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?