• Jacob Turk

7 Tips for Picking a Good Book to Buy

We can only read so many books in our lifetime, so how do we make sure we're reading the best ones? Don't fret, there are some simple things to consider when going book-hunting that'll ensure you're only buying page-turners! 5/2/19.

Bookstores can be daunting. First, most of them are an endless maze of shelves. Even worse, those shelves contain tens of thousands of copies of the same item: sheets of paper with written text, bound together between two covers, also called books.

But while all books are made of the same physical material and are roughly the same size, the written text on each is unique. Every book tells a different story----some are about murder and others are about love. Some are boring and bland, and others suck you into the pages and immerse you in a gripping tale.

Well, how do you find the ones you’ll enjoy? How do you select the books that you’ll refuse to put down until they’re done? Too often, people rummage endlessly through the shelves of a bookstore, unsure of which books to buy.

I say, no more.

Here are seven tips on how to pick out a winning book from the rest of the field when you’re going book-hunting.

1. Choose from your favorite genre

If you’re an avid reader, you’re likely to have a favorite genre. When you head to a bookstore with nothing specific in mind, it’s a good idea to start with the genre you read the most.

If horror books have always intrigued you in a way no other style of writing has, then look through the “horror” section of the store. I may be stating the obvious, but you’re more likely to enjoy any random book if it’s a member of your preferred genre because you simply enjoy the genre to some degree on its own.

If you’re bent on “expanding your horizons” and want to buy a book outside of your favorite genre, then branch out slowly. By that, I mean choose an alternative category that’s alike your favorite. For example, if you love fantasy but want to try something new, then browse the sci-fi section. If your go-to is usually horror, then check out the thriller and mystery sections.

Of course, read whatever you want. By staying within or close to your favorite style, however, you’re more likely to have an easy time when perusing your local bookstore for your next read.

2. Read the covers

The covers of a novel contain a lot of information----don’t just look at the picture, read (at least) the covers, too.

Depending on the genre, the front cover of a novel will typically contain the title, the author’s name, the cover design, and a highlight of one or more awards the book or author has won. The back cover usually has a synopsis of the book, a picture of the author, and short testimonials about the book from famous, credible sources. For hard-cover novels, some of the information will appear on the inside of the flaps.

Sometimes, a novel’s cover design won’t do the book justice. It’s unfortunate, but it happens. Make a habit of committing to read the synopsis, awards, and testimonials to get a better sense of the quality of the book. If you do this, you’ll find interest in some books after reading the cover information that you otherwise would have abandoned after just looking at the design.

3. Read a sample

If you truly have some time on your hands (which I recommend if you’re shopping for new books), read a sample of the novel after you’ve read the cover information.

And no, not just the first sentence. I think the advice, “if it doesn’t grip you in the first sentence, it isn’t worth your time” is awful. One sentence is way too small of a sample size to judge someone’s writing, even with the increased importance placed on a book’s opening sentence.

Depending on the time you have, maybe read half of the first chapter. You could read the whole first chapter, or you could read three if the book is intriguing. The reason for doing this is the same justification for the previous tip, just on a larger scale: sometimes a book’s synopsis won’t do the book justice.

It’s quite common for a boring or vague synopsis to be tacked onto a book with incredible writing. My advice is to somewhat distrust synopses and check out the writing, yourself. After that, you can honestly admit that you’ve done everything to test the book shy of reading the whole thing.

4. Seek suggestions

Don’t underestimate the power of a good ol’ suggestion.

If you’re unsure of what book to get, ask a friend or family member to suggest one for you. At first, it may seem that this is no different from reading any recommendation online, but there are two fundamental differences about a book suggestion from someone you personally know. First, the suggester knows you----they know what you like, and will have an idea (at least, a better one than a random stranger) about what you might like to read. They can advise you with some background information.

Second, you know the suggester. You can discern whether they’re suggesting a book out of their own personal bias or out of a true analysis of your interests. You can use your knowledge of the person and their intentions to help determine if the suggestion is good or not. You can be advised with some background information.

That’s what makes book suggestions from family and friends so powerful, and often helpful.

5. When in doubt, choose a popular author

Popular authors are popular for a reason: they write the best books.

While you’ll occasionally find a gem from a lesser-known author, it’s always a safe bet to buy a book from a popular author in your genre. You know, the Stephen Kings, Robert Pattinsons, and J.K. Rowlings of the literary world. While it’s awesome to expand your horizons and support authors that haven’t made millions from their work, if you’re seriously struggling to decide, go with the popular one.

This tip can be extended to include favorite authors as well. If you have a favorite author (not necessarily a popular one), then perhaps read another one of their books. That is, unless you’ve already read their entire corpus. Then, consider rereading one of their books!

6. Read book reviews

So, I know I said earlier that suggestions from family and friends are better than online recommendations for books. Book reviews, however, can still be helpful.

If you’re ever on the fence about a book, read some reviews about it. The key with this tip is to sift out the reviews that are thoughtful and insightful. There are three ways to tell if an online review of a book is coming from an analytical, considerate mind.

First, look at how many reviews the user has made on the platform. The more reviews under their belt, the more knowledge and experience they’ll have about what makes a good book analysis. Second, assess the length of the review. In general, longer reviews will contain more useful information and have been more carefully thought out (unless the review is a massive rant). Third, look at the quality of writing. A review littered with run-on sentences, no capitalization, and spelling mistakes is less likely to be thoughtful, since it seems rushed.

Use the three tactics for judging online reviews and read some of the best ones. If everyone is raving about the book, it might be worth a read.

7. Research the author

For the most part, the details about who an author is or what their past work was shouldn’t determine the quality of one of their books. Sometimes, however, it can offer some clues.

Does the author usually write in this genre, or is the book experimental? Is the book old, or new compared to their body of work? Have they written many books, or is this the first one? Have they been writing for four years, or forty?

I’m a fan of giving any author a chance. I, myself, am trying to break into the literary world, and I don’t want people to be biased against my first novel because I’m “inexperienced.” In the magnified context of struggling to choose a book, however, I would say to side with the author who has the most experience writing. If they’ve written a lot of books and have been in the business a long time, chances are they know what they’re doing.

And there you have it----seven things to consider when choosing a book to buy.

Unfortunately, we can only read so many books in our lifetime. Even if you spend every waking minute reading, you won’t be able to make a dent in the collection of all books ever written. For that reason, we need some measure to help us decide which books to purchase and read. That way we can spend what precious reading time we do have reading the best of the best.

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