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What do I read next?

It’s a question we’ve all asked ourselves. I often talk with friends, coworkers, and scour the internet looking for my next great read, but one avenue I almost never turn to is, perhaps, the most obvious: book reviews. Book reviews serve a variety of purposes, but their main objective is to help readers choose what to read next. I frequent the book review sections in papers, such as The New York Times, USA Today, and Wall Street Journal, as well as the “Briefly Noted” section in The New Yorker, but I can’t recall one instance in which I ever actually read a book recommended from one of these reviews.

So I’m wondering, am I alone in this tendency? Do others do the same thing: read book reviews but never actually pick up the books being reviewed? For some opinions on the matter, I turned to our interns. And I couldn’t have said it better myself.

When I’m trying to figure out what to read next, I don’t take reviews into great account. At bookstores, I make selections based on covers and jacket copy, but don’t pay much attention to endorsements and praise unless it’s coming from someone in whom I already have an interest (typically, authors whose books I have enjoyed.) On my iPad, I usually select from whatever Oyster recommends based on other books I’ve rated. A lot of other books I read come recommended by my grandmother and her gal pals. When I do look at reviews, it’s usually on Goodreads or Amazon, because many of those users post plot synopses that are more detailed than what the publisher offers. In the end, I try to make my own judgments and not let them be swayed by what others may think about a story. Weirdly, despite the fact that I don’t use reviews as a deciding factor in my reading choices, I still have made a point recently to post reviews of books I’ve read to my personal blog. 

As much as it pains me to admit, I primarily rely on Amazon when I am looking for book reviews. Generally, I don’t frequently read the reviews posted by users, but I do look to see how many stars a book has received. Anything less than three stars, and I get nervous about purchasing the book. But while I do look at the ratings, I primarily decide on what books to read based what my friends suggest. I trust that my friends will know more about my likes and dislikes when it comes to books than some random Amazon reviewer. For example, a book may have three stars on Amazon, but if my friend recommends it to me, chances are, I will still purchase the book. When I do read Amazon customer feedback, I generally read the one or two star reviews. I find those to be much more honest and entertaining. I also will use Publisher’s Weekly for suggestions and reviews, as well as some blogs.

Let’s face it: Amazon’s library and Barnes & Noble’s shelves are overwhelming. I can easily spend more time reading reviews than I’ll spend on the novel itself, and it’s hard to be sure reviewer K.Reader978 has more discerning taste than Good_Books4U. I solve this by starting my book hunts with someone’s personal recommendation. While that someone is often an enthusiastic friend, I found some of my recent favorites through a blogger’s musings, or buzz on my Twitter feed about upcoming debuts. It’s rare for a book to be a total flop if someone’s taken the time to rave about it for four paragraphs. Before buying, though, I get some groupthink insurance by scrolling through Amazon reviews. Weirdly, long-winded three-star-awarding purchasers are the most accurate. Fellow essay-trained humanities majors unite?

So now I’ll ask our readers: how do you decide what to read next? Do book reviews play a major factor? Sound off in the comments.

3 Responses to What do I read next?

  1. Megan says:

    I collect candidate books for my next read from any number of sources: books recommended by certain authors on their blogs, books that keep popping up on my local library’s “recently returned” list, books that rank high on Goodreads in terms of nr. of stars and reviews. If I’m in a brick-and-mortar, I typically browse the ‘new releases’ shelf and/or a couple of genres shelves, and pick based on title, cover art and synopsis (like someone else said). HOWEVER: the litmus test is how the first 3 pages read. I have discarded about 90% of my candidates that way.

  2. Aonghus Fallon says:

    I think a good book review is an art form in its own right. I enjoy reading them – poring over the Guardian’s Review section is the highlight of my week-end – but I could count the number of books I’ve bought (based on a review) on the fingers of one hand. Frequently the book review is a substitute for actually reading the book itself: TLS reviews are so comprehensive that sometimes it feels like you actually are reading the book in question- for example, I know the plots and themes of around seven or eight Philip Roth books, but have never read any of them.

  3. Pingback: 3 Things that Surprised Me about Interning for a Literary Agency | Hermione's Handbag

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