How do I choose a book to read?
Well, most of the time I have a reading project. Like when I read the Top Hundred 20th Century children's chapter books (according to Scholastic). (What a great experience!) Or, I'm reading within my ongoing unending project to read all the literary classics (a richly rewarding never ending saga). Or, I'll go through a phase like when I read a whole bunch of books written by chefs and food workers (my favorite was called Waitress, written by a woman who had been a waitress for over 50 years -- what a book!).
I also get sidetracked by books that come into the store. I'll read the flap, or the first page and get sucked in. Like last week when I read a history of comic bookstores because the first page was so interesting. (I didn't know a thing about comic books, not even that they came out serially, and now I know a little more.)
But my favorite way to find out what to read is to ask people what their favorite book is. Not foolproof, but boy have I found a ton of great books that way. My theory is that if people have an emotional attachment to a book, it is probably a good book. Just a few gems I've found - I Capture the Castle, My Family and Other Animals, The Grapes of Ralph, Danny Champion of The World, A River Runs Through It. The Best!
Not to be a bit snobby, but this only works with people who read. Sometimes I'll ask someone their favorite book and they'll mention a title and I will slowly back away and then start running. Just kidding. But readers have a big advantage here. If you asked me my favorite book right now I would say -- My Struggle by Karl Ove Knausgaard, or The Black Obelisk by Eric Remarque, or The Runaways by Ulf Stark. John, my bookstore Kameraden just said Lord of the Rings. Kris McGinn, intrepid Cricket reporter's favorite book -- well you will have to ask her.
I know it is hard to choose a single book, there are so many in the Pantheon. It's also good to ask people who read deeply in specific topics what their favorite from that genre is. That's how I found the Foxfire books by asking a big nature reader their top choice. An economics reader was in here and got me interested in the economist Friedrich Hayek because he recommended The Fatal Conceit as his favorite. Children too have great favorites, and boy, are they good salesmen about their favorites. I found The Shakespeare Stealer this way (so good.)
There is a book, you can use the google machine to find it, and it was from the 1970s and it asked the Harvard faculty at the time to each write a paragraph about their favorites. Boy did I find some gems.
So ask people what their favorite books are, and then judge them intensely.
Mark Stolle owns Manchester By The Book, a used bookstore in downtown Manchester and he offers biweekly recommendations for our readers on what to read right now.