Book Report: How Do I Learn About Specific Books?

May 26, 2022

A friend asked me recently how I learn about books I might want to read.

I was surprised by the question, for being aware of books I might want to read has never been an issue for me. Actually, the opposite is true, for I often feel overwhelmed by the sheer volume of titles that interest me.

My ears have always perked up when I have been in the vicinity of “book talk,” but working in a fabulous independent bookstore, Odegard Books, decades ago certainly reinforced that tendency. I always enjoyed directing a customer to a book that would meet their interests and reading styles, and that meant not only reading widely myself, but being aware of old and new titles on the shelves. And, of course, there was the too often plea, “I don’t know the title, but it has a red cover and I think the author was a man.” Playing that guessing game was challenging, but fun and honed my book knowledge and awareness.

Back to the question at hand. How do I learn about specific books? Here are some of the ways I develop book literacy:

  • Podcasts and Online Newsletters. A favorite newsletter is Modern Mrs Darcy and the accompanying podcast, What Should I Read Next? Anne Bogel, the host, just released this week her summer reading guide and I am drooling at some of her suggestions. Each week on her podcast she interviews a guest, asking them to name three favorite books and one that wasn’t for them and what they are looking for in their reading life. Then she does some “literary match-making.” I appreciate that the titles are not just new releases, but are often backlist titles. Lots of podcasts focus on books, but sometimes podcasts like On Being with Christa Tippett or newsletters like Abbey of the Arts also introduce me to book titles. A personal requirement for me in podcasts, by the way, is a voice I can listen to –too chirpy or too fast–doesn’t work for me.
  • Newsletters from Favorite Bookstores. One of my favorites is Arcadia Books in Spring Green, WI, and their newsletter is excellent. The reviews are thoughtful and clear without giving away too much. I trust what they recommend and appreciate that they don’t just list new titles or mention what an employee recommends, but give insights to the books. The Independent Booksellers Association, by the way, publishes a monthly round-up of new titles with recommendations from booksellers across the country. You can get a copy at your local independent bookstore–another good reason to hangout in a bookstore.
  • The New York Times Sunday Book Review. Of course. I used to pay close attention to what was on the bestseller list–a hangover from bookselling days, I guess, but these days that is not in my radar. I don’t read every review, but I at least glance at titles that have been granted review space, and I always enjoy reading the interview with an author in the “By the Book” column. Questions usually include, “What books are on your nightstand?” and What’s the best book you ever received as a gift?”
  • The Washington Post Book Club Newsletter. (online) Not only do I enjoy the casual style and commentary of the editor, Ron Charles, but there are always good links to other articles, and he ends each week with a poem.
  • BookWomen. This bi-monthly publication celebrates women’s words and explores the place of reading and books in women’s lives. Over the years I have written articles for them, which has always been a privilege, but more than that, I love reading about what others are reading.
  • Other Readers in My Life. I love book talk and relish conversations with others about what they are reading. I appreciate you readers of this blog who recommend books to me, as well.

This is definitely not an exhaustive list, for I roam through other websites and I consult other venues. One thing I don’t do, however, is spend any time reading recommendations that come from Amazon or Barnes and Noble. And I am not a Goodreads subscriber. Just personal choice.

Learning about books that interest me, of course, is important, almost an avocation, but the next question is what do I do with those reading possibilities? That’s where my book journal enters the picture. I keep my TBR (To Be Read) lists in my book journal, (I try to enter the source of the recommendation, but don’t always remember to do that.) ready to be consulted when it is time to request books from the library or for my next bookstore adventure.

Sources

Modern Mrs Darcy: https://modernmrsdarcy.com

Arcadia Books: https://readinutopia.com

Washington Post Book Club:https://www.washingtonpost.com/newsletters/book-club/

BookWomen: http://www.bookwomen.net

An Invitation

What’s your favorite way to learn about books? I would love to know.

If my Thursday, Book Report post is one of the ways you learn about books, I hope you will recommend it to others and suggest they subscribe to my blog. Thanks!

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