Which book should you read next?
You already have a reading list for the next few years, ah, excuse me, please skip this blog post.
You’re still here? Good, let me explain myself. WordPress bloggers regularly ask strangers on the internet for reading advice. And assuming bloggers aren’t an entirely exceptional race, it’s a dilemma pressing on a nontrivial percentage of human minds.
Unless you’re entirely inexperienced with books (in which case you should say so), or you’re asking advice on choosing between specific books, for a specific reason, where you can expect a reasonable, meaningful, non-random answer: why ask anyone at all? Sure, you could ask your childhood librarian friend who knows you better than you know yourself. But the librarian internet is not to be trusted to bounce back friendly answers every time. Better search for the answer yourself, trust me.
Indeed, here’s my proposed method to narrow down the book universe to your next literary companion.
(Caveat, book enthusiasts who are still somehow reading this post: not everyone cultivates long lists of books, titled: To Read Soon, To Read Sooner or Later, To Read Before I Die; not everyone can’t decide on their next book because they’re paralysed by a desire to read every single book, now, and therefore not everyone defaults to the obvious solution of starting a dozen books simultaneously. Wait, maybe that’s only me.)
Finally to address the issue: which book should you read next?
You have no preference whatsoever?
No, I don’t believe you.
But you have none, you swear.
Alright, in that case pick the first title here, on my blog, that you haven’t read and problem solved! (Can’t find one you haven’t read, head over to my Goodreads and pick from a list of a thousand plus.)
Aha, so you do have a preference after all, you don’t want a random selection.
Play, poetry, or prose?
Prose, yes, well that’s not the obvious answer, but let’s assume so.
Fiction or non-fiction?
That much you know, fiction, good, good. Again, not the obvious answer, there are some excellent non-fiction books.
What about topic, epoch, literary or genre, children’s, young adult, or adult, first or third person point of view, omniscient, primarily narrative or dialogue, experimental, lyrical …?
Sorry, that wasn’t helpful. Let’s try again.
What do you feel like reading?
Nope, not helpful either, alright. Here’s a specific question.
When you think of reading a book (surely, you must think of it, as you expressed a desire to be advised), which book comes to mind?
Yes, yes, a book that you’ve read, enjoyed, and you wished you could read one just like it, but not just like it, one that is similar, but different.
So, you have a couple of candidates. That’s progress.
Now type into your browser search field: books similar to [insert title of book] on Goodreads.
One of the first links will be a list on Goodreads of books also enjoyed by people who have enjoyed your book. (I don’t know how this list is compiled; I’m assuming one of the obvious ways, such as by comparing number of pairwise-correlated likes.) Depending on how typical or unique your books is, you will get a more accurate or less accurate list of approximations.
You’re not convinced, you’d like a second opinion?
Alright, try Amazon. Type in your book title, select the book, then scroll down. First you may see a section Frequently bought together. Check out those books. Then below, there is a section Customers who bought this item also bought. Check out those books.
You’ve browsed around, selected some well-rated books with shiny, appealing covers, and what now? You wanted just one book, but you’re stuck with half a dozen.
Read the blurbs on Amazon and on Goodreads. Flick through some reviews quickly. Look at the best and the worst and a few in the middle, one minute, two, no more. If you have a particular aversion to violence, or you’re fond of multiple whaling scenes, chances are someone will mention this and you’ll be primed to notice the keywords.
Still not sure? Most books have a Look Inside feature on Amazon, or if you’re an ebook fan, you can read a sample before buying the book. For non-fiction books, I find that glancing through the Table of Contents, the Introduction, and the first few pages gives me a good idea of which voice and which story to expect. For fiction books, glancing at the beginning may be less helpful than reading reviews. Indeed, for any slightly more famous book, you may be able to find a descent review (on somewhere like The Guardian or The New Yorker, where there won’t be any spoilers). Always read between the lines: you are looking for what interests you, which is not necessarily the same as what interests the reviewer.
You’ve got it down to two books you’ll enjoy, have you? Ha, still undecided?
Flip a coin. Just flip a bloody coin.
Or disregard all of your fine literary detective work and ask the general, non-specific question in a blog post.
Which book should I read next? you might ask.
You might not get another answer.
Disclaimer: The article above — whilst giving genuine, and the author hopes genuinely useful, advice on how to select books — was affecting a haughty, cynical tone unbecoming of the author’s gentle & genteel nature. It was an exercise in writing using the second-person point of view. The author is all exercised out now; you’re safe for a little while.