Thursday, 7 July 2011

So, how do you choose a book?

Sometimes I walk into Waterstones like a woman on a mission.  I know exactly what I want.  More often than not though, I want to be tempted.  I want to treat myself.  Cheaper than Monsoon, less vain than a lipstick, books are the one thing I never begrudge buying.  So how do I choose?  Will I  be seduced by those tables heaped with best sellers and three for twos?  Or will I refuse to succumb to the marketing machine and make my own decisions?

I try not to judge a book by its cover.  I avoid the blurb that sounds as though it should be read in a deep voice by that guy who does the trailers for blockbuster movies.  Reading the blurb is a little like deciphering estate agent speak.  For 'original' read weird, for 'complex' read incomprehensible.  I am swayed by reviews, but only from my approved list of newspapers and critics.  Some people read the first page, but for some reason this never occurs to me in a bookshop. In the end I take a risk, bite the bullet.

Of course, I don't always make a good choice.  My bookshelf holds many half-read books, with tell-tale bookmarks protruding.  In all probability, if a book makes it back onto my book shelf half-read, then it will remain that way.  For years.  Suddenly, in a fit of a decluttering, it will be culled and sent to the Oxfam bookshop.  Until then it sits there, accusing.  We need to talk about Kevin, for example, will have to go.  I just haven't got the stomach for it.

Choosing books for our bookgroup is an even greater challenge.  Although some of us are well read, we are as far as bookgroups go, literary lightweights.  Discussion is easily diverted onto general chat amongst friends  who don't see each other as often as they should.  Some books, though, have sparked great debate.  The Life of Pi, Obama's biography, The Help and Lionel Shriver's latest book got us all talking way past ten o'clock.  We're very rock and roll.

It's a delicate issue recommending books.  No-one wants to seem too pushy.  M is still smarting from her first recommendation of Joanne Harris' Holy Fools.  In turn, I haven't quite forgiven her for heaping insults on Silas Marner.  Last night I took a gamble and proposed Caitlin Moran's How to be a Woman.  I didn't expect it to be taken up with such enthusiasm.  Perhaps it was my preface, 'I'm not sure if this is a good idea', that clinched it.  I have warned J about the bad language and advised her against the chapter on abortion.  Ask me again in September how it went.

In the meantime, how do you choose what to read?  What would you recommend to our book group?  Dare you risk the disapprobation of a group of middle-aged Lancashire ladies?


  1. In my book club, we read books that are recommended by the local librarian. So far we have not agreed on which ones we liked. They enjoyed The No 1 Ladies Detective Agency, I can't get past the first chapter. I loved the Time Travellers Wife, and most of them didn't. Maybe reading groups should follow the Richard and Judy book club...

  2. I’m with M, I love Joanne Harris so I’m off to Amazon for Holy Fools. If it wasn’t for the pretentious ‘literariness’ of the writing I quite enjoyed There’s Something about Kevin as well. So, given that we might have disparate taste you may well ignore my recommendation for the Lancs Ladies. It’s the only book that’s made me want to re-read it for ages. I thought John Boyne’s The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas was wonderful. If you haven’t already read it I think it could be a good one for the gals.

  3. I can't help you with recommending but the last time I went into Waterstones to buy a novel there were four swear words on the first page. So I put it down again. I swear myself, frequently but think there should be a warning on a book, especially if it is just there for shock value. I can't imagine a group of middle-aged Lancashire ladies reading it!


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