reasons why we read what we read

Do you ever think about how you make your choices? I know my fellow book bloggers do: they list the books they’ve picked up and note that this one was mentioned by their favorite author or that one biographies a figure they find relevant for a certain reason. Many times we make reading choices conscious of our reasons, even consciously pursuing new directions: feeling the need to read more diverse authors, read more women, more nonfiction, learn about a subject, or follow an interest inspired by… any number of things, really. Oftentimes my future reading is guided by my past reading. Hemingway has inspired my reading of so many of his contemporaries, for example. The Hellman biography I’m reading now is taking me in so many nonfiction directions; I want to read more about the several waves of the labor movement, for example, and the several waves of communism (and Communism) in the U.S. after reading about Hellman.

But I don’t think we always make our reading choices for conscious reasons. We absolutely do judge a book by its cover sometimes, or cover blurb: a Lee Child blurb will always catch my eye, rightfully or wrongfully (is he being paid for it?). In the library where I work, I see people make reading choices based on their covers regularly. Covers are especially good indicators in romance and so-called chick lit (don’t blame me, I didn’t name it). And while I’m on the subject of the library, this question – how we choose our reading, and whether we’re aware of it – is especially pertinent to readers’ advisory services, where we recommend reading based on what the patron has enjoyed in the past. Joyce Saricks (who doesn’t seem to have a website! but is the author of several books on the subject – go look her up, she’s wonderful) articulates the need for understanding why certain books appeal to us, for reasons outside of subject. For example, a reader is not necessarily interested especially in reading books about murder cases in Los Angeles; she might be more interested in the mood, the atmosphere, the psychological background, even the writing style exemplified by Michael Connelly. All of this means thinking about why we like certain books.

How about for purposes of travel? My parents do a lot of this when they travel. There is the reading of guidebooks, of course, but to me that’s a chore, part of trip planning. The real fun is in reading the history of the place, or fiction set there, and that’s very much at the forefront of some of the reading I’m doing these days, too. Our upcoming trip to the Gila came more or less out of a book – Fire Season – and in planning for that trip I’ve been looking at some reading in turn. Aldo Leopold’s A Sand Country Almanac is on the list, as well as a book I recently made a trip to go view (more on that in a day or two), Some Recollections of a Western Ranchman by William French. And for an upcoming trip to Ireland, I am accepting two books from my mom and my buddy Barrett (who’s going to Ireland with Husband and I, what fun!): one fiction, one nonfiction, I told them. Because of course I’m very busy reading all the Edward Abbey I can find (which interest also came from Fire Season), and I have a stack of books for review from Shelf Awareness, too. That’s another motivator to read specific books: because I have book reviews due!

So I’m looking at the stack of books on my desk right now, and it’s composed like so: two books recommended by a friend (one a gift from same); one sent by an author; eleven from Shelf Awareness, awaiting consideration for review; one biography of an author I admire, checked out from local library; one memoir of a friend of same author; two Ireland travel books; one book by an old favorite author; two books just arrived in my library (where I work) that I’m interested in. I think these represent a variety of reasons why I read what I read.

Why do YOU read what you read?

And for another post – feel free to write this one! – having discussed why we read what we read, the larger question: why do we read? That might be a longer post. :)

5 Responses

  1. This poses some interesting things to consider!

    I read a lot of books based on recommendations and although I sometimes find myself disappointed, I always like to try and see what’s captured another person’s interest. I often try and find books along the same lines of books I’ve read and enjoyed in the past. I also try and go for so-called ‘cultural’ reads – things everyone says “You’ve not read that?!” to if it crops up in conversation.

    Especially large books also attract me. I was drawn to the beastly Count of Monte Cristo by its sheer size, and would like to read Herodotus’ Histories and Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina.

    Hope you don’t mind me sharing! ^_^

  2. Right now I’m reading The Ambassadors (Henry James), Cesar and Cleopatra &Heartbreak House (George Bernard Shaw), and Thuvia, Maid of Mars (Edgar Rice Burroughs). What do they have in common? Out of copyright, and therefore free, or nearly so, for the Kindle. (whee!)

    I recently re-read the entire Sherlock Holmes canon, and all the Philo Vance novels (well, the ones that don’t suck), and am also dipping into Ulysses from time to time,

  3. All great reasons! And Ladybird, sharing is the name of the game! I loved The Count of Monte Cristo and hope you do (did?) too. Anthony, you have some pretty hefty stuff going, yourself!

    • Hehe, thanks – I’m a bit new to this blog lark!

      I really enjoyed The Count of Monte Cristo, definitely worth getting through the sections where I was losing the will a bit. I think often with classics there’s that lull where you wonder if it’s going to move on any time soon, or whether they’re just going to have another cup of tea, but this one was most certainly worth going on with!! I had a similar feeling with Wilde’s Picture of Dorian Gray – have you read that?

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