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Choosing Books

2-11-2007-157.jpgRecently Danielle shared about how she chooses her books. Upon reading her interesting acquisition process I made a mental note to follow her footsteps. Those of you avid readers, book lovers and “readaholics” would would probably agree that choosing books, shopping for books, hunting for bookings, while fun and addictive, can be time-consuming. As readers we can imperceptibly (am I going too far here) accord feelings for our books–they inhabit on our bookshelves, share the living room with us. Ken also imposed the book choosing question on me when we were browsing Green Apple Books, a local indie. So this is it:

  1. Favorite authors: I tend to read books written by my favorite authors, of whom most are actually dead, like Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, Chekov, Dickens, Maugham, and Flaubert. It isn’t so much of a gesture of faithfulness as a craving for a specific writing style. The robust prose. The elegant writing. The literary flair. Recently I have discovered, thanks to some of you fellow bloggers, Joanne Harris and Jonathan Franzen (I enjoyed his essays more, so hit-home and piercing). So you bet I’ll be knocking on the bookstore’s door when a favorite author releases a new book.
  2. Themes and Genre: I have a preference for historical fiction, literary fiction, Russian literature, and gay literature. The Moleskine Book Reviews reveal numerous titles of modern Russian masterpieces like The Brothers Karamazov, War and Peace, and The Master and Margarita. That R. N. Morris, who just released a novel making use of a character from Crime and Punishment, inevitably sparks my interest. I read The Gentle Axe in a couple days during lunch between classes. Likewise, anything possessing the caliber and along the line with The Name of the Rose, The Egyptian, and The Pillars of Earth will get my attention. For literary fiction, authors who belong to this sub-genre would be Johnville, Kazuo Ishiguro, and Margaret Atwood.
  3. Amazon Customer-Who-Bought-This-Item-Also-Bought List: Even though I have taken my business elsewhere (mostly back to the local indie bookshops), I’m still browsing the site on a regular basis. This list might not always hit the target (I’m not interested in any of the titles related to Suite Francaise), but it gives me a good idea of what to expect. For example, who I type in The Gentle Axe, Amazon also recommends The Book of Air and Shadows and Napoleon’s Pyramids, which I have made a note to remind myself to check it out at the bookstore.
  4. Bloggers: The blogsphere has completely changed my experience as a reader, who now relies on bloggers like Danielle, Iliana (oh yeah especially that mysetry book challenge), Greg, Cipriano, Andi, and Jef for books to read. Through you I’ve found The Shadow Without a Name (a hidden jewel, so many twists, great writing), The Dante Club (academic mysterious thriller), Up At the Villa, and Gentlemen and Players and the current reading The Hummingbird’s Daughter.
  5. Book Magazines: I riffle through Bookmarks and Book Pages for reviews and up coming releases. Just as helpful are the published newsletters from local bookstores like Book Inc. I also read the book sections in New York Times and San Francisco Chronicles but I won’t weigh heavily on bestseller lists of which I’m very mistrustful. I follow my heart and intuition when it comes to buying a book.

Not to mention the frequent bookstore scouring, now with the Ken’s company, when I make my way around the fiction and literature section, looking for titles that might catch my attention. I also pay attention to the highlight sections, i.e. summer reading, African American writers, translated literature (Hunger). When I do find something that might be up to my alley, I read the first 10 or 15 pages and see if I like the story and writing. Sometimes I open to the random page and start reading. Reading the blurb might help but unless I get a feel for the writer’s style, I cannot impose my own presence on the book.

[Picture taken in Hong Kong, Oct 2006.]

8 Responses

  1. I’m mistrustful of bestseller lists too 🙂 This was fun to read Matt. How are you liking Hummingbird’s Daughter? I love it so far.

  2. I like having so many great sources to find good books. I think the internet has widened my horizons vastly when it comes to what I read. I also don’t often read books on bestseller lists, but I like to look at them out of curiosity!

  3. But you did read The Da Vinci Code which was riveted on the bestseller list forever!!!

    Just teasing ok?

    Now how am I going to catch up with you in reading?

  4. I don’t pay attention to the bestseller lists unless a favorite author has topped the chart. But nowadays very rarely do you see literary fiction make the list, even if it does, it only lingers for a short time. Stuffs that are popular are usually over-hype. You’d see them making their way back to the used store like a migrating flock when the wind changes.

  5. Iliana: I just started but I’m pulled into the story already. The calm and specious air of it reminds me of 100 Years of Solitude.

    Danielle: I forgot to mention the wonderful savvy satff of the local indies. They make recommendation and tell me what’s coming up.

    Ken: I thought we have talked about this?! I was curious at the convoluted plot LOL

    John R. : Sometimes I think the so-called bestseller lists is a conspiracy, a hoax. I personally have never seen an independently published book made it to the chart. It’s always the same books that are in your face on display that sit on the list. No?

  6. We’re reading this to discuss at the July book club meeting. I’m looking forward to it because I’ve heard such great things about the author’s style of writing. Sometimes I wonder if I will ever write on such a level.

  7. One more thing I’d like to add is that Entertainment Weekly’s book section is actually a wonderful resource. I’ve read about some wonderful books in that magazine that I wouldn’t have heard about any other way.

  8. This is an awesome post!

    I just finished reading your blog about Phillips’ “The Egyptologist” – just finished it this morning and I loved it. I had no idea it had such a strong gay theme until towards the end. Fabulous.

    I felt a bit daft though – I still don’t know what happened to Hugh and his “blackmailer” in the desert – did they kill each other? Did one kill the other and disappear? I don’t feel like mystery had cleared up for me…

    I’d email the author but I can’t find a way to contact him. Those authors and their privacy! [grin]


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