I buy too many books.
I see a book that looks mildly interesting on Instagram and save it to my TBR Instagram Collection. I come across interesting articles on LitHub, enjoy the writing or subject, and save the author’s most recent book to my Amazon wish list. I realize that an author who wrote a book I liked has another book…or two…or three…so I buy more of his books for my collection, figuring that I’ll read it some day. I buy them because I write in books, so borrowing from a friend or a library would result in some annoyed friends or libraries.
But the problem is that at this rate, I’ll never read all the books I buy. Honestly, even if I stopped buying books today, I’d have years of new reading material on my shelves. I want to read more, in general, but I need to be more intentional about my choices, especially in which books I spend money on.
So I’m going to try an experiment to be more intentional about buying books. It’s not exactly revolutionary; many people follow these steps when deciding what books to read or buy next. But it’s new for me, and it’s a welcome change. I need more structure in my book-buying habit.
My husband and I find ourselves working and studying in the closest Barnes & Noble a few times a month or more. I usually browse a bit, but my browsing is unstructured, often including a glance at the summary on the jacket, or the cover art, maybe a few pages of actual text, or even which authors wrote blurbs about the book.
Instead of this somewhat aimless browsing, I’m going to use a few minutes of our Barnes & Noble visits to sit down with a book or two and really examine it. I’ll read a few pages and evaluate it based on the following criteria:
Other than Instagram recommendations, this is generally the main thing I read about a book before deciding to put it on my to read list or buy it. So it seems important to include this in my evaluations.
The summary has get my attention just by describing the bare bones of the book: Do the characters sound similar enough to me that I might learn about myself by reading about them? Or are they different enough from me that I want to read about their perspective and learn something new about the world? Does the plot sound mildly interesting? Are there promises of delightful prose or humor? These are the type of things I’m looking for in a book’s summary.
No one is immune from cover buys. I’ve done it before. The cover is not the most important factor when deciding whether to buy and read the book, but the cover is often indicative of the publisher’s intended reader. That means it’s interesting to read into it (haha) and extrapolate a bit of information about who the publisher thinks will want to read this (and then evaluate whether or not I do want to read it).
The first line can tell you a lot about a book and the author’s skill. I’ll share the first line of the book and tell you my thoughts on it. Of course, this is rather arbitrary, as bad first lines don’t necessarily mean the entire book will be bad; it might just mean the author isn’t as good at introductions. But the first line is the first interaction a reader has with the book’s text, so it’s worth looking into.
The first pages of the book
I don’t want to read too much of the book I’m evaluating, but I also don’t want to underrepresent the book. I’ll read a few pages until I feel comfortable speaking about the style, characters, and anything else noteworthy that the author is doing right away to draw the reader in. As I said, not all writers are great at writing beginnings, but from a reader’s and editor’s perspective, the first few pages of a book or manuscript are essential in deciding whether to keep reading and whether to give this book any time.
Even within a few pages of prose (or poetry, or whatever), an author’s style is evident. Style isn’t necessary the end-all, be-all of my decision to read a book, but it definitely plays a factor. And it’s not even that an author’s style is good or bad; sometimes, I just don’t feel like reading a book that will take actual brain power to read and appreciate. Sometimes, I just want a book that’s written with an invisible style—a quick read that doesn’t draw attention to its awkward phrasings and word choices but won’t necessarily thrill me as I read brilliant metaphors or amazing alliteration. I’ll make note of the author’s style and include my subjective opinion on it—feel free to disagree!
If you commit to reading a book, you need to have some sort of connection to the character(s), even if it’s a “I hate them so much! But I want to see how awful they are or whether they get what they deserve!” type of relationship. Within the first few pages of a novel, a good author should introduce us to a character or two and let us get to know the person we’ll be spending the next couple hundred pages with. If the main character doesn’t seem especially compelling after a few pages, it might not be worth reading an entire book about her.
Final judgment: To read or not to read
I’ll end each post with a summary judgment: to read or not to read? This sounds like pretty standard fare for any review, but I actually have a hard time giving a book (or any other product or experience) a rating or thumbs-up/thumbs-down. I prefer to explore the nuance of a work, but that’s not the point of this series. The point is: Is this book worth buying and reading?