Thursday, May 10, 2007

What We Read

How do you decide what to read?

If you had asked me that question prior to my recent participation in the online writing community, I’d have told you that my book buying habits were primarily driven by the following:

  1. Recommendations by people who read the same types of books I do. These people are all, coincidentally, relatives. When my father was alive, I read every book he raved about. I’ll also read anything my stepmother Andy, or my Uncle Denis pass along.
  2. Books I find in the reviews section and sometimes the ads in the New Yorker.
  3. New books from authors I already like.
  4. Selections that arrive monthly from my membership in the Odyssey Bookshop Signed First Editions Club
  5. The old fashioned way – a leisurely afternoon browsing through a bookstore. Scott and I can both spend hours hanging around bookstores and I’ve found plenty of gems I wasn’t looking for that way.

Recently, my book buying habits have changed a little. I’ve started buying hard covers again when they’re available. You never know when you might have a chance to get a book signed. I’ve got Michael Chabon’s first novel, The Mysteries of Pittsburgh (which I bought in 1988 at a Stars and Stripes Bookstore in Germany – a first edition from a Pulitzer Prize winner; who knew?) all ready to take along to his upcoming book signing of The Yiddish Policemen’s Union at the Tattered Cover in Denver.

I’ve also stopped buying used books on Amazon Marketplace if they’re new releases for debut authors. This is only because I’m now cognizant of the fact those purchases won’t count toward the author’s sales and – well; it seems like the right thing to do to give a new author a fighting chance. I’ll buy older used books all day long through Marketplace, especially if the author is dead or is a best seller with more money than God.

The biggest change to my book buying is I’ve been buying a lot of books written by authors I’ve run across in this forum. Most of these are books I probably wouldn’t be aware of if I weren’t out here with all of you. It’s partly out of a sense of cheering the team and supporting our new authors because these aren’t all books that I’d instinctively buy, but I’m excited about the possibility of finding some new favorites. My first wonderful surprise was Patry Francis and The Liar’s Diary, and then I discovered Judy Merrill Larsen and All the Numbers. I’ve read both of these terrific novels and hope to one day get them signed by these wonderful ladies.

As I’ve been tapping along on this, the UPS man just dropped off Mia King’s Good Things. Tish Cohen’s Townhouse should be here next week, as should Jennifer McMahon’s Promise Not to Tell. Don’t get me started on the pre-orders! Patricia Wood’s Lottery and John Elder Robison’s Look Me in the Eye are on pre-order together, and Hank Phillippi Ryan’s Prime Time will be on its way soon.

I am very anxious to read Therese Fowler’s Souvenir when it becomes available to pre-order.

So my “to be read pile”, which includes Nicole Krauss’ The History of Love, Ernest Hebert’s Spoonwood, Don Delillo’s White Noise, Max Barry’s Company, Chuck Palahniuk’s Rant and Richard Yates’s The Easter Parade is reaching dangerous heights.

I won’t even go into the books on writing, piled all over the house.

So, how do you decide what your next read will be? Are you influenced by reviews, and if so, which ones? Do you have a favorite place to buy books? Places you won’t buy books? Is the rumored disappearance of newspaper book review sections something you care about?


Judy Merrill Larsen said...

Hi Lisa--thanks for mentioning (and liking) my novel and I hope to have a chance to sign it for you someday.

My book buying habits have changed as well--I love finding new authors, and I'm now in the totally cool position of getting ARCs of books to offer blurbs or possible reviews. Also, when I go to book festivals and conferences, I, like you, stock up on books I might not have otherwise known about.

While I hate to see reviews leave newspapers, I don't know how influenced I was by them--they seem to mostly review books by authors I'd already heard of. That said, Sundays aren't complete without a thorough reading of the NYT book review section.

My TBR pile is looking like yours--I just hope my dog isn't in the way when it topples over.

Greg said...

I think I'm a fake book reader. I'll see a book with a cool cover and cool title, like the idea of extracting the knowledge out of it, purchase the book, read the first 60 pages, and then it will never be touched again. And I'm not even the latest generation of ADD kids.

Imagine what the 14 year-olds of today will be like 10 years from now. They are going to have to 20 second SYNOPSIS chips to give them the overall gyst of a book. I love technology.

In all fairness, there are exceptions. I can read Berenstein Bears without a problem.

Also-- "Fight Club" is a totally badass movie with some fascinating themes. How did this movie get made by a big studio with a big budget??? Just bought the cheapo DVD version without realizing there's some kind of special edition. Word.

I was also going to recommend a cool book, but you've got way too many to read right now.

Lisa said...

Judy, I envy you the ARCs! What a delightful thought -- a chance to read a book before anybody else see it in a bookstore. The romantic in me imagines reading a book that just grabs me and I know it will be a classic.

Greg, I have a few of those books too. I usually buy them when I'm in the mood to be more informed about politics and most of the time I get too bored or depressed about the subject matter to finish.

I loved Fight Club and took quite a bit of crap about it from people who couldn't get beyond the fighting part to notice the book/movie isn't about fighting or violence at all. The ending took me totally by surprise and I had to watch it several times before I caught all the little "easter eggs". The main theme about our slavishness to consumerism really had a big impact on me...we work jobs that we hate to buy things we do not need...something like that.

Greg said...


Therese said...

Lisa, thanks for the mention here! I hope to see Souvenir (US) on Amazon pretty soon.

My philosophies on book-buying are the same as yours--and my tbr pile is much the same!

Maybe we should think about joining or organizing a long-distance book club!

I prefer to buy my books at my local indie, but I do shop at the big chains, too. As for reviews, I read PW and NYT regularly, but always with an open mind. So much of what passes for critical review is really an expression of the reviewer's personal tastes.

John Elder Robison said...

I'm honored that my book made your list. I hope you enjoy it. I always enjoy your posts. And I really like that painting on the top left in your blog. Scott is a very talented artist.

The Oddessy's program is kind of neat - my brother told me about it. I've gotten books there for many years.

Lisa said...


I am looking forward to reading your book. I don't know anything about the distinction between autism and aspergers, but I read Animals in Translation (also by a transplanted Massachusetts native) and it was fascinating. I noted another post of yours where you mentioned the growing incidents of autism in our country and I, too have been perplexed. Is it that more cases are diagnosed or are the number of cases really on the increase? I suspect there is some of both --

Thank you on behalf of Scott for your compliment about his work. He's my personal favorite of course! If you're ever in Newburyport, you can see his work in person in the Churchill Gallery there.

I just got my May selection from Odyssey. It really is a great program. The books come carefully wrapped, they put the protective plastic (like in a library) on the books and they are signed with a card indicating where and when. I love getting these packages.

Anonymous said...

Lisa, thanks for ordering Town House!


Lisa said...


You are very welcome. My husband was looking for something to read the other night and picked up Town House from my TBR stack. I just checked in with him and he is still reading and said he likes it a lot -- which wouldn't mean much, except Scott almost never reads any fiction. A thumbs up from him means I'll have to get to it soon! Thank you for stopping by.

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Literary Quote

It is worth mentioning, for future reference, that the creative power which bubbles so pleasantly in beginning a new book quiets down after a time, and one goes on more steadily. Doubts creep in. Then one becomes resigned. Determination not to give in, and the sense of an impending shape keep one at it more than anything.

Virginia Woolf