What the Hell Do I Read Next?

Typical haul from the library

I ask myself that question at least once a week. After reading a bad book, I ask it with relief. After reading a great book, I ask it with a bit of desperation. When you read as fast as I do, keeping a healthy stack of books to read is a must. The downside is that I blitz through those books a rapid clip and end up right back at my question again.

One of the great things about my job as a librarian is that I get to read a very wide range of book reviews. When I create my lists of what I want to buy for the library’s fiction collection, sometimes it goes “One for you, one for me,” etc. But there are still time when I have to trawl Amazon or Barnes and Noble, looking at the also reads for another book I might like.

I’ve been using GoodReads for a while. Like Pandora, the more you use it, the better the recommendations. I can’t really use the recommendations from Amazon, because I’ve bought so many things from them that my recommendations are such a jumble of genres, styles, and topics that I’m pretty sure their recommendation algorithm just looked at my orders and said, “Fuck it.”

Getting good book recommendations is a tricky business. You pretty much have to psychoanalyze people to give good recommendations and, even then, it’s still miss as often as hit. Librarians have a whole science/art devoted to figuring out the best way to translate a person’s preferences into a recommendation. People like me are a reader adviser’s worst nightmare, because I’ve read all the usual suspects (and their accomplices and their fences and their bagmen).

I’m pretty sure that the only reason I manage to find so many books that I enjoy (more hits than misses) is because I know my reading tastes very well. That, and I’ve started to make extensive use of Barnes and Noble’s free ebook samples. It’s hard to tell if you’re going to like a book from the first 30 pages or so, but it’s a lot easier than trying to figure it out from a paragraph long review from Publishers’ Weekly or Library Journal. But I think that might be the trick: know what you like. Once you know what you like, then it’s a matter of looking for characters that sound like you might like to know them or descriptions of writing styles that you admire or plots that sound like they’ll keep you up too late because you can’t put the book down.


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