Round Table: How We Pick Books to Read

We love books! Obviously! This month we decided to chat about how we pick what books to read, especially our favorite ways.

How do you guys pick books? Recommendations? Blogs? Browsing? Let us know in the comments – especially if there’s a weird way you do it. We love weird things.

Here’s our take:

Tessa: so we’re talking about how we pick what to read?

Brenna: I have to admit, I’m not very scientific about it

Maggie: Yes. As readers, how do we come to our books.
For a long time, I thought being a professional author had changed it.

Brenna: for me, it’s just that big mix of covers, descriptions, recommendations from friends

Maggie: Because I got sent so many books and picked up so many books at ALA/ BEA, etc. But once that equalized, I seem to have gone back to my normal habits.

Tessa: what are your normal habits?

Maggie: I sacrifice the neighbor’s kittens and ask the dark gods for an image of a book cover.

I learned from you.

Tessa: oh, see you fooled me because I never thought of that as a NORMAL habit.

it WORKS and is GOOD, but not normal.

Maggie: With you, I’ve had to adjust my definition of “normal”

Tessa: good point

Maggie: Also, I used to be biased, because I read lots of book blogs.

And so I was about one thousand times more informed than the average shopper who is not using kittens and industry blogs.

But now, I’m so busy, I don’t get to read as many blogs, so it’s back to recommendations from friends, the few blogs I still read, and, of course, the almighty sin of a beautiful cover.

Brenna: until about a year ago, I didn’t even know there were book blogs. I mean, I did, but they were totally mythological

Tessa: I think I read in two modes. As part of my job, and as a person.

Maggie: YES!

Tessa: the reading I do for my job is usually about reading books that have buzz, books I hear a lot of about. From blogs, twitter, booksellers, etc.

so that I can participate in conversations
so that I know what’s going on in my genre

Maggie: I still read a lot for blurbs, etc., but I think of that as separate as the books I read for pleasure. When I forget I’m working, the book gets a blurb

Tessa: My favorite books almost always come from my not-work reading

Maggie: I find my books a lot like I find my music, actually, now that I think about it. People know my tastes and shout THIS! READ THIS! or I get so obsessed with one particular book that I go online and search desperately for something like it, things that people have bought after reading it, read reviews of that book, hoping desperately for a “this book reminded me of this other book . . . ” Basically when I read a good book it’s like the aftermath of a nasty break up.

Brenna: I’m thinking about all this . . . I don’t know that I think of reading as related to my job yet

Maggie: Poor rebound books.

Tessa: Yeah, your rebound books are like books people put into my hands and say “you must read this because you will love it” and then… I won’t on principle.

I am contrary. And obnoxious.

to my core.

Brenna: right now, I still feel like there are just books, and I walk into the library and think, “That looks interesting”

Maggie: I never knew that about you, Tess. /sarcasm

Tessa: Har har

Maggie: Brenna is such a young, tender shoot.

Brenna: also, I’m also resistant to “YOU’LL LOVE THIS!”

Maggie: Oh, I should say one weird way I’ve been finding books I love.

I have been reading all the Alex Award winners.

Brenna: well, I haven’t been inundated with books that people want me to read

Maggie: I don’t know how I first discovered that I’d read a bunch of books that were all Alex Award winners, but I did — and then I started seeking them out, and they tend to be Maggie books.

I think the qualification to win is “must be enjoyed by Maggie.”

Tessa: I haven’t, either, Brenna. Unless you count my mom.

Brenna: I hated that part of school, though—the you-will-read-this

Maggie: I thought I was contrary until I met you two. The only time I feel contrary is when a book is super popular.

Tessa: Or just Massive Buzz in general. I didn’t read Harry Potter for the longest time because Everybody In The World was reading them.

Maggie: I get all resentful if other people discovered it before me and then I assume I won’t like it, like Harry Potter.

But I’m trying to break myself of that. Harry Potter helped, and so did The Help.

Do you guys buy online or in person?

Brenna: awards is a good measuring stick. I read and almost unilaterally enjoy the Printz books

Tessa: I don’t buy online unless I know the author and want to support, or know I want to read the book for sure. I much much much prefer being in a bookstore.

I don’t like awards, bc they trigger my contrary nature.

Brenna: I don’t buy in person as much as I should. Online is just so easy, and no matter how big the brick-and-mortar store is, they still don’t have everything

Maggie: I have to say that I impulse buy in person a lot more than online.

Tessa: My ideal book-finding experience goes like this: I spend 2 hours in a bookstore very very slowly browsing one genre section. First cover/title draws my attention. Then the blurb. Then the first page. Then, sometimes, (Maggie stop reading) the last page.

I want to run my fingers along the line of spines. I want to hold the weight of it in my hand.

Brenna: I don’t even know how you can do that, Tess

Maggie: But if a book is recommended to me and it’s off the beaten path, like KETURAH AND LORD DEATH, I’ll buy it online. Sometimes I’ll shoot an email to my indie (closest is more than an hour) and ask them to order a book fo rme.

Also, Tess, I’m pretending you didn’t just say that, so we can still be friends.

Tessa: I do that, too, if somebody I trust recommends something to me.

Maggie: I am going to put a last page in FOREVER that says THEN EVERYONE DIED IN THEIR OWN BLOOD. THE END.

Tessa: Buy online sight-unseen I mean

Maggie: And, four pages before it, the real ending.

Brenna: now you’ll just be perpetuating weird internet suicide rumors

Tessa: that makes me think maybe I should start reading the whole last chapter. Hmmm. But that would take too long.

Maggie: I have no idea how this rumor of Sam and Grace committing joint suicide in FOREVER started, but . . . they say that I said it, even.

Brenna: you said they DON’T commit suicide

Maggie: Also, yes, to impulse buy, I want to hold it. I want to read a page (NOT THE LAST ONE) to see the prose, because to me, prose is a deal-breaker.

Brenna: Right, I have to see the prose

even online, if there’s not a see-inside feature it’s likely a deal-breaker

Tessa: What do you mean by impulse buy?

Maggie: So my ideal offline book buying experience looks like this: I go into the store looking for something specific. I pick that book up and then figure, while I’m there, I’ll browse. Pretty cover! shocking title! pick it up! OH WOW GREAT VOICE! Or, path b: I have heard of this book from a blog! pick it up: WOW GREAT VOICE!

I’m a very purposeful book buyer, I mean, Tess. I usually know what I’m going in for.

I am always open to be convinced of fantastic opportunities, but I don’t go just to find something.

Brenna: I usually go in for one specific thing, and then walk out with two or three

Tessa: Ahhh, and see, I prefer when I don’t know what I want.

When I know what I want, I go in, get it, and leave.
Sometimes I know of a few books that have come out that I MIGHT want, but I still vastly prefer browsing.

In the library, too. I just go to my section and browse through the new released. Sometimes I wander aimlessly around.

I’ve found some of my favorite books ever that way.

Maggie: I browse in the library. Because you can’t be sure what they have. I also browse in my tiny indie.
Because I trust their judgment.

Brenna: I should add that I love the library, because I get to sample the whole thing. If I love a book, I’ll read it over and over again, so even if I first borrowed it from library, I’ll wind up owning

Tessa: The library has this new-fangled thing called a catalogue, Maggie. It tells you what they have. Sometimes it’s even available ON LINE.

Maggie: Yeah, I agree, the library is fantastic, I always buy books that I loved from the library. I have a problem with returning things on time, however. I’m the worst patron in the world.

I have library books from March.

What is this thing, electricity? I have no concept of this.

Tessa: I had some library books for 2.5 years. From the university library. That I finally returned.

Brenna: as long as you pay your fines, they like you

Tessa: Yes, I bought them.

Maggie: Libraries are this: books, that library smell, someone taking the maximum possible fine for 23 books held for 13 weeks past their due date.

Tessa: I would go to the library in the event of the zombie apocalypse.

The uni one. With its 6 floors. And snack bar.
Maggie: That is what the zombies would think of the library as.

Snack bar.

Tessa: You should come there, too. It has a whole section of German poetry.

Naw, there’s usually only like 2 people in the whole of the stacks.

Brenna: I love libraries with lots of floors

Maggie: I will say that I am in love with libraries, for browsing. There is something about the unlimitedness of it that makes even someone who deducts all their book purchases excited.

Brenna: the one at my university had three and a half, plus the basement

Tessa: I just looked to my right and remembered I have some books I took out about New Orleans… right before we went to NO last April. Um. Oops.

Maggie: I’m glad to see that we are both horrible patrons.

But it keeps me from going back.

But that’s off topic.

Is there any odd way that you find books that we haven’t mentioned?

Also, we’ve been so clean this RT

no swearing to edit

*F-word redacted*

Brenna: I know!

Maggie: there, I feel better now.

Tessa: I sometimes steal books from my mom.

Brenna: oh, yeah—one person whose rec’s I trust 100%: my dad
Maggie: Me too, Brenna, only it’s one of my sisters.

If she says “you will love this” there is not another option.

Brenna: my dad gives me books I’ve never heard of, would never in a million years stumble across

Tesssa: I’m jealous. There’s nobody I trust that much. You guys come close. And Natalie. But… nope.
Brenna: well, my dad and I have very similar tastes, which is a pretty rare thing for me. my tastes are very eclectic

Tessa: One might even say… alien. 😉
Brenna: I’m cataloging miscellany for my home planet

Maggie: I KNEW IT.

Thanks for tuning in!

19 thoughts on “Round Table: How We Pick Books to Read

  1. Yum, books. My favorite source is the public library, where I run my fingers along the spines of my chosen section, looking for these little neon green stickers that say “New Book.” When I find one, I pull it off, give it a perusal, and decide whether to take it home with me. If I really love it, then I later buy a copy to support the author.

    When I buy books, I do so at my indie and usually only with purpose, meaning I pre-ordered something from an author I follow or else it’s something that’s caught my eye via a recommedation. I only take into consideration the recs of a few select online people, most of whom are very critical like me. Also, I like the recommendations from you three. 🙂

    Oh, and my university library beats your library. j/k. It has seven floors, a Starbucks, a snack shop, and an interesting stacked, geometrical, external design. Maggie’s books are even in the academic YA section, so one *must* like it. 😉 The smell of thousands and thousands of books is almost overwhelming in the stacks; I think I love it more than my home.

  2. Lately, quite a bit of my book buying has been my favorite kind: someone I know and like wrote this and got published= GLEE!! Between Maggie and Seanan McGuire, that’s been a fair amount of my book buying lately.

    Then there is the second favorite, which is : someone awesome who knows my tastes *coughs*Tessa*coughs* recommends it. Which is why I’m reading Catching Fire right now with Mockingjay waiting in the wings. Sequels take up a lot of my reading time.

    Another favorite way is to see someone reading a book that looks good, asking them about it, and making a decision based on that. Cover art and catchy titles/ fonts DO have a huge influence on my purchasing. I won’t lie. Certain authors are guaranteed to have me out buying it first day… like my darling Mr. Stephen King, who I’ve been reading since grade school.

    I get a lot of my books through Bookcrossing and Paperback Swap, for, lo, I am a poor girl. When I buy new, I usually buy at Hastings in the next town or occasionally through Amazon. I’m limited by living in a tiny town. I sometimes even resort to buying from my local Walmart, but only as a last resort.

  3. I go to B&N and take a look at the new releases, and if they forget to put them out ill go look for new-looking books in the teen section. I’ll look at cover, then the back, and the inside cover. If it sounds good to me, I’ll start reading. If it sounds really really good though, I’ll probably get it.

    Also, I have the major aversion to recommended reading too. Hey, we can make that into an acronym! MARRS! Major Aversion to Recommended Reading Syndrome! 🙂

  4. My book buying habits… hmmmm…

    I have a problem actually (as in I bought over 15 books last month). They should come up with a name for it. I ignored reading like the plague so much growing up that now I read like a madwoman playing catch up. And I have this ridiculous *need* to own every book I read. (Luckily there’s only been a few that I didn’t LOVE).

    I mainly buy based on recommendations from friends, blogs or good old Amazon suggestions (who just loves keeping my pocket empty) and I primarily buy my books online. Reason one, there is a better selection and reason two, most of the time on Amazon you can preview quite a bit of the book before buying. Plus, Lord help me if I could actually touch all of the books in an actual store. I’d be in trouble. Beautiful covers and binding excite me to a crazy level. So much so that I’m weary of even lending my books out sometimes because I want them to stay as beautiful as they were when they first met my hands.

    I’m a freak, I know this. I’m that book nerd who passes by my bookshelf several times a day just to run my hands over them or admire their pretty nature. And sit and remember the way each and every one of them made me feel.

    Darn you girls, I just ordered two more books because this post made me thirsty for more (as if I actually even need more). I’m currently addicted to Sherrilyn Kenyon and the series I’m reading has like 20 books and I’m only on book 7, but at the rate I’m buying/reading them it won’t take me long. I seriously have no control. Gah!

  5. My small rural library has too few spec fic books and too many oldoldold romances. WOE. Fortunately my family knows I have a crazy addiction to books and they keep me well supplied with book store gift cards. LOL

    I buy books because friends have recommended them, I’ve read reviews that sound promising, or because I’ve had a chance to pick them up and skim. (I tend to be drawn to titles and covers for skimming purposes.) But I have this weird habit of buying based on random topic interests. For ex, I had a dream about clockwork and when I woke up I had the strongest urge to read steampunk. I went on a book buying binge and ended up with a whole stack I hadn’t intended to buy the week before. 😛

  6. OMG I am the SAME way. 😀 Well, I’ve always loved reading, but I have the same addiction! I covet books like they were treasure, and I hoard them just so I can admire their prettiness. And I rarely, rarely lend books because I hate crinkled pages or bent covers.

    (I also just ordered a couple of new books… 😛 It’s a disease, I think.)

  7. Does anyone read e-books on a Kindle or an iPad or a Nook, and if so, do you use the same sort of criteria to choose them?

  8. My whole family keeps trying to push me towards this format since my book buying habit is slipping out of control, but I can’t see myself enjoying this. I like the feel of a book in my hands. I love the decorative covers and knowing they’re mine. Plus I stare at a PC style screen too much as it is. Do I really want to burn my eyes out even more? Nope. I suppose if I was a heavy traveler, then maybe something like this would be beneficial opposed to carting around a ton of books, but I don’t see myself ever being someone who owns one of these devices.

  9. Definitely a disease. Needs a name….

    I will sometimes lend out my hardbacks (to people I know respect them the way I do), but never my paperbacks. My mother laughs at me at how I barely open the book to read it just so I don’t get a line in the binding. Hehe…

  10. My sister got my 65-year Dad a Kindle for his birthday and we all expected he wouldn’t touch it, but I’m happy to say he really took to it, and enjoys at least half of his regular reading on it now. Mostly Clive Cussler books. I think he really likes the weight of it and that he can adjust the print size.

    I’ve got an Ipad, and I haven’t managed to read a regular book on it yet. Comics, yes, and some digest sized PDFs. I like the interface, and I think it’ll only improve with time, but I expect people will always like the feel of a published book, whether it’s a trade-sized paperback or a deckle-edged hardcover.

  11. I hardly ever enter a book store with a purpose of buying anything. I’ll browse the shelves for about an hour grabbing titles/covers that interest me and then I read the first two paragraphs. If I like the book (and I have money) I’ll get it. If I don’t have money I write down all the book’s info on my hand and research it. Yay for 😀

  12. My book picking…
    That’s easy. I read a book:

    When people recommend it to me, and I read the prologue, and I like it, I read it. Example: Twilight. And The Da Vinci Code.

    When I’m in a bookstore, and I see a cool cover. And then its got a good name. And I read it, unless I get bored in the middle.

    When it’s a “Customers who bought… also bought…” on Amazon and Barnes and Noble website. For example: Every single faerie book I’ve ever read!!!

    When I see its review/its recommendation/its advertisement on a fansite of some other book I liked. Especially if there’s a mention of blood. And fantasy. (I discovered Shiver on a Twilight fansite. The drop of blood on top of the ‘i’ gripped me. It was a vampire phase for me.)

    When I’ve read other books by the author. Or books by friends of the author. (I read Lament and Ballad because I couldn’t find Shiver in the book store, and because they were also by Maggie. And I fully plan to read Tessa’s and Brenna’s books, and that’s partially because I discovered this blog on Maggie’s site, and partially because of your short stories.)

  13. I don’t really have a great bookstore in the area I live. There is one in the town next to mine, but it’s an academic bookshop mostly dedicated to education and kids and YA lit. Most of the time, it’s OK with me because I do buy lots of kids and YA lit. They also have fidelity points and I get discouts quite a few times. But sometimes… if I want something that isn’t a best seller, or it’s a bit oldie, or just it’s published by a small pubbed house or it’s… not in Spanish or Catalan… it isn’t enough.
    Then, in another town I got an indie bookstore. It’s really small. They can only store a few books for each genre they handle. But still. They order whatever you want. And they mail you when it gets to their place. They even ordered a book “from England” because it wasnt in Spain, and I waited for them, not Amazon. And they are nice, and read a lot, and when I go there I know I’ll spend about an hour or so talking about books and they will tell me about the ones I don’t know but they think I might like. And now… they’ve made a FB profile for the bookshop so I can talk to them in a weekly basis. And they send us tips and news on the book industry. So I love them. Dearly :).
    Anyway blogs, and goodreads and peeps I know that like same books I do have always been real helpful.

  14. This is why I haven’t bought an e-reader yet. I’d just have to go buy hardcovers of the ones I loved anyway . . .

  15. Gah! Tessa, you read the last page!
    I prefer to buy in store also, but only because I don’t like to wait.

  16. i love to read the back pages too!

    i probably shouldnt admit to that… but still. i mean i read the beginning and some random pages just to see whether i like the style and prose. but i do love to read the end.

    My friends always hate to know what is going to happen in a book. but i love it. if its a book id like to read then nothing would stop me reading it anyway and knowing what happens just gives me something to look forward to.

    i also have to say i love hard copies. i love browsing book stores, but i like buying over the net.

  17. To this day I find it almost impossible to actually buy a book, since I basically grew up in the library. Actually, I don’t think I’ve ever bought a fiction book I knew nothing about beforehand, certainly not in the past 5-7 years– it was recommended, incredibly popular, required reading, read previous work by the author, I read it at the library and loved it, found the author’s blog online (hi Maggie!)…if I do find a book in the store that sounds interesting, I usually write down the title and check out a library copy. If I really like it, I buy it, if I don’t, I don’t. I suppose this makes me a bad reader, since I still don’t buy very many books! I don’t know. I think it’s better for the people who buy my (theoretical published) book to buy it because they love it, because then they tell others to buy it. I guess I’m closer to the 1000 True Fans end of the spectrum.

    I actually am wary of choosing books by covers, cause I’ve found more often than not that I end up liking the cover much more than the book! I think the only book I read based on the cover that I didn’t hate was The Inferior by Peadar Ó Guilín— all the more impressive because its subject matter is inherently squicky to me.

    I think word of mouth is the strongest rec for me. Well, that and the auguries of course.

  18. Thank you for my daily guffaw this evening. I’m up in Seattle enjoying the sounds of Autumnal rainfall by moping and reading LJ instead of writing a thing that has to be done by the end of the month for me to continue living… While perhaps a thorough diversion from Important Matters, I’m grateful to you three for sharing these and every other discussion you’ve posted. Thanks muchly!

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