How do you decide what to read? People don’t talk about it enough, but I think that picking up a new book creates a bond of trust between an author and a reader (and, if someone recommended or assigned it to you, with the third party, too). You’re hoping that whoever handed you the book knows what she’s talking about, and-more importantly-knows what you like. You are also hoping that the author isn’t going to let you down, right? “This is a horrible story that pushed me ten hours closer to death with nothing but grumpiness to show for it” is the flip side of “This book was so amazing that it changed my life and I want to name all of my children after the characters”.
To protect you from the Potential Misery of Picking a Book You Don’t Like, I’ll tell you what I like to do to find the good stuff. But, as LeVar Burton would say, “You don’t have to take my word for it.”
Guide to Finding Books That Aren’t Awful
1. Judge by the cover. Totally. It doesn’t work every time, but it’s a good way to find books like the ones you’ve already read and enjoyed. Want a supernatural teen drama? Look for the books with girls in puffy dresses against dark landscapes. A quirky mystery, like A Series of Unfortunate Events? Check out the ones with quirky illustrations and unusual words in the title. (Think The Mysterious Benedict Society and The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place).
2. They win awards for a reason. Did you ever notice those shiny medal stickers on some book covers? There are a ton of awards a book can win. You can click on the specific award to the right of this webpage to see some winners. The big ones are the Michael L. Printz awards, for “literary merit”. You can’t really go wrong with these books! Another biggie is the National Book Award. Personally, I find these winners to be a little bit darker than other awards-some of them may cover difficult subjects, but are well worth the time. The ALA “Best Book” awards are some of my favorites; they’re chosen by the American Library Association every year. Other favorites of mine? The Coretta Scott King award-winners, for authors of African descent, the Pura Belpré awards, for outstanding works written by Latino/a authors, and the Jane Addams winners, for books promoting social justice and peace. The Stonewall Book Award is given to amazing GLBT books, and the Alex awards are for books written for adults that have special appeal to the YA crowd. If you’re trying something new, the award lists are a good place to start-you’ll be assured of the quality of writing and you’ll know that other people have also loved it.
3. Find ones like the books you already love. There are some great websites out there that recommend new reads based on the ones you loved before. Try typing your favorite book into these sites:
4. Ask! Ask your librarian, the workers at the bookstore, your friends, your teachers. I make a habit of asking everyone I meet what their favorite books is, and then trying to read them. You never know who already loves your next new favorite book.
5. Try Something New. Explore a little! Every time I go to the library, I pick out some books that are on my To-Read list, and then one book that I’ve never heard of before, but that caught my eye. I’ve found some great surprises that way!
6. Keep Track. Have you heard of Goodreads? It’s a great website where you can keep track (and rate) books you’ve read and the ones you want to read. After you rate a few, it will start making recommendations for you. Also, you can befriend people, so you can see what they are reading. You can look me up and friend me, if you’d like!
7. You Don’t Have to Keep Reading if You Hate It. I mean that. Some books, no matter how many awards they’ve won or who loves them, just aren’t going to be for you. And that’s totally ok! Don’t force it. My rule is: read as many pages as your age. If you still hate it, it’s ok to quit. So, if I don’t love something in 28 pages, I can be done with it and not feel the least bit guilty.
Friends, I hope this list helps you find your new favorite book! Do you have any other tips on how to find great books? I’d love to hear them!