Deciding whether to read a book

I came across this rather amusing article on 43 folders this morning. It got me thinking about my own criteria for deciding whether to read a book.

There is a definite difference in my approach between fiction and non-fiction. I’ll start with fiction:

  • Is it written by Isaac Asimov, joe_haldeman , Barry N. Malzberg, Robert J. Sawyer?  These pretty much guarantee a read.
  • It is written by someone I know?  This also pretty much guarantees a read.
  • It is on the Best Seller lists?  I am less inclined to read a book just because it is on some "best-seller" list.  I might read it for other reasons.
  • Did a friend recommend it?  Usually I will read books recommended by friends, but as strausmouse  will point out, it can sometimes take a long, long time before I get to it.
  • Does the title have certain keywords in it?  It’s hard to say what these words are at any given moment.  I read The Da Vinci Code before it was ever a best-seller because I was attracted by the words "Da Vinci" and "Code".
  • Is it up for some kind of s.f. award?  I do my best to try and read these, except when…
  • Is it fantasy?  I’m just not a fan of fantasy.  I had my fill.  LOTR was nice.  Xanth was amusing for the first 10 books.  But all of the story-lines started to seem the same to me.  The exception here, of course, is if it was written by Isaac Asimov, Joe Haldeman, Barry Malzberg, or Rob Sawyer; or if it was written by someone I know.

For non-fiction, my approach is often very different, and harder to characterize.  I like reading books on obscure subjects (e.g. Longitude by Dava Sobel, or Literate Programming by Donald Knuth).  Often the non-fiction I read is influenced by the fiction I read.  Sometimes it’s influenced by what I am writing.  With non-fiction, I am particularly attracted to massive books like Gotham, or Will Durant’s Our Oriental Heritage.  I have a soft spot in my heart for history, and an even softer spot for presidential biographies (although I try to avoid presidential autobiographies, unless they are particularly well written, as in the case of Ulysses S. Grant and Jimmy Carter).

In all of my reading, I think I use an innate variant of the page 69 test, but it’s more intuitive.  If I feel myself floundering for more than a day or two, I give up.  Maybe I’ll come back to it eventually (I’ve done this in a few cases), but there’s just too much out there to read to get bogged down.

So how do you decide whether to read a book?

About Jamie Todd Rubin

Jamie Todd Rubin writes fiction and nonfiction for a variety of publications including Analog, Clarkesworld, The Daily Beast, 99U, Daily Science Fiction, Lightspeed, InterGalactic Medicine Show, and several anthologies. He was featured in Lifehacker’s How I Work series. He has been blogging since 2005. By day, he manages software projects and occasionally writes code. He lives in Arlington, Virginia with his wife and three children. Find him on Twitter at @jamietr.