It took me a long time to figure out how to choose a good book.
I am an avid reader (for what my current life circumstances allow). I consume fiction like popcorn, promising myself “just one more page” until I look up at an angry clock whose hour hand staunchly points to a heartbreakingly tiny number.
This side of 10 years ago, however, I would have told you I hated fiction and I only read non-fiction. I would have been firm about it. “I feel like I’m wasting my time if I’m not actually learning something.” I would say in ignorant smugness.
My problem was I was choosing terrible books.
Over the years I’ve found what works and doesn’t work for me and I recently noticed a pattern for how I assess books before reading them. It’s not surefire, but I’ve also only had 1 DNF in the last year. Hopefully you’ll find it helpful, too.
HOW TO CHOOSE A GOOD BOOK
Know thyself. I don’t even try the YA or Sci-fi/Fantasy section. I know there are loads of people who love YA, but I just can’t get into them. And sci-if/fantasy…I mean, I’ll watch it if Hugh Jackman is Wolverine, but outside of that I have no interest. I typically make a beeline for the fiction, history, or biographies. Oh, and yes, the cookbooks. (Perhaps it’s more of a bumble beeline.)
Conventional wisdom to the wind, I do judge a a book by its cover. If I haven’t heard of it AND it isn’t pretty? It likely won’t make consideration. Speaking of which, have you seen @judgebymycovers work?
When I read the back, I pass over the summary to the accolades. If someone like Danielle Steele is singing praises, I’m out. If another author I really like- say, George Saunders- says it’s worth reading, or even gives a trite “a triumph”, “a timely and important story for our generation”, or “a delight” -it counts another point in the book’s favour.
I LOVE a good epigraph. An epigraph is a wee quote or saying at the start of a book. You’ll usually find it on its own page (though some authors have one heading each section or chapter). I love how random they seem at the start, yet how they grow into meaningful signposts as the book’s themes unfold.
THE OPENING PARAGRAPH
“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.”
I mean, really- that is a fantastic opening line, Jane.
Or consider my eldest’s favourite…
“In fairy-tales, witches always wear silly black hats and black coats, and they ride on broomsticks. But this is not a fairy-tale. This is about REAL WITCHES.”
Her eyes widened in delight when I read that paragraph.
Much like my eyes did when I opened up Pride and Prejudice.
Bonus: A PERSONAL RECOMMENDATION
Even if all of these fail, a stellar review by a good book buddy whose tastes overlap with mine is a shoe-in. Which just goes to show maybe my check list needs a little work after all.