The logic of the to-be-read list

Monday, May 19, 2014


I’ve been thinking lately about how books get on my radar. I usually consider reading a book for one of three reasons:

(Note, this is all regarding books by authors I’ve never tried before. Authors I follow, I already know whether I’m going to read their next one.)

One: Proximity and Pretty Covers

There have been times in my life, some not so long ago, in which the easiest way for an unknown book to end up on my list was for it to be available at my local library and have an interesting cover.

That’s how I read Recursion and Illium and By the Mountain Bound when we lived in New York. It’s why I picked up books from the middle of these series before reading the first one: Lost Fleet, Mercy Thompson, Kris Longknife, probably others. It’s why I’ve read a great deal of odd/obscure stuff from the 90’s. The Winter of the World. King of Morning, Queen of Day. It’s probably how I started on Anne McCaffery and Mercedes Lackey. In the town where I grew up, I eventually read almost everything in the sci-fi/fantasy section of the library.

I don’t discover many books this way these days, because I have trouble finding time to browse at the library and I prefer to read on my kindle, although similar logic does sometimes apply to books found on the dollar rack, like The Price of the Stars, or books that I’m considering requesting galleys of. On Netgalley, a pretty cover and an intriguing synopsis go a long way.

Two: Research

When I started this blog, I did a lot of themed reading. I wanted to read and compare a bunch of books on a similar topic. This required some amount of thought and research, to figure out which books I wanted to read or re-read on each subject, and then to seek out those specific books.

Today, I am still doing this with my project to read all the Hugos, although I am working my way through slowly and reading lots of other things in the meantime.

Three: Recommendations and References

Subtype One: IRL

I have a mixed history with recommendations from my friends. (Don’t we all?) Orphans of Chaos was a recent notable miss, and I wasn’t too fond of Kushiel’s Dart, which was recommended by a friend, but it goes way back for me. My high school friends thought I’d like Wheel of Time. They were, shall we say, wrong.

Of course they’re not all misses. Multiple people told me that if I wanted to read military fantasy, I should read Chronicles of The Black Company. Loved it. More than one person mentioned The Beekeeper’s Apprentice in a short period and I’m still reading that series. Special shout-out to my one-time co-worker ‘Buddha’ who saw that I was reading David Weber and suggested I try Lois McMaster Bujold. THANK YOU.

So a recommendation is enough to get me to consider a book, but not a guarantee.

Subtype Two: Virtual Readers in a Virtual World

Do you know who I trust recommendations from today the most? Two women I’ve never met.

I don’t always agree with them, and I basically ignore all the YA, but I have found more great books on recommendation from The Book Smugglers than anything else. I like that they’re clear about what they like and don’t like, and they like a LOT of the same things I like. Champion of the Rose, and all of Andrea K. Host, now my favorite indie author? Read about her first there. Fortune’s Pawn, which I just read and adored? I started to keep an eye out for the series when the author was interviewed on their site. I read my first Diana Wynne Jones because of a read-along there, and found it quite intriguing. If you’ve been mentioned positively there, and then I spot your book on sale, I’ll grab it.

I mean, I even found out about Code Name: Verity on their site, and eventually pressed it on all my friends.

There are other book bloggers I follow and consider their recommendations, although I’ve been burned occasionally.

Recently, I’ve read or considered reading books that I heard about on why I might call feminist-culture sites like The Hairpin or the Toast. Books like The Thing Around Your Neck or Smile at Strangers: And Other Lessons in the Art of Living Fearlessly. It’s been interesting expanding my genres some, although I haven’t written any reviews for this site about these books.

New comics and graphic novels I most often hear about on comic news sites, or I read an excerpt on Scans Daily. I love Scans Daily.

From radar to reading

So those are all the ways I hear about a book and consider reading it. But then I have to pick a book from that messy pile to read next. First question is whether any of the books are time sensitive: from the library, or galleys with an upcoming publication date. After that, these days I like to jump around. If I’ve just read a bunch of sci-fi, I might reach for historical fantasy next. If I’ve read a lot of long books - something short, a lot of euro-centric fantasy - follow with some Octavia Butler. New books, change it up with some classics.

I have a huge to-read list, and it grows faster than it shrinks. I recently cataloged most of my books, and I have about 37 books on my kindle I haven’t read, and about 200 hard copy books. Over half of those are graphic novels, though, books I either haven’t read or can’t remember whether I’ve read. Still, a lot are novels that I bought since 2012 (see the dollar rack reference above) and haven’t read.

I probably have enough of a to-read list for now.

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