Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Why do we Read What we Do? Multiple Guest Post!

Recently, I had that question, and thinking of it, I realized how eclectic of a reader I am. Most true readers are, but sometimes, I know for myself, I might be willing to try something new, especially if it is recommended to me by a friend I trust (I have learned the hard way not to read everything recommended to me by ALL my friends...) But then there are some books that I randomly grab from the library shelf saying, 'well, this might be an interesting thing to try' and end up really loving them. In fact, in all truth, that's how I have found most of my favorite books.

So I wondered also how other readers decided what kinds of books they would read and why they love their favorites so much, and I took the questions to some of my friends on Goodreads and they were kind enough to give me answers. I hope you enjoy reading what they have to say!



I look at a couple different things to determine whether I should read a book or not. I get a lot of my book suggestions from Goodreads. I may look a list of genres that I like or popular YA books. I tend to read a lot of YA paranormal romance and dystopian novels, but I'll also read contemporary. I like some good adventure and a strong plot. I like a little romance, but I can't stand it when a book's plot relies mainly on the romance, and not the paranormal aspect of it.
You really don't know in the beginning, but I also cannot stand female lead characters that can't take care of themselves! I don't like dependent and naive and fragile girls. I also don't like it when a girl meets a boy and all of a sudden she's acting like an immature little kid. Insta-love sounds fake. 

I have to say, I do judge books by their cover. I mean, when you first see a list of books that someone might have listed, the first thing you see besides the title is the cover. We're drawn to books with engaging covers, otherwise, it's possible we may not spare another glance at it. 
That's not the only thing I look at though. If the cover and title looks engaging, I look at the description or blurb on the back of the book to see if it might interest me. I also look at the average rating, and also to see how many people rated the book. The book may have a rating of 4.5 stars, but you can't really know how good the book might be if maybe only 15 people have rated it. But of course, the rating isn't everything because everyone likes different books. I also scroll through different reviews, the good and the bad. When I'm shopping for eBooks (although I prefer good old paper) I'll look at some review on the website, and maybe others too. But I'll usually always go to Goodreads because they're are so many book reviews. 
If I'm at the library or the bookstore, I don't have much access to more details about the book, and I really can't know until I try it. If a friend suggests a book for whatever reason, I'll usually read it if it catches my interest and all that. Sometimes I luck out and the book is good and sometimes it's not. I usually don't buy books from the bookstore that often unless I'm waiting to buy it because I prefer to know more about it. Other times, I can be totally spontaneous and the turns out great. 

If I wait a long time for a book I really want, sometimes it doesn't turn out like I thought it would. I get disappointed sometimes, but I'm not really upset so much about wasting my money on a bad book or anything like that. If I am upset, it's because I waited so long and had such high expectations. Usually I'm fine with it though because I finally found out what happened.

Why do I pick the books I read? Let's see...I know this shouldn't be a reason at all seeing as you should never judge a book by it's cover, but the covers of books have a little bit to do with which ones I choose to read. If it has a completely boring or strange cover I will be less inclined to pick it up and read what it is about. When I get to reading what it is about, I usually like the ones that have romance but also have a good story to it, like with some mystery involved or something like that. Most of my spontaneous picks are good, but not great. I have had a few absolutely horrid ones, a few great, but mostly mediocre. I don't think I have ever waited forever to read a book and have it turn out bad. Usually the ones I wait a long time for are in a series that I really like, so I'm not usually disappointed with the turn out. 


The books that I pick out from a bookstore are normally just random books. As long as the book has an interesting cover and a cool name I will read more. If it looks like something that I normally read I will pick it up and read the summary. I know I might be skipping over good books with my method but most of the ones that I pick up are pretty good. Most of the time the books I pick are really good and I like them. some of the times I will go with the majority of people and read the books that are popular at that time but that normally doesn't work for me. I like to go my own way. Sometimes I will wait forever for a book to finish or continue a series and most of the time it is pretty good. very few books I have read turn out to be bad, very few. 

Finding that next good book is like finding a new friend; you find out a little bit about them (the synopsis), talk to acquaintances (reviews), and then spend time with them (reading it for yourself). The personality, opinions, behavior, and common interests will determine whether or not it is a lasting friendship (a book that ends up on the Top 10 list), or one that quickly falls apart (i.e., I never want to see this book again!). Just like a friend, you’re going to be spending quite a bit of time with this book, so you want to make sure it’s worth it.

That’s the attitude I take on when I’m looking for a new book to read: I’m “friend shopping.” And just like my friends, my book choices are eclectic. It’s the soul of the story that appeals to me, not necessarily the genre. My book friends consist of classic romances like Wuthering Heights and Emma; supernatural twisters such as The Dead of Winter and The Near Witch; social satires like Gulliver’s Travels and Nicholas Nickleby; Victorian mysteries purely for girls – A Spy in the House – and ones more geared towards guys – Ripper. I have sci-fi and fantasy; dragons and pirates; hardcore historical fiction and fairytale retellings; dystopian and Little House on the Prairie. I even have one or two dark romances, though the only vampire who will ever grace my shelves is Dracula.

So what exactly makes me choose the books that I choose? Do I just pick up whatever is at hand and sit down with it? Well, I don’t do that when I’m finding new friends, and since I liken book-shopping to friend-shopping, you can assume that the answer is no. I’m just as choosy with my books as I am about my friends, though it may not seem like that. One method is a mutual acquaintance – in the case of a book, it would be either an Author whose works I am extremely familiar with, or a well-trusted friend’s recommendation. Example: I love Ann Rinaldi; she’s a terrific historical fiction Author. I am a huge fan of historical fiction – especially the American Revolution – so becoming initially acquainted with her writing was not difficult. I have never once been disappointed with one of her books, so whenever I see an Ann Rinaldi book floating around, I go right up to it and say, “Hey, we both have a friend in common!” The same applies to trusted-friend recommendations.

Now, I will not pretend that I do not judge a book by its cover. Everyone does, and while there is a risk of being wrong, outward appearances can – and do – tell you a lot about a book. Anything that even remotely looks as if it has to do with fallen angels, boyfriend-cheats-on-girlfriend, zombies, vampires, or those horribly depressing stories about teens who make all the wrong choices and then commit suicide I will not even bother to read its synopsis. I dislike those sort of stories intensely and won’t waste my time with them. If a book has a rather noncommittal cover, or a clearly historical fiction/fairytale retelling/mystery/ect., one, I’ll pick it up and read its synopsis. As soon as zombies or legions of undead are mentioned (like The Gathering Storm; sounded like a good Romanov story until that came up), it goes back on the shelf. If there’s vampires, it is an immediate dismissal; I don’t care what era it’s based in.

I am also drawn in by title’s and title fonts. Yes, I know – it sounds like a super trivial thing to base a book of off. But that’s just an initial attention-grabber, sort of like you see some random person drinking your most favorite beverage or eating your most favorite candy bar. There’s an immediate desire to talk to that person (or mug them, depending on whether or not you are criminally inclined, and only care about being in possession of that candy bar). Curly text, bold text, silvery text – anything fancy and shiny – all attract me. The text sometimes even gets me to ignore the cover just long enough to read the synopsis – kind of like if said person eating a Hershey bar also happened to have a I Heart Basil Rathbone T-shirt on, I would be willing to overlook that because clearly someone who eats a Hershey bar is a really interesting person, and loving Basil Rathbone is a minor flaw that could be got over.

But the real key to me spending time with a book is the synopsis. It has to grab my attention. And a lot of things will grab my attention enough to give a book a try: the historical event it deals with, the mystery that’s being solved, the fairytale that’s being retold, the dystopian world it takes place in, ect. And sometimes if the story sounds just plain weird enough – A Series of Unfortunate Events and The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place – I’ll give it a try, because sometimes the weirdest storylines are the best (provided they make sense in their own twisted way in the end). Age range is never a barrier for me; I’ll read Juvenile as readily as Young Adult. The only reason I don’t usually read Adult too often is I am picky about content, just as I am picky about my friends’ behavior. Too much language, sexual content, and the like are a deal-breaker, no matter how much I might enjoy the historical era it takes place in.

Even so, I still stumble over rotten apples. With the wide range of genres I take in, it’s hard not to. There have been books that I have been dying to read, and have waited and waited and waited for it to come out. I buy (or borrow) my copy and at last it comes in! The cover glossy, the pages new and white, the spine still free of use. And then . . . absolute disappointment. The writing is bad, the storyline was a huge letdown, that protagonist just really drove me up a wall, the Author decided that while his last two books were clean, this one just simply and absolutely required a graphic bedroom scene. It happens, I am sorry to say. Scarlet was a book like that. I only had a very few minor misgivings about it because I hadn’t yet read a Robin Hood retelling that was bad. And anyway, the cover was just too pretty to ignore. The book was an absolute letdown in almost every possible way, and it served to remind me why I never do faith-buys. Always read a book first before buying it, unless you know the Author to be incapable of mistakes.

And sometimes there are the fluke reads – a spontaneous Oh, you look interesting pick that just happens to turn out to be one of the best books you’ve ever read! This actually happens to me a lot. I’ll be browsing at the library, killing a few minutes until my ride picks me up after work, not looking for any book in particular, and I’ll stumble upon one or two that look kind of interesting. Well, I have nothing planned for the weekend, I think. Might as well give it a whirl. If it’s bad, I’ll at least get some fun out of pointing out of the mistakes to my sister. Start reading it, and I can’t stop. Entwined, Ripper, The Ruins of Gorlan, and Sword Song were like that – among others. They were amazingly good and three of my favorite books. Sword Song, while it didn’t make to the “Top 10” list, introduced me to Rosemary Sutcliff, and a pile of books that did.

Every book has different ways of attracting a Reader’s attention. There really isn’t anything specific about a book that will shriek READ ME! at me. And if it did, I’m afraid I would automatically think about what happened to Alice when she obeyed the instructions of an inanimate object, so I wouldn’t read the book. Something small, like the title’s font or the cover design, has to catch my attention first, before a book screams READ ME! I may read a lot of different books, but I am an elusive Reader to catch. But so far, books have done a pretty darn good job of catching me.


Since elementary school, eons ago, reading has been my escape and stress relief valve. There is nothing like immersing yourself in a different world with your imagination for a few hours, is there?

I gravitate towards stories that are either set in alternate realities, the far future, different cultures or times and/or contain an interesting mystery to be solved. I’m not a fan of contemporary fiction. I love murder mysteries, but steer away from modern gore or CSI types as they are too much like real life for my comfort. Ditto for stories that are primarily about modern relationship angst or plain romance. I’ve tried to read them but feel I’m being drowned in (and bored to tears by) everyone’s feelings when there doesn’t seem to be much of a plot or progression in either story or characters. I need something more: mystery, adventure, preferably an underdog to root for, different cultural settings and values or a good old battle, either between people/groups or good vs evil. I also stay away from creepy stories or horror-filled ones. After all, I am trying to reduce stress! =)

I enjoy many genres and, thanks to Hazel, have recently become a fan of Louis L’Amour westerns and historical fiction. I particularly like the Temeraire series with it’s unique blend of fantasy and alternate Napoleonic history. Others I enjoy, combine sleuths in specific areas of interests or settings with a murder mystery: archeological, coffee & teahouse series to name a few. An absolute favorite, The Amelia Peabody series, is quite witty, featuring an indomitable Egyptologist, her colorful family and the fun adventures that always seem to follow them. Another is the Jack Devitt Sci-fi series which combines a mystery with a bit of an Indiana Jones type protagonist. Stories of epic quests or swashbuckling adventures are very high on my list. Most of all, any book featuring Sherlock Holmes is sure to grab my attention.

How do I choose books? Titles by favorite authors, Goodreads recommendations and friend’s lists followed by reading an actual sample on Amazon.com, browsing the shelves of a bookstore and a title or cover art catches my eye, then reading a bit of the flap summary (not too much as I don’t want to know the entire story before I read it for myself), book club websites searching new releases and favorite authors, some classics, Amazon recommendations and browsing library shelves, particularly the new release sections are my main avenues. I’ve discovered many good series in the library by searching the new books area, then going back to find the first title in the series. Also my friend, Sean, at the library reference desk has been a font of information on interesting series as we have similar tastes. Oh, and author recommendations are definitely another great source as they often have quite wide-ranging interests. If the story intrigues me, the world is interesting, the characters compelling, and I like the author’s style of writing, I’ll try it.

I’ve had both good and bad luck with spontaneous picks but that’s half the fun, it’s a gamble. I’ve definitely waited a long time for a book and then was greatly disappointed by it, wishing I could get back the time I wasted. This frequently happens in long-running series where the author seems to lose interest and it becomes blatantly obvious. 

For me, the books that call to me the most are ones with the highest escape value and 
I usually have several books going at once from different genres: sci-fi, mystery, steampunk, fantasy, English/Scottish/Japanese life or historical fiction, westerns, swashbucklers, urban fantasy and non-fiction subjects that interest me (ie cooking, archeology, anthropology and astronomy). This way, I can indulge in visiting whatever ‘world’ that appeals to me at a given time. 

Why do I pick the books I read? 

I admit that I'd never really thought about it. My taste is eclectic and I read both for enjoyment and information, so the places I find things is varied. For the past few years I've done far more nonfiction reading than fiction, so I admit to using websites like Amazon to see what's available on the topics I'm interested in. Then I read reviews to decide which ones suit my purpose. I don't really pay attention to 'stars' though as an author, it's certainly nice to get them. It matters more to me what a person says about a book and I can usually judge pretty accurately from that whether it will be useful (for nonfiction) or whether I'll enjoy it (for fiction). Then I try to purchase the book nearby to support local bookstores.

If a book is made into a movie that appeals to me, I usually read the book before seeing it. I like to have my own ideas about what things, places, and people look like. But once in a while I'll see a movie and then find out it's a book. If I liked the movie enough, I'll hunt down the book to read. I'm doing that now with Neil Gaiman's 'Stardust.' When I saw the movie I was barely aware of Neil Gaiman (I know--I live a sheltered life!) but after seeing Stardust I started seeing his name everywhere. I found the book at work, left on a table where people had brought in their old reads for others to enjoy. That was about a year ago and I'm only now reading it! I have rarely bought novels unknown to me on impulse while in the store. I have never bought a book just because I liked the cover. I may make a note of it and look it up later; I do my homework first. I hate wasting my time reading poorly written or conceived anything, fiction or nonfiction. 

I don't necessarily go by recommendations from (real life) friends either, as a lot of them have very different tastes from mine, but I do like seeing what people I know are reading on Goodreads and LibrayThing and very often see books that end up on my 'to-read' list. I also get ideas from the trade magazines and occasionally from book blogs. I rarely read the things that are the most popular; they usually don't appeal to me. On the other hand, I love reading classics from all genres, just because they're there.

I wish I had more time to read fiction, but I admit that one out of three or four novels I read is probably a book I've read before; the books that will always have a home on my shelves. I'm big on comfort reading (especially on lazy, quiet, rainy days with a hot cup of tea close by) and love to revisit beloved fictional places and people. As an author, that is something I strive for and the one thing that makes me the happiest: when someone says they feel my characters have become friends and they look forward to spending more time with them! 

I'd just like to thank everyone for participating in this post! I always love having guests on my blog! =) Why do you read what you do?

Slainte, Hazel


  1. Awesome guest post, Hazel! I always love when you do these - they're fun to both read and participate in. Ditto to B.B. Shepard about "Stardust" and Neil Gaiman in general. I'd heard of Neil Gaiman prior to seeing "Stardust," but I had never read his books, and I totally love 'em now!

  2. I really want to read "Stardust" I saw the movie a long time ago. It's one of those books I never got around to reading because my library doesn't have it.

  3. I hope my library has it. *cross fingers* But everyone has told me that the book is even better than the movie, and I absolutely love the movie, so I'm excited to getting around to reading it.

  4. I'd like to see the movie again. It's been a long time. But I'm taking up all my turns on Netflix with Merlin right now :P