The Book Review Crisis

Last year at Wordstock, I attended a panel discussion entitled “The Book Review Crisis”. A book review crisis? Really? I was intrigued. But the more I heard, the more irritated I found myself getting. So irritated in fact, that I even got up the nerve to go up to the microphone and ask why the panel members all seemed to think that we everyday readers needed a “professional” book reviewer to tell us what to read. They mostly seemed incredulous that anyone would actually go to Amazon.com to read peer reviews of books instead of consulting the experts.

Okay, okay, I realize this is a subject I am a bit touchy about. “How do you pick books?” one panel member asked me. That got me thinking. How do I pick books to read? Well, I get book recommendations all the time from Amazon, Powell’s, the Oregonian, other websites and blogs I follow, and family and friends. But what I ultimately decide to read is based on the book itself. Or more precisely, the merits of the book according to my own personal tastes.

I always check out the book description first on Amazon. See if it the book interests me. Read a few random pages from the book to see how I like the style of writing. Yes, I do read a smattering of reviews, and it is impossible not to note how many stars the book received. Does this influence me somewhat? A bit, I suppose, but not all that much.

Simply put, I choose what I like to read, and if the book is not a best seller, well that doesn’t matter a whit to me. In fact, that causes the renegade reader in me to like it even more. I don’t like anyone else telling me what to read!

But my all-time favorite way to find good books to read is to head to the used book section of my local library, or Powell’s, and just shelf read, the good old-fashioned way. The title needs to draw me in. I look for an interesting cover. Only then do I read the book jacket. And if the book passes all those tests, I open it to a random page to read. If I still like it, then that’s what goes home with me. Sometimes the lowest tech method is still the best!

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