Random Thoughts: Choosing the next book

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Kate over at Books Are My Favourite and Best posted something interesting recently. The comments in response are also interesting. The question Kate answers in her post is how she chooses the next book to read.

I’ve been thinking about my reading patterns recently, partly because of a comment that Weezelle made on my post about Negroland. Like Kate and some of the other bloggers who commented on her post, I sometimes have ‘reading rolls’. Weezelle likened it to a zeal for self education. I think of it as part of my obsessive nature that comes out when something actual and not very controllable is happening in my life and I need something that I can control to distract me. Recently this has been about reading more writers of colour and getting an authentic take on what it’s like to be a person of colour in a predominantly white world. That I exist in a state of cultural privilege is something I take for granted, and it’s something that I want to understand better so that I don’t carry on taking advantage of it unthinkingly.

That’s all very worthy, Jan, and possibly a touch virtue signally. The underlying reason for this current zeal is that I am working through some stuff in the aftermath of caring for a parent with dementia for six years and struggling with the grieving process. Talking to a counsellor is helping me to understand things about myself that I’d never thought to question. It’s challenging me to recognise that I need to change my thinking and scaring me because I don’t like change. So what better way to feel more in control of change by picking something straightforward and reading around the subject?

Oh, the human brain.

A concentrated interest in a particular subject/writer/genre isn’t the only way I choose what to read. In less anxious periods, it’s about what I’m generally in the mood for, whether I want something easy or challenging, something funny or emotional, something quick or substantial. Not that it’s ever as binary as that, of course, but you know what I’m saying. Mood choices involve standing in front of the teetering book piles (why lie, there’s more than one – two of them are in the image above), looking through my To Read category on the Kindle, or checking what’s in at the library on one of my various saved lists.

Clearing the tsundoku (or rather, halving it) is my main impetus for what to read next this year. I use LibraryThing to keep track of what I have and haven’t read. This year I’ve made a tag for books I want to move from the To Read category (virtual and actual) to the Everything I’ve Read So Far category. I’ve half heartedly banned myself from buying new books this year. In practice, I’m letting myself buy one book for each that I clear from the tsundoku. So, yeah. It’s going great.

Like Kate, I also have half an eye on literary prizes. My main interest is in the Women’s Prize for Fiction, but I also cast an eye over the Booker since The Reader’s Room usually puts together a shadow panel, and I like to see what my library is prepared to stock from the Stella Prize in Australia, based on what Kate and Weezelle recommend. I never attempt to read everything that is long or shortlisted for these prizes, rather I pick the ones that grab me.

Then there are the reading challenges set by The Reader’s Room throughout the year. Sometimes these link up with other ways that I pick what to read, particularly clearing my book backlog, but mostly they involve borrowing books from the library, which isn’t really cheating on the No New Books ban.

I am also easily led. I’ve had to discipline myself with reading other people’s reviews because it always leads to me adding books to my wishlist, and quite often will persuade me to get my hands on something straight away when someone gives a book a good write up. My go-to bloggers are in my blog roll, but the four who cause most damage to my wishlist are Cathy, Kate, Miri and Weezelle. Brontë is busy being a new mum but she’s still an occasional culprit, as can be The Reader’s Room. Allied to other bloggers’ reviews is personal recommendation. There is a handful of people I know whose reading tastes are close to mine and if they say I should read something, then I know that I should read said something.

Those are the ways that I choose the next book.

I was interested by how many of the commenters on Kate’s post listen to audio books. I know a few people who read this way. I’ve never taken to it. I think it’s because I’m a visual reader, and someone narrating a story to me interrupts my imagination. This is strange because, when I was a child, being read to was a favourite thing. I had records with famous actors reading fairy tales, Arthur Lowe reading the Mr Men books, and would listen with enchantment as my mind pictured what they were describing. I think that I don’t listen in the same way that I did back then. When I have listened to a book, I’ve been doing something else at the same time. Driving, housework, routine tasks at work. It’s not really conducive to the immersive reading experience I like.

I was also interested in how many people have more than one book on the go and dip in and out as the mood takes them. I can’t do that. I feel like I’m cheating on the other books by not giving them my undivided attention. I have always been this way about books. I go deep into them. I can shut the world out completely when I’m reading.

What about you?

4 thoughts on “Random Thoughts: Choosing the next book

  1. Sorry (not sorry) that I do so much damage to your TBR stack!

    I’m conscious that there are times that I actively think about what to read next and other times when my choice is seemingly automatic – your post has made me wonder how much of this is driven by what else is going on in my life at the same time. For example, I have tonnes of study to do at the moment and I’m in the last week of Stella reading – my Stella reading has been a bit stop-start this year and I think it is largely because I’m not enjoying the ‘pressure’ of study AND Prize reading.

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    1. Well, you know that I don’t mind having new books to desire!

      I wonder whether the decision to blog about reading contributes to what we choose to read, as well, and adds to that sense of ‘pressure’. Last year, I’d got to a place where the pressure of reading to targets, reading more and reading quickly was taking away some of the enjoyment of reading, which is daft! I had a definite transition to reading to escape reality four or five years ago because of what was going on, and I think I’m more conscious of other influences on my reading now. I’ve noticed that something as simple as working on an exhibition has influenced my reading over the last six months, for example.

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  2. I try to switch up the kinds of books I read so that I don’t get too fixated on a particular writer/genre/style (which should be quite easy as my reading tastes are so eclectic). But I also find myself in a reading roll sometimes!

    I also can’t have more than one book on the go at any one time. Just the thought of trying to juggle another book on top of my current one makes me feel quite anxious. I honestly don’t know how other people do it.

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