How do you choose books? - Ann Mah | Ann Mah

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How do you choose books?

By Ann | March 13, 2012

Last week, the New York Times had an interesting debate about blurbs (i.e. those words of praise from other authors that appear on the back of a book), asking: “If so many books are being commended, are they all commendable? [Are] blurbs on book covers still meaningful or have [they] become just background noise?”

I know from my days of working in book publishing that blurbs almost always come from the author’s friends (or friends of friends), or friends of the author’s editor or agent — which is why I rarely buy books based on blurbs. Instead, the main factors that influence my book reading are:

1) Recommendation from a friend.

2) Recommendation from a bookseller (in publishing lingo this is called hand-selling).

3) Book reviews (though sometimes reading a lengthy review is as good as reading the book).

4) Bestseller list (reading it weekly is a habit leftover from my publishing days; very rarely, I discover new authors there).

5) Cover (I admit it).

How about you, mes amis? Aside from word of mouth, how do you select the books you buy? Do you find new titles from blogs, the radio, TV, the bestseller list, or prime bookstore placement? Do you trust blurbs? I’m so curious!

(Photo via MorBCN on Flickr.)


Topics: In the news, Uncategorized | 12 Comments »

12 Responses to “How do you choose books?”

  1. Shannon Says:
    March 13th, 2012 at 12:55 am

    Well, lately I’ve been getting some great recommendations from you, Ms. Mah!

    In addition to the sources you’ve already listed, I often find inspiration from Nancy Pearl…or as I call her in my head “NPR’s library lady.” When I have time…or am procrastinating…I also like to explore the “other’s who bought this book” links on Amazon.

  2. Tammy Says:
    March 13th, 2012 at 4:05 am

    Usually for me, it’s a recommendation from a friend that gets me interested in the book. Also, I will admit that I’m swayed by a good cover … just as I am by a good wine label. ;)
    Oh, and anything with Ann Mah’s name on it will be read par moi!

  3. Michel Says:
    March 13th, 2012 at 4:45 am

    I get my push to buy books based upon book reviews, the New York Time’s Sunday book section, browsing in bookstores which I do a lot and from emails I get from Amazon (yes I admit it) with ideas based upon books I have bought.

  4. CK Says:
    March 13th, 2012 at 7:24 am

    No. 1 for me is recommendations from family and friends — but only friends who know my taste and interests. But a strong No. 2 is a subset of handselling. I adore bookstores that have little written “staff recommendations” on cards placed by relevant titles. I’ve bought a number of books that way and generally have been pleased! Blurbs, by the way, have never influenced me. At all.

  5. Lindsey Says:
    March 13th, 2012 at 7:57 am

    I’d say recommendations from friends and family hold the most weight but I also recently discovered a site called Brain Pickings with some really fantastic reviews that have motivated me to build my wish-list: I, too, am guilty of being incited to buy (or at least consider) based on the cover. We’re only human!

  6. Richard Ewen Says:
    March 13th, 2012 at 3:34 pm

    I am in the time of my life when I am giving away many of my books. For new reading material I depend on the reviews in the Sunday NYTimes and friends who trade books back and forth. I then use my public library service to place a hold on books I want to read.

  7. Voie de Vie Says:
    March 13th, 2012 at 6:19 pm

    I’ve also never paid any attention to the blurbs. I definitely read the NYT book review section, as well as other online book reviews (I rely on this a lot). There’s a great public radio show – Day 6 out of Canada – that has a fantastic book review section. I also go to certain lists: The Pulitzer, Man Booker and a few others to find titles and authors I might like.

    And of course I’m always bookstore browsing: title + cover + book jacket teaser are usually the combination for me.

  8. Bob Says:
    March 14th, 2012 at 7:39 pm

    Aside from the number one category of recommendations from friends, I’m a sucker for author interviews or discussions on NPR or PBS about books, especially when the topic is in my interest category. Book reviews are a big factor too.

  9. melinda Says:
    March 14th, 2012 at 8:44 pm

    anything about Paris

  10. nicola Says:
    March 16th, 2012 at 5:41 pm


    I judge a book by its cover….. ;-) I read anything and having a bookshop makes that super easy.

  11. Sweet Freak Says:
    March 16th, 2012 at 6:32 pm

    Well, given that you’re one of my blurbers, I must confess that blurbs do mean something to me! If I see an author’s name whom I know and admire on the cover of someone’s book whom I’ve never heard of, it’s instant credibility.

    Otherwise, I draft mega lists of ‘must-reads’, based 80% on what I read in the newspaper and magazines, 10% on friends’ recommendations, and 10% on bookstore discoveries—I often love the “Staff Picks” for stumbling upon books that flew under my radar. And, oui, I’m a sucker for a good cover!

  12. jet Says:
    April 14th, 2012 at 11:37 am

    I pick a book/author/genre i’ve read that I enjoyed, look it up on then scroll down to the “others that have viewed this, also read..” Shelfari is also a site I look at occasionally. I sometimes do a wikipedia-link-clicking-marathon where I start with a genre/author/subject I like, then skim through articles, clicking on more links, and finally ending up with a book title sometimes 5x or 6x removed from my original wiki page.

    Mostly tho, living in a remote Nicaraguan surfing haven, I read whatever is on the shelf at hostels (which is how your book ended up in my hands).

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