts on my reading/choosing books. I’m not going to stop reading blogs and adding to my TBR list from reading reviews, but my new resolution is to visit my library more often, and not just to pick up the books I’ve ordered, but to choose a book from the shelves. Yes, I might find a book that I don’t like, but that’s okay. Not every book I read has to be brilliant, and who knows, I might find some books that I just can’t recommend enough.

How do you choose books? I’m curious how other people pick their next read, so please let me know in the comments below!


P.S If anyone’s interested, the above photo is of some pages from my copy of Oxford Classics’ edition of Katherine Mansfield’s Selected Short Stories.


23 thoughts on “How I Choose Books

  1. This post is so me! I used to rely heavily on my local library for my books, and then after discovering the blogging community online they were who I turned to for my next read.

    Earlier on in the year I had a month where I read all books from my local library, not only to make good use of a valuable public service, but to go back to my reading roots, so to speak. I loved it! I’m contemplating, only contemplating mind you, about taking this further and reading only from the library next year. I want to discover new books and authors, delve in to the unknown, make use of the library service that really and truly we are quite lucky to still have what with all the cuts going on nowadays. We’ll see if I actually go ahead with this idea though, I’ve a few months left to toy with it. Also, I’ll be having another library month later on the year too, just to see how I go again.

    On a bit of an off topic point, don’t you just hate those self service checkouts in libraries?! Just stay traditional, please! Everything is becoming electronic these days!

    Great post, Gemma! One thing I always enjoy about your posts, aside from the content itself, is how well you use words and articulate things.

    • I like the sound of reading only from the library for a year – it’s really ambitious but a great idea because, like you said, the library really is such a valuable public service that I’m sure we’d all be very sad to lose (I know I would be!) Let me know if you decide to go ahead with it!

      I agree about the self service checkouts – I want to talk to a real person haha. And I kind of miss the stamps in the book’s first page letting you know when it’s due back….

      Thank you for your lovely comment Jade 🙂

  2. I have to admit that since I started reading blogs in general, my reading list has been more influenced by books that other bloggers rave about (e.g. The Goldfinch and The Luminaries are top of my TBR list). I actually quite like the way other bloggers influence me, as otherwise I would be quite a lazy reader, and just read crime novel after crime novel, even though I really enjoy other types of fiction.

    Before, I’d usually pick books based on the author, or friend recommendations. Sometimes (I feel bad admitting to this!), I’ll still choose a book based on the cover, or the title. I KNOW. But it has led to some interesting finds, and I’ve discovered books and authors that I wouldn’t have found otherwise.

    This was such an interesting post to read! 🙂

    • I like that I get recommendations from other bloggers too – I’ve read so many great books that I probably wouldn’t have picked up before.

      I’ll still sometimes choose a book based on the cover too..but I think it has led to me finding some good books!

      Thank you Charlotte – thanks for reading and commenting 🙂

  3. I think that’s my only complaint about following so many great book blogs (and it’s not really a complaint)…I get so many book titles from them to add to my To Read list that I don’t have as much time any more for serendipitous finds….whether at the library or the book store. And I miss it sometimes: finding that book that no one else has read, that one perfect book I didn’t even know existed. But I also don’t want to miss out on reading all of those books I’ve read reviews of that sound so wonderful! It’s a bookish Catch-22.

  4. I used to love browsing the library shelves for random choices too – haven’t done it for years. You’ve made me nostalgic for those days. I used to make myself little rules, like picking at least one book from a different letter of the alphabet each visit, or making sure my choices came from at least three different sections of the library. These days I’m very influenced by other bloggers and also by the literary prize shortlists a bit, and I also spend far too much time browsing Amazon. But I still have little rules for myself… 😉

    • Those sound like great rules – I might use that idea when I browse the library shelves! I forgot to mention prize shortlists in the post, but I find books through those too.

  5. I agree, I used to use the library a lot more for just browsing and picking things up. I’ve discovered a few great books that way, but also a few stinkers! These days I mostly look at the reviews in The Guardian on a Saturday or what other bloggers I’m following have read that I think looks good. And I trawl through the offerings on NetGalley. I don’t have an actual TBR list, I think I would find it too daunting, it would be thousands long! I mark things as “Want to Read” on Goodreads though from time to time.

    • I think one of the great things about browsing the library or bookshops is that, even though you might find some books that aren’t great, you can also stumble upon a new favourite! I never used to have a TBR list, but because I kept finding new books through bloggers etc I needed a place to keep track of them all!

  6. This is such a lovely post Gemma. I haven’t browsed a library like that since I was a child, and haven’t actually used one since I left university (terrible I know!). I agree that choosing books needs to be organic – as you know that’s something I’m trying to work towards. Very well written post, too!

  7. Unfortunately, my local library is so small that its own stock of fiction probably doesn’t number more than a couple of thousand so ordering what I want is really the only way to go. I do know what you mean, however, because I used to choose books in a similar way when I was small. I seem, now, to have transferred this sort of behaviour to my visits to secondhand book shops, because they too are places where you can never be certain what you are going to find and for me wonderful cornucopias as a result.

    • My local library’s quite small too which is one of the reasons I started ordering books in, but hopefully if I visit more I can still find some great books. I love secondhand book shops, you can find some wonderful books there!

  8. This was a beautiful post, I really enjoyed it. 🙂 I was never a big user of the library – mostly because my closest one was difficult for me to get to when I was younger, but I did go though a stage of using it regularly at one point. I also found some great books in my school library too. I felt the same excitement at the thought of finding unknown books, unearthing hidden gems was awesome! However, I haven’t been to the library in years. I love the book blogging community, I’m never wanting for recommendations and my tbr pile has spiraled out of control but as you’ve touched on here, there can be a downside too. Now I am aware of all the insane hype around a book before I pick it up and that can affect my enjoyment of it sometimes so I also consciously try to pick up books second hand that I haven’t heard of to balance it out.
    I think the real crunch point with libraries for me was that I had to give the books back! It caused me too much emotional stress, I wanted to keep them forever. 😛

    As for picking my next read, I tend to pick whatever I’m in the mood for, I have so many unread books that I have a lot to choose from!

    Great thought provoking post.

    • Thank you, Becky! I love the book blogging community too, because I’ve learnt about so many books I might not have stumbled across myself. I agree with you about having to give books back when you borrow them from the library – especially when you find a book you love! I’ve actually started writing a list of the books I’ve borrowed from the library and now want to buy… Thanks for reading and commenting 🙂

  9. Ahhh I miss visiting a library!! There is one here, in my wee town in the Netherlands, but it is tiny and is on it’s way to closing down I think : ( Not enough people make use of these wondrous buildings, and that makes me sad!! Even worse, JUST before I left Birmingham, they opened their brand new shiny HUGE library!! Typical huh?!


    • Oh no, I hate to hear of libraries closing down! Hopefully you can find another library that’s not too far away so you can start visiting again?

  10. I love this post – it’s so relatable! I’ve had a Goodreads account since 2009, and ever since then, I’ve become way picker in choosing my books. It’s sort of like, well, even as a nineteen-year-old, I know I’ll only be able to read X amount of books in my life, so I might as well try to sift through all the ones at the library or bookstore ahead of time and choose the books that I’ll like the most. The web has definitely helped me with that, and it’s lessened the amount of time I’ve spent reading books that I either dislike or have “eh” feelings about. Still, though, there’s a certain novelty or rush that comes with picking out a book at the library or the bookstore without knowing what you’re getting yourself into; I rarely do it nowadays, but sometimes I do. So even though you state that your post lacks a conclusion, I feel that it really just involves finding a balance between the old and the new, the known and the unknown: sort of like a book-shopping adventure. (:

    • Thanks, Thomas! I know what you mean about knowing you’ll only be able to read x amount of books – it’s really overwhelming at times so, you’re right, it’s good to choose books ahead of time so you don’t end up reading books you dislike. I love your idea of finding a balance between the old and the new, known and unknown – it’s great advice! Thanks for reading and commenting 🙂

  11. I mainly choose books via recommendation of bloggers and from catching up on classics. I used to go mainly by blurbs on the back of books, but I found I ended up reading very similar sorts of things and didn’t really push myself beyond popular fiction.

    • I’ve found that too – getting recommendations from bloggers can push you to read books you might not have picked up otherwise. Thanks for reading and commenting 🙂

  12. Pingback: Reading Resolutions 2015 | The Perfectionist Pen

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