Anyone that knows anything about writing, literature, thinking, learning – the general study of liberal arts – knows that reading is of profound importance. My personal activities of late have been almost exclusively devoted to the practice. (I have the distinct pleasure of being “1 book (4%) ahead of schedule” in my reading goal for the year, but then it wasn’t a very lofty goal.)
I love habits and routines (making my choice to become a teacher of children with Autism a fairly obvious one, and my choice to leave the profession a little weird to the outside observer). So, as with so many things in my life, I have developed a very procedural method for choosing a book:
STEP 1: Get recommendation.
-This can come from a variety of sources including friends and family; my favorite social networking site for book lovers, Goodreads; movies and television shows (specifically Fraiser and Gilmore Girls – Don’t judge me!); books about books (of course I read those); lists of “bests”; and anywhere else I hear an interesting book mentioned.
STEP 2: Visit local bookstore or library.
-Given my recent decision to leave a fairly lucrative job in favor of sleeping restfully, the library has been my most frequent destination.
STEP 3: Read back cover or inside dust jacket.
-This is the short blurb written by a person other than the author whose purpose it is to give you just enough information to make you purchase the book. In my experience, this does not necessarily tell you what the book will be about.
STEP 4: Begin at the beginning.
-Open and read the first chapter. It should hook you right away. If it doesn’t, shelve it. If it does, do your best to pull yourself away (probably somewhere between pages 5 and 20 depending on how hooked you were) and proceed to STEP 5.
STEP 5: Random survey method.
-Open the book somewhere in the middle (or anywhere really. I usually just leaf through until I feel like stopping) and begin reading whatever jumps out at you. I favor the method of looking for the one word I would not have expected to find in this book, such as a modern “curse” word in a Dickens’ novel. You should again get lost and be unable to tear yourself away. However, if you are not, it’s not necessarily a deal breaker. Even Harry Potter could be a bit hard to take if you don’t know why the characters are B-lining it for a wall.
I can say that this is a guaranteed way to find yourself a satisfactory read – one at least that you have a hope of finishing, if not definitely enjoying. How much you enjoy it is completely dependent on the author and the story, but I’d like to think if I had developed this test a decade ago, I would not have been subjected to the scathing rant against Ayn Rand that Tobias Wolff’s Old School is. On the other hand, he started off really well so who knows.