The Confused Reader’s Guide to Choosing their Next Favourite Book

Kurating Read

One minute you’re lying in your bed, bored and restless, the next minute you’re on a space ship with Zaphod Beeblebrox, Ford Prefect and Marvin the paranoid android, laughing hysterically as Adam Douglas’s dry wit reveals exactly how the universe is one huge joke. And then, you get tired of orbiting in space, and you go join Richard Mayhew on his spine tingling journey through the creepy underbelly of Neil Gaiman’’s London below.
Books. What would we do without them and their fantastic stories?

In the intro to Episode 53 of his Welcome to Nightvale Podcast, Jeffrey Cranor described books as “Trees that have been compacted down into hand held rectangles full of fantastic stories “. Well, that’s an archaic description if ever I’ve seen one; we have eBooks now.

I don’t know about you, but I believe that eBooks and eReaders alike, are the greatest achievement of the 21st century and they should not be omitted from any 21st century definition of books. Just think about it: As I type this, I have more than a hundred books stored in my phone memory. I can access thousands of books on numerous sites, books I ordinarily wouldn’’t easily get in Nigeria, without even rising from my bed.

But, this access to a multitudinous number of books can be confusing at times. Millions of books have been written, books are being written and many more books are yet to be written. Most of these books can be found on the internet, from the very old to the very new. The result of this unfettered access to numerous books is that the 21st century reader is spoilt for choice.

Now, how can a 21st century reader select her next read from the sheer multitude of books made available on the internet? How can you find your next favourite book on the internet amidst the tons of books being foisted on you by overwhelming marketing strategies? How can you tell what books you probably will like, and which ones you probably won’t like?

Outlined below is a treasure map, created by a fellow 21st century reader to guide you on your quest to find your next cherished read.

Recommendations, based on books I enjoyed
Goodreads is my first go to place whenever I’m looking for a new book to read and love. Under each book page, you find a list of books titled, “Readers Also Enjoyed”. And if you’re so inclined you could also search for “Books like (insert whatever book you love here)”, and you’ll find a list of books that Goodreads users have deemed to be similar to your much loved book. There’s also a list for “Authors similar to (your favourite author).

So, when I find myself at the end of a good book and feel the pain that comes with saying goodbye to that world and to the characters who I have most likely fallen in love with, I just remind myself that in life, all good things must come to an end. And then I go on Goodreads, look for a book that is similar to the one I just read and check out its reviews. Of course, sometimes you download a book that is supposedly similar to a much loved book, and you find that it isn’t similar at all and you’re just left with the hollow feeling of disappointment. When that happens, I look for highly rated books of another genre or I reread personal favourites, usually in a different genre as well. Or, in exceptional cases, I reread the book I just finished, you know, just to get closure.

Reviews
Reviews are my favourite way of sifting through the straw of published books to find delicious wheat.

And for reviews, Goodreads is usually my first, although not my only, point of call. Sometimes, I want to see what other, non-Goodreads reviewers think of the book, and I check out other reviews with the use of Google.

After seeing or hearing about a book, (probably on one of those bestseller lists or similar books list or even one of those Pinterest lists which recommend books to you), after getting a book recommendation, reading the blurb, and liking the premise, I search for reviews to find out what previous readers of the book think about the book.

Here I hear about the editing errors, the unnecessary characters, the failed attempts at humour, the excessive use of cuss words, the annoying characters, the smutty scenes, the scattered plot, the reinforcement of stereotypes, the attempts at inclusion/ diversification, I learn everything. And from what I have learned, I decide if the book is to my taste.

When reading reviews, you have to learn to occasionally ignore the ratings. Some reviewers might give a book a five star rating because of its treatment of a topic which you’re not interested in, like say, baseball. Others might give a book one star because they feel it is PWP (porn with plot), or chicklit, but while they do not appreciate the smutty scenes in the book, it might be just what you’re looking for. So, remember to occasionally disregard ratings, and find out the reviewer’s reasons for the rating. It would keep you from getting a book you end up hating. However, note my use of the qualifying word “occasionally”. This is because sometimes, a poor rating means a poor book. When a book has lots of poor ratings, it means that most people who read the book, hated it. These are people who were intrigued by the book blurb and the recommendations by friends and probably, the popularity of the book. They went into it, and they are here to warn you not to make their mistake.

I’ve read several books based on reviews alone, some books I stumbled upon that I ordinarily wouldn’t have touched with a six foot long pole, but then I saw the raving reviews and I just had to read them to find out what the hype was all about, a decision I didn’t always regret.

So, read several reviews, understand the reviewers’ reasons for liking or disliking the book, and let them be a guide for you.

GOODREADS
This is actually me gushing about Goodreads. The site contains millions of books grouped according to genre and tags, bestseller lists, similar book lists, trusted reviews and book reading groups. It is every book lover’s dream site and it deserves its separate spot on this list.
Whenever I feel like trying something new, I just peruse Goodread’s genre lists, look up top books in each genre, and then select the ones with intriguing titles and blurbs. Selecting a book title leads me to the book’’s page which contains reviews by readers of the book. I read them, read the occasional excerpt, and make my decision.

Even when I get a book recommendation from someone or somewhere, I always look the book up on Goodreads before making a decision. The reviews on Goodreads are numerous, often of good quality, and you can see what readers of different types, ages and preferences, think about the book.
Goodreads usually contains links to reviewers’ pages, links to the author’s page, and everything a book lover needs to make an informed decision. In fact, most of your favourite authors are on Goodreads, and there’s nothing quite like opening a well-known author’s Goodreads page and seeing books she has tagged with “to read”, ”read”, “favourite”, “DNF”, “guilty pleasures” or whatever tag she prefers, and letting her preferences assist you in selecting your next read.

A Goodreads user can create her own page, tag books with whatever tags she chooses, create her own book groups and lists, write reviews on whatever books she wishes, join virtual book clubs and make friends with total strangers, watch fellow amateur reviewers write their own books, and get inspired to do same. It is an online community created by, consisting of, and suitable for book lovers of every age, culture and taste. Okay, gush over.

Blurb
A book blurb is the easiest way to determine if the book is worth reading. It is a tiny summary authors use to generate a potential buyer’s interest in their books.

This one is mostly for my hardcopy book aficionados who purchase books on street corners or second hand book stands, without researching about them. Of course eBooks also have blurbs, but in most cases, there are usually reviews under the blurb, which means that blurbs in eBooks only help in determining if the eBook is worth reading reviews about.

For hard copy books, the blurb is one exception to the rule against judging books by their covers, as it is usually on the back cover of the books. It is a quick way to judge if a book is worth reading.

I read blurbs to determine if the book is even worth researching about. A poorly structured blurb, or a blurb which showcases elements I dislike in a story would quickly turn me off. And an intriguing blurb would do the reverse. Of course, some bad blurbs are merely the result of poor marketing skills, while some great ones are as a result of excellent publishing and marketing ploys. So, blurbs alone can be misleading. At second hand book stands, I quickly flip through books with interesting summaries, reading random pages and checking out the ending. And where the book looks interesting but has a boring or confusing blurb, I browse through the pages to get a feel of the book. This helps in determining if a poor book blurb is merely a marketing error or a foreteller of the contents of the book. And vice versa of course, because some blurbs are misleadingly fascinating. You buy the book and are so surprised by its contents that you keep turning in befuddlement to the back cover, to read the blurb again and again and wonder how you were so deceived.

Bestseller lists
Book lists come with different titles. One could be titled “14 of the funniest books of 2016″, while another could be “”11 magical realism books to escape with”. Different lists with different contents. You might even see a list created for lovers of a particular book. Such lists are made up of books that are “supposedly” similar to the much loved popular one.

Remember to check these books out as one man’s favourite book is another man’s worst, and sometimes, you might not see any similarities between books that the lists swear are similar.

Most of these lists are compiled by a team of book lovers, some are compiled after a poll is taken, and some are created by just one person, usually a popular author or book critic.

I sometimes peruse such lists, usually the ones I stumble upon on Pinterest or on Goodreads. I go through the motions, you know, reading the blurbs of each book on the list, picking out the ones that seem worth checking out, then proceeding to Goodreads to let the reviews, and excerpts help me in deciding whether to read it.
And of course, if a favourite author of mine makes a list of her own favourite books, I’ll definitely check the books out. Someone said that authors write books they like to read, I support that theory. So don’t be afraid to explore, you never know where you will find the next wordy object of your affections.

Staying power
Sometimes, a book might be on all the major lists such as “the top 20” or “top 10 lists”. It could even come under well-loved lists like “Best young adult books”, and “Best mystery books”, and be all the rage on the internet and despite its excessive popularity, you choose not to read it (after checking it out of course, because there is no harm in exploring).

And then one day you realise that said book has been on these lists for weeks now, it has been consistently popping up on your Pinterest timeline and it doesn’t seem like the hype is ready to die down. You might even hear that a movie based on the book has been released (I’m looking at you, “The Girl on the Train”). These books are not just fleetingly popular, they are popular for weeks, even months on end.

In such situations, it is best to just give in and go with the flow. There has to be a reason for the sustained hype. Why don’t you read it and find out?

A well-loved/known author
Some authors are just amazing. They are your go-to authors for new books. You’ve read and re-read all of their books and they are still your go-to books for comfort reading. Whenever they release new books, you rush to snap them up and they never fail to give you that feeling of love and general well being that you can only get from a good book. You are probably waiting for them to release their next book because you just know that it’s going to be your next cherished read.

For me, Melina Marchetta is one of those. Her books are an instant buy for me, and I have read (and re-read) every one of her books.

So, if I see any of my favourite authors’ names in a bookshop or online list, you best believe that I will check the books out. Except it’s someone like Melina of course, no need to check it out, it’s an instant buy.

CONCLUSION
And there you have it, a (not) exhaustive list of my book selecting methods. Remember, life is too short to read books that you don’t like. And with the prodigious amount of resources the internet has made available to us, there is no reason to.

Ese Atakpu, book lover , shares her methods for discovering great books.

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