Deciding whether to read a book

I came across this rather amusing article on 43 folders this morning. It got me thinking about my own criteria for deciding whether to read a book.

There is a definite difference in my approach between fiction and non-fiction. I’ll start with fiction:

  • Is it written by Isaac Asimov, joe_haldeman , Barry N. Malzberg, Robert J. Sawyer?  These pretty much guarantee a read.
  • It is written by someone I know?  This also pretty much guarantees a read.
  • It is on the Best Seller lists?  I am less inclined to read a book just because it is on some "best-seller" list.  I might read it for other reasons.
  • Did a friend recommend it?  Usually I will read books recommended by friends, but as strausmouse  will point out, it can sometimes take a long, long time before I get to it.
  • Does the title have certain keywords in it?  It’s hard to say what these words are at any given moment.  I read The Da Vinci Code before it was ever a best-seller because I was attracted by the words "Da Vinci" and "Code".
  • Is it up for some kind of s.f. award?  I do my best to try and read these, except when…
  • Is it fantasy?  I’m just not a fan of fantasy.  I had my fill.  LOTR was nice.  Xanth was amusing for the first 10 books.  But all of the story-lines started to seem the same to me.  The exception here, of course, is if it was written by Isaac Asimov, Joe Haldeman, Barry Malzberg, or Rob Sawyer; or if it was written by someone I know.

For non-fiction, my approach is often very different, and harder to characterize.  I like reading books on obscure subjects (e.g. Longitude by Dava Sobel, or Literate Programming by Donald Knuth).  Often the non-fiction I read is influenced by the fiction I read.  Sometimes it’s influenced by what I am writing.  With non-fiction, I am particularly attracted to massive books like Gotham, or Will Durant’s Our Oriental Heritage.  I have a soft spot in my heart for history, and an even softer spot for presidential biographies (although I try to avoid presidential autobiographies, unless they are particularly well written, as in the case of Ulysses S. Grant and Jimmy Carter).

In all of my reading, I think I use an innate variant of the page 69 test, but it’s more intuitive.  If I feel myself floundering for more than a day or two, I give up.  Maybe I’ll come back to it eventually (I’ve done this in a few cases), but there’s just too much out there to read to get bogged down.

So how do you decide whether to read a book?


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