Thursday, October 14, 2010

Guest in Progress: Rebecca Thomas, on Finding Books to Read

After reading last week’s anecdote about how one reader happened to find a book, Rebecca Thomas emailed to suggest that I pursue the topic: how do readers find books? She then rattled off a paragraph or so about the many different ways she looks for the books she reads…and voila! Here, obviously, was the right person to handle the issue!

In Search of a Good Book to Read
By Rebecca Thomas

I read a lot. I mean a lot. People often tell me, “Oh, I read a lot, too.” Then I start talking to them and realize they really don’t read a lot. They just read. I mean, it’s always nice to talk with people about what they’re reading, but in general, most people are reading a book every couple of weeks or so, and often as not, they’re reading what everyone else is currently reading, give or take an exception or two. Yeah, they are reading, and they’re reading good stuff, don’t get me wrong. But generally speaking, their need to have a ready supply of books to read is nowhere near as pressing as mine, I find. Which is disappointing, though I don’t say anything. In fact, at the risk of sounding like a reading snob (which I am not!), I’m just usually somewhat desperate to make sure my reading stack is high enough, I am always pleasantly surprised to find someone who actually recommends something I haven’t read and might actually want to check out!

I’m not really an overly adventuresome or eclectic reader by any means. Admittedly, I read mostly fiction, and much of it is in a limited vein, I suppose some people would say. Nonetheless, since I read a lot (which I know I keep saying, sorry), I realized a few years ago I had to figure out how to feed my ever-present need for something to read. I couldn’t keep relying on books simply to appear when I was ready. I tried keeping a little list of books to look for when shopping, titles I’d discovered among various sources ranging from the latest Washington Post Book World review—(sigh…remember Book World!? And I subscribed for years to the NY Times Book Review, but when the annual price reached nearly $100, I gave it up, tough as it was)—to something someone in the office mentioned. But this willy-nilly approach wasn’t very satisfactory.

So I’ve made book finding an ongoing, active undertaking. Nowadays I usually (still, not always) have a decent size stack to be read next to the bed, rarely feeling like I’ve got nothing at all in the works—which is really a terrible feeling.

I asked Leslie to get Work in Progress readers to share ideas about how they suss out books to read, and she suggested I lead the discussion. So here’s a few things I do to discover possible books that will appeal to me …. - I know, I know, everybody knows about But it’s a source of ideas not to be overlooked. I frequently peruse lists produced by people and linked to the pages of books I look up. For instance, if I’m interested in a novel about WWII, invariably there are related lists on my chosen book page like “Best WWII Love Stories,” or “25 Top WWII Novels” or “Family Sagas You’ve Never Heard Of”… things like that. I’ve found many first-rate reads in this manner, books I decided to try, often out of print, not available at the library, yet easily acquired via

Another suggestion for following book lists is to use the websites for other English speaking countries (e.g., UK, Canada, Australia) to see what those readers recommend. I like British authors, whose works are generally hard to find in the US. So looking at the other amazon sites is helpful because their lists and readers are different than those in the US.

Also not to be overlooked on is the “Hot New Releases” category, featuring both current and forthcoming titles to consider.

Publishers Weekly - Two possibilities for discovering books through PW. First, the website itself is chocked with stuff about books…books currently out and books coming out. And of course, you can subscribe to the weekly print magazine. What I really like, though, is the free e-letters (see top of the home page to subscribe) on the following topics (subscribe to one or all): PW Daily, cooking, religion, children and comics. I subscribe to the e-letter on upcoming books about religion, which comes biweekly. It covers fiction and nonfiction titles, with short articles that give me enough info to figure out if I want to follow up with a closer look. - I recently stumbled on this website, which bills itself as “a community of bibliophiles.” You can sign up for membership to access the entire site. Admittedly, I have yet to dig into it deeply, but I’ve bookmarked it and expect to use it because there is great material here to amplify my reading experience.

Bookmarks Magazine – a bimonthly print magazine for $27.95 annually. I subscribed earlier this year and have had a couple of issues. I like it so far…gives me decent ideas for current and forthcoming books. (FYI-- I picked up my first issue at one of the local bookstores.)

Book This is the free monthly book review section produced for Books A Million bookstores ( I like the print version because I can scan it fairly quickly for reviews of a variety of books. Though they are mostly of the very popular, broad appeal ilk, I still get some good ideas. The Book Page web site itself offers way more material than the print edition (though I confess to not having looked at the website till writing this piece!). Again, a great source for titles. The other nice thing is the coupons and discounts you get via email as a Books a Million member (not a plug, just a mention). Every little bit helps when you read a lot (!).

O Magazine - There are two features in this monthly print magazine in the area the editors call the “Reading Room” that highlights book titles. One is the book review section where often there are books and authors featured which are completely unknown to me, so that’s fun. The other component is a short, monthly piece called “Books that Made a Difference to….”, which is a famous person. Here you’ll see old and new titles of all sorts—a wonderful source of ideas for something to read…or reread.

Local library – In Fairfax County (VA), where I live, the librarians put together a notebook of lists of forthcoming books, culled from a variety of sources available to them. Sometimes you have to ask at the Info Desk for the notebook. Books listed are often several months out, so it gives you a running jump start on the crowds who might be hankering for the next best seller by so & so. Then, you can jump online and reserve the book before anyone else, if you’re lucky, and save your book buying pennies a little bit! The other thing I like to do at the library is check out the used book sales because the books are so dang cheap. I can get a nice size stack for less than $5 and then, if I don’t like something after the first few pages, I can toss it aside with little regret for my expenditure. When I’ve collected enough, I give them back to the library for a book donation write off. All in all, it’s an easy and effective way to try out new authors and titles!

Of course, this is by no means an exhaustive list of ways to find good books, but I sure have found these sources helpful in assuaging some of my anxiety for finding books. If you have other ideas for ways to find good books to read, I sure would appreciate hearing from you! E-mail me at

About: According to her mother, Rebecca Thomas taught herself to read at age 4, with great and early hopes of fulfilling her father's promise that one day she could read all the books on his shelf. She won the reading contest in 5th grade for giving the most book reports (and people still liked her). Prize was a still cherished color plated edition of "The Little Princess." She's been an association professional, a freelance writer, business owner and wife and mother. Currently in a great state of flux, she's contemplating reviving work on her epic novel and looking for a publishing venue once again. Mostly, though, she spends time reading.


DC-area author Leslie Pietrzyk explores the creative process and all things literary.