Eeny, Meeny, Miny, Moe; Or, How We Choose Books

When I was a child, my parents chose what books to read to me, and what books I read. In elementary school, I based my book choices around what looked interesting in the Scholastic flyers that we found on our desks after recess, and what book covers looked interesting from the clear plastic bins full of random books in my homeroom. And by “interesting”, I really mean colorful and shiny and preferably with animals and smiling faces on the covers. My parents also took me on library book sale runs, where I chose books based on shininess and prettiness of the covers.

By the time I got to middle school, I was picking out books – again, mostly randomly – from my parents’ bookshelves (and ended up being the only kid who brought thick hardcovers by John Grisham or Martin Seligman to school for reading periods). I also chose books by my favorite authors and chose books by genre at the library; by being lazy, I found Philip Pullman and Gail Carson Levine only because their books were shelved near those of Tamora Pierce, my favorite author of all time (whose books I found by chance at a library book sale run). And so began my preference for science fiction and fantasy books...

It was only during high school when I first got book recommendations from bookish friends, but these were, again, in the SF/F category. I still chose books randomly, albeit more genre-specific now than before, but I didn’t start looking at bestseller lists until 2008, when Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers came out. During college, I chose books based on popularity by browsing through bestseller lists, and after discovering Goodreads, started relying more on book recommendations for my book choices.

But this reliance on book recommendations seems irrational at times: just because other people like a book, does that mean there’s a greater chance that I’ll like it too? (Someone show me the research backing this assumption!) Sometimes I wish I could go back to the days when I chose books more randomly, but then will I end up reading more “bad” books? Life’s too short for books that we don’t care about, so does reading recommended or popular books decrease the chance that we end up reading books we don’t enjoy? Or, another question to pose is this: are we scared of reading bad books? But I’ll save that topic for another post, or else I run the risk of losing your interest, haha.

So tell me, how do you choose what books to read? How have your book-choosing habits changed throughout your life, and why?

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9 thoughts on “Eeny, Meeny, Miny, Moe; Or, How We Choose Books

  1. My de facto method has been to go to the library and scan the shelves from A-Z, picking out books with eye-catching spines or interesting book titles. I’ve been doing that since I was seven or eight. Haha. But now I couple that with the GR app on my phone, so I can also keep track of books on my TBR shelf. I’m also very guilty of scanning ISBNs at the library and bookstores to check out GR ratings and reviews to decide if I want the book in my hand or not. Heh. I’ve never really cared much for bestseller lists though. I can probably count the number of times I read a book purely because it’s a popular title with both my hands.

    • Oh wow, that GR app sounds so cool! And I admire your ability to ignore bestseller lists – I always seem to be drawn to them (as well as to the “popular books” sections on Goodreads), and I just want to go back to choosing books based on their covers, dust jacket blurbs, and titles. Popular titles sometimes feel like peer pressure to me, like they’re saying, “Other people like me, so you should too.” :S

  2. This is a great discussion post! When I was little I think I chose books based on the Scholastic flyers, too. And then eventually I just started looking at the books available for sale at Walmart/Target when my mom would take me shopping, and those are usually best-sellers or recently popular titles, so those were the ones I read. And basically anything I thought looked interesting at the library or maybe a book by an author I saw my parents reading. I didn’t start seeking out recommendations until probably I was in college (I graduated in 2012), and I started checking out Goodreads or stuff people talked about in my classes. And then it transformed into getting recs from BookTube and book blogs, and that’s my story! Now I usually know about books before they’ve even been published, based on catalogs and Goodreads, but I’m always finding new stuff from blogs and friends on Goodreads that I haven’t heard about. I’m so glad that I joined this community, otherwise I never would’ve read a whole bunch of the AMAZING books I’ve read recently.

    • Looks like our book-choosing experiences are pretty similar, Miranda! I agree that the book blogging community is great for getting book recs, and I think of the catalogs as the new version of the Scholastic flyers, in a way. 🙂 I still miss the randomness and lack of expectations of choosing books the old way, though!

  3. Being involved in the book blogging community helps to expose you to new books, but I’m still a fan of the old, “If you like X, then you’ll love Y!” I also love pretty covers, and find it encouraging when an author I respect reviews a new book.

    • I love pretty covers too, Samantha! 😀 I did get some “If you like X, then you’ll love Y” from friends in the past, and I’ve found some great books and authors that way. I only recently found out about author reviews, and I like the ones I’ve seen so far.

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