Last month Bill asked “How do you judge a cookbook at first glance?” For me the first thing a cookbook has to have is a great photo on the front to initially catch my interest. Then it needs to be a niche that I’m interested in (vegetarian, ethnic, baking). That’s enough to get me to request it from the library. Once I get the book, the quality of the production is key, how easy it is to follow the directions, how many recipes appeal to me, will the ingredients be do-able? Probably 50% of the cookbooks that I peruse from the library go back and I never think about them again. Then about 49% might have a recipe or two that I’ll copy for myself (I have a big white binder for these). Then there is the rare 1% that I feel I would to have my own copy of and then I try to find it as inexpensively as possible. And then I have to get rid of an existing cookbook. Cookbook shelving unit is cram-packed!
All of this quantifying led me to another thought. How do you judge ANY book at first glance? How do you decide to read a specific book? And if you choose badly, what do you do about it?
For me, great titles are key; it needs to be interesting, maybe some word play. “Dragons” in the title is a gimme. The phrase “mercenary librarians” on the cover of a book was too tempting to pass up last month. It’s a toss-up whether author or subject matter is the next ingredient for me. I’ll pretty much read anything by my favorite authors. I even read Michael Pollan’s LSD book last year. Only a very few authors have failed to keep my interest. Poor Barbara Hambly lost me between the vampire books and the nasty ice queen series. If a book has an author with whom I am unfamiliar, then subject matter can draw me in. Of course, I’m curious about so much stuff that pretty much anything can work in this respect. I’m not a romance fan and I get irritated pretty quickly with historical fiction but even having said that, I will still occasionally read something in these genres. I prefer fantasy to science fiction. I’ve read my fill of WWII titles the last few years but if something comes well-recommended, I might put it on the list.
There is another category of “what do read” for me because I’m one of those folks who reads multiple books concurrently. At any given time I have a book on CD in the car, an audiobook on my pc and a variety of books piled up in my bedroom. When I decide I want to read, I have to decide WHICH of those books to pick up. Most of the time, it’s my mood that decides, but if a book is coming due soon and I can’t renew it, that factor often takes precedence. Now that the library has re-instituted due dates, I have to think about this more.
I am also a book-abandoner. I decided about 15 years ago, after struggling for weeks to finish Blood on the Snow by Tunstall, that life is too short. There are so many books published each year that no one could read them all so if I don’t finish a book, it won’t doom the publishing industry. I once quit reading a book on page four; I already had the feeling that I wouldn’t enjoy the characters or the plot. Authors beware – you gotta hook me fast!
So the answer to Bill’s question is complex.
How do YOU decide what to read? Can you abandon a bad choice?