One of the benefits of being a voracious reader is that every year I’m exposed to a wide variety of stories and ideas. This year, the emphasis really was on “variety” because my book selection method radically changed from previous years. I’ve always been a library rat – I’d much rather wait for a book from the library than purchase it at the store. While not the original intent, this goes nicely with my new minimalist-consciousness, since it means that I accumulate fewer books than I would otherwise. This preference for library books, however, kept me from entering the digital book world for some time, because I was very afraid that if I bought an e-reader, I would suddenly find myself racking up monthly, if not weekly, book bills that would horrify my inner budget geek.
Imagine my surprise and delight, then, when I discovered that the DC Public Library has a rapidly growing collection of e-books. Without hesitation, I quickly went online and purchased my first e-reader. Of course, it helped that I was about to embark on a month-long trip and needed to bring along a healthy reading supply while also keeping my travel bags light. I encountered my first major e-reader challenge when I went to select books online. What I discovered, much to my dismay, was that, much like paper books, the current e-books of the moment often had holds placed on them, sometimes 50 people deep. Given that I was leaving in a matter of days for my trip, I realized I had to quickly figure out another method for selecting books from the library or else go broke from buying new e-books or, just as terrible, go mad from a lack of reading material on a 14-hour flight. Necessity is the mother of all invention, or so they say. So it was the case for me. I needed books but I couldn’t wait for the ones I wanted to get off the waitlist.
Frantic, I resorted to the next-best method: I clicked on the box that said “show available titles only” and sorted the titles alphabetically. I then arbitrarily picked a letter of the alphabet, say “P,” and began combing through the available books, eventually selecting a collection of 10 random books. I used the word random deliberately. Modern-day Dracula, neurotic sisters reuniting, hostile alien worlds, and geriatric Mexican-Americans trying to escape a nursing home. These were only some of the topics that I encountered using this method. Had the characters from these books ever had the opportunity of interacting, I’m sure they would have agreed on one thing: that the person who chose them clearly had to be suffering from some serious multiple personality disorder. Who else would enjoy such an eclectic smattering of the book world’s delights and disasters?
The person most surprised by the success of this experiment, of course, was me. In opening myself to such a panoply of books, I realized how trapped I had been reading in my usual “serious, life-changing fiction” genre. My eyes had been opened and a new world of book diversity awaited my discovery. Since then, the randomness has continued, tempered, however, by a slight modification to the methodology. I now cross-check each book I pick against its Goodreads page, just to make sure it is not a complete dud, which is a fairly basic filter. Even with this precaution, I still find myself starting books and realizing that there’s no way I will ever finish them. Risk is inherent in this method – if I were more of a betting woman (or an economist), I would say that the risk of loss is higher but the potential for reward is even greater. And remarkably, that is precisely what I have found to be the case. Duds aside, I have discovered some truly delightful and thought-provoking books over the past year which I might never have discovered had I continued choosing books in my stodgy, old-fashioned way.
I’d be curious to hear from others on how you pick your books. How do you avoid slipping into ruts or just going to your favorite authors? Also, look out for my next post, in which I’ll feature some of my favorite books I discovered in 2012 using this method.