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?