Monday, March 15, 2010

"Did I ever tell you about my Uncle Max?"

By Steve Weddle

Musta been when I was 15 or 16. We were piled into a school bus, heading to a track meet. Or a basketball game. I'd ended up without anything to read, though I think I probably had my OTASCO-version of a Walkman and a couple of Psychedelic Furs tapes. Or maybe one tape. You got TALK TALK TALK and what do you need, right?

So we stopped at a McDonald's in Bossier City and Coach handed out five dollar bills for us to get something to eat. I bought a bag of hamburgers and, while the other kids wasted time socializing, cool dude that I was, I eased across the parking to, imagine my luck, a little used bookstore. Great place to spend my left-over burger money, right?

Being in my mid-teens and super cool, I walked back to the bus with a Welcome Back, Kotter novel. I know. I can smell your jealousy from here.

Paperback. Probably twenty-five cents. A picture of the Sweathogs on the cover. Green with yellow font.

I haven't the slightest idea what the book was about. I do remember that it was first encounter with a certain word. Turns out one of the guys was "ogling" one of the girls. Then he "ogled" another one. I know, right? Some kinky stuff.

What drew me to the book was a familiar cast of characters. I dug the TV show and wanted more contact with the world there. So that's why I chose that book. Had I known it would open a world of people ogling the hell out of each other, I'd have picked it up sooner, of course.

My usual read was science-fiction. Harry Harrison. Isaac Asimov. I liked good characters. I liked the Stainless Steel Rat. I liked the Foundation series. Robots. Other planets.

Some occasional science-fantasy. Steve Brust. I liked dragons. Never found much use for unicorns.

So I was buying stories based on characters I liked. Usually series stuff. I find someone I like, I read everything I can about that character. But not from that author. At the time, I wouldn't have read any non-Stainless Steel Rat books by Harry Harrison. I don't know why. Sheesh. I was 15. I didn't know what "ogle" meant, you want me to know why I only read the Rat books? What do you people want from me?

Now I pick books based on recommendations. Whether I know the person in the flesh or on the Twitters, if someone has the same tastes I do, I'll read what they recommend. Shelfari. Good Reads. Facebooks.

We've also got some great book review sites online now, and whatever is left of the print reviews. I still read the London book review and the New York one, both still in print, as well as so many online.

And reviews at the online shops -- Amazons, Powell's, B&N -- and more. And the printed-out sheets of paper pasted up on bookshelves in bookstores.

So 25 years ago I was picking books by looking through the shelves for something familiar. Now I ask around for something new.

How do you pick your next book to read?


Julie said...

It's been so long (10 month old baby in house and too tired to read for pleasure most nights).

I get hooked on authors and read every single thing they've written until I run out and get all sad and have to wait. I like finding a "new" author with years of books (this happened with Lisa Scottoline, who is a homegirl and fun. My type of "beach" reading) behind them so I can power through them all at once. I was a manager in a Borders and a supervisor in a smaller chain for many years, and I loved nothing more than unpacking boxes of new releases and getting to scan them before anyone else. If someone recommends a book, and I know we have similar tastes I'll pick it up.

My absolute favorite reads have been those that I just happened to pick up for "no good reason" and found a gem.

Anonymous said...

Like Julia, once I latch on to somebody, I'm gonna work my way through their whole ouevre, so when somebody I like comes out with something new, that goes in the to read pile. I read a fair amount of nonfiction (usually history) -- choices there are review driven, primarily, although I've still got a couple dozen titles from my late father's library to work through. For crime fiction, like Steve, there are the personal recommendations. Otherwise, there's the title-and-flip test. I'll walk down the aisle at the bookstore. If a title jumps out at me, I grab the book and read the first page. If I like the writing, I flip it open at random. If I still like the writing, then I buy it. And I did just buy Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter. I've probably read fifteen books on Lincoln, just couldn't resist.

Steve Weddle said...

Julie, Someday someone should do a list of those books we all pick up "for no good reason" and end up loving. I wonder if they're the same books?

Dan, My wife and I do the first-line test with just about every book we read and/or buy. I'll come up from the basement with a stack of 10 books and read off the first line or so to her and she'll tell me what she thinks sounds good.

Debra Lynn Shelton said...

I usually buy books on recommendation or if they're written by someone I "know" on Twitter.

You were such a geek in HS! I was a cheerleader and lost in my music. I'm still lost in my music, but now I'm lost in my writing as well.

And, yes, I always read the back cover and first page or so to see if I like the writing and idea for the story. No matter who recommends something to me, if I don't feel swept in pretty quickly, I walk away. (Ooh, I'm tough!)

pattinase (abbott) said...

Something as radically different from the last books as I can find.

Chris said...

I pick books up from all over the place. Recommendations in reviews, new releases by people I "know" or that I've read before and liked, interesting nonfiction stuff (like history, travel, etc.), the list is endless.

One thing I don't do a lot of is keep them. When I read something, I may loan it out once or twice, and if it comes back I'll usually unload it at the used bookstore. Some stuff I do keep, because I do re-read, but I'm not one of these people who feels compelled to have a huge library of my own. For signings, I bought a little moleskin notebook that I've taken to have the writers sign in, since I often trade or give away the books. Some authors seem taken aback by that, but others seem to enjoy it. I like having them all in one place.

Joelle Charbonneau said...

I'm like Julie and Dan. I love finding a 'new' author and working my way through their backlist. Covers often make me pick up a book for no good reason at the bookstore, but the opening page or the back cover copy have to hook me in order to get me to actually buy the book. And unlike Chris, I keep my favorites. I give away boxes of books to the library every year, but I have several bookshelves filled with books I love to pick up again after a year or two has passed.

Julie - hang in there. The two year old in my house finally lets me have time to read...not alot, but I at least can sneak a few books in every month!

Anonymous said...

Like you, if someone I know tells me they enjoyed a book and hand it over, then I'll give it a bash. But I have discovered that I just don't share some of my friend's taste in books. I hate those 'I was abused all of my life and kept under the kitchen sink but now I make millions by writing about it' sort of books. I can't get my head round what my friends get out of them.
I also find myself smiling at my mum and saying thanks as she hands over yet another pile of books. Don't get me wrong, she has read very widely over the years but she does have a preference for romances set in Ireland or chicklit, even though she's in her late seventies, but good on her.
The one style she doesn't like is crime. I tried to pass some Harlan Coben onto her - fairly harmless stuff but she was not impressed and handed it back with a 'no thanks'.
I also spend most Saturday afternoons in the charity shops in Oban, checking out their crime shelves to see what's new. This week I got lucky and found 'The Good Son' by Russel D. McLean. Sometimes I just pick something up that I've never heard of before and just give it a try.
It's been great since I started out on Twitter because some cool people there are happy to tell me what they are reading and that's worked out very well, especially discovering some great writers like Charlie Huston, Sean Chercover, Dave White and Russel D. McLean.