Why that book?

A perennial, obsessive question for many novelists is, why did you, reader and customer of novels, choose that book? Did you read a great review? Did you like the cover? Did someone tell you about it? Had you read everything else on the shelf and were just desperate for something new? Was it the only book in the room?

I’ve tried to consider my own habits in my own house. I’ve got a huge to-be-read ocean in my house, and I have the pick of many books. So I have to ask myself, why do I pick up the new books that I do at the store (or online or wherever)? And why do I pick the one to read that I do?

The reason for buying is often word of mouth. Sometimes it’s a cool cover, but honestly, I live in the back of beyond and don’t get to wander happily through bookstores the way I used to, and then too, I have little kids now and so I’m more often herding them in bookstores than I am looking at books. So I now make lists of cool sounding books that people talk about on blogs, in person, and so on.

I also don’t nearly have the time to read that I used to. I am writing books, I’m teaching school, prepping classes, grading papers, herding kids, battling off the dirt and cobwebs in the house, and occasionally trying to keep up with the outside world. So I’ve discovered that one of the things I don’t read much of any more is big fat fantasy. I used to. I used to love them. But now I don’t have time to get through them. So I’m more choosy about them. Which is to say, about once or twice a year I can make time for the doorstop fantasies, and I do because I still love them, and so I try to choose really good ones with great word of mouth.

I like books that finish well-enough that I don’t have to read the second or third in a series if a) it’s not yet available, or b) I never get around to reading it, or c) I can’t read it right away. I read fast, so a book doesn’t have to be short-short. It can be four or five hundred pages and I can get through it fairly quickly (provided I have a block of time).

I used to read a book through to the end no matter how much I didn’t like it. I don’t do that anymore. Sometimes I give it a few pages, sometimes a hundred. It depends on my mood and frustration level and I couldn’t pinpoint any single one thing that drives me out of the book. But I tend to give those books second and even third chances. I think it often must be me–my mood, my patience level, my willingness to think, and so on. So I try again with a book.

I hate letting books go. I hate giving up even the ones I don’t like. How bizarre is that? But I’ve run out of room and I’m going to have to do it. I have a lot of old friends on the shelves that I will re-read. I know the story is going to be good and I’m going to enjoy it. So I’ll reread. Sometimes I choose those books because I know I will enjoy it in advance and I know I won’t get frustrated. Which seems rather odd to me in some respects. I mean, I already know the story and the characters . . . But I enjoy stories and I enjoy the telling of them, and when they are done well, I enjoy repeats.

So let me ask you–why do you pick the book you choose? Do you give books second chances?

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  1. 1. Karen Wester Newton

    The single biggest reason I buy a book is that I read other books by that author and I want to read more.

    But for that first purchase, when I’ve never read the author before, my primary motivators are: 1) recommendation from a friend who shares my taste in books, 2) review that sounds intriguing 3) browsing and I see title/cover combination that sound intriguing enough to pick up and read the first page.

    I agree that really thick books are sometimes so daunting that I don’t buy them because I’m afraid I’ll never read them. And I’m now old enough that if the book doesn’t hold my interest, I don’t feel compelled to finish it.

    Mindy Klasky recently did a poll on why people buy books on her blog.

  2. 2. Steve Buchheit

    I’ll echo the recommendations part. Failing that it has more to do with the summary than anything else, although a bad cover will turn me off. And lastly, it’s like dowsing water, I’ll divine a book out of the blue (although at that point I’ll read the summary and see if I think it’ll be good).

  3. 3. Lisa

    I request a lot of books from the county-wide library catalog, and most of those are by word-of-mouth. But I also tend to browse when I go to the library–I’ve picked up real gems and real stinkers that way. These days I don’t have much time for hit-or-miss books, and I’ve been disinclined to give second chances. If it’s a book that I bought, though, I try to at least skim through to the end.

  4. 4. Blue Tyson

    Don’t really care about random reviews, or covers, just what actual people think about it that are likely to know something about it.

    LibraryThing very useful for this, and blogs/forums etc.

    A good point on the authors though, if some can write multiple books in a row you like quite a bit, fair chance the next one is sampled almost regardless. Authors like this are rare finds, usually.

  5. 5. Cameron Lowe

    I read most books based on the back cover or inside flap descriptions. I’m not really too particular about book descriptions, but it has to hook me somehow without revealing all the plot twists. Nothing will make me toss a book on a shelf faster than immediately knowing exactly where the book will head and who will double-cross who.

    I’ll also pay more attention to well-written reader reviews as opposed to critic reviews. I find that I tend to enjoy a lot of popular fiction. Well, that and I much prefer a sample of reviews by an assortment of people from different walks of life.

    I still try to finish every book I open, but sometimes, it just doesn’t happen. I find that I don’t have the patience for certain noves, which is both frustrating and liberating. It’s been a long time since I haven’t finished a novel, though, which speaks volumes about the great quality of a lot of recent novels.

  6. 6. Jackie Kessler

    “The reason for buying is often word of mouth.”

    Absolutely. This, and whether I know the author, are the two main reasons I will buy books. Of course, I know a lot of authors these days. So I tend to buy a lot of books. (As my credit card statement will confirm.)

Author Information

Diana Pharaoh Francis

Diana Pharaoh Francis has written the fantasy novel trilogy that includes Path of Fate, Path of Honor and Path of Blood. Path of Fate was nominated for the Mary Roberts Rinehart Award. Recently released was The Turning Tide, third in her Crosspointe Chronicles series (look also for The Cipher and The Black Ship). In October 2009, look for Bitter Night, a contemporary fantasy. Diana teaches in the English Department at the University of Montana Western, and is an avid lover of all things chocolate. Visit site.

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