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« The Big Question--What's Your 'Next Book' | Main | Open Discussion Project at Wi14 »

Professional Readers on Choosing Their 'Next Book'

"On average, I receive over 200 ARCs a week delivered to the front porch of my rowhouse in Washington D.C..... I usually give a book fifty pages; if there's not something about that book that grabs me--voice especially, situation, language, plot--I'll probably put it aside and pick up something else on my list or something unexpected that's arrived on my porch." --Maureen Corrigan, book critic for NPR's Fresh Air, in an interview with Poets & Writers

The always-popular galley room at Wi14.

Shortly before this year's ABA Winter Institute, I wrote about an exchange I had with John Evans of DIESEL, A Bookstore, Brentwood, Calif., regarding how those of us who read for a living choose "the next book" from our ever-expanding TBR stacks. Since then, I've had a great time collecting other professional readers' takes on the subject. Over the next couple of weeks, I'll share them with you. Feel free to join the conversation.

Although I've heard from booksellers primarily, a few other book trade voices weighed in as well. On the morning that earlier column was published, my colleague Matt Baldacci, director of business development for Shelf Awareness, conceded that "there's no system. One week it's the cover, the next because I'm meeting someone soon. But I have to say I chose a particularly wonderful method this morning. Getting up in the dark, I was starting fresh: no books in progress! So I felt around my groaning nightstand 'hoping' for Scribner's feature Winter Institute title Turbulence by David Szalay. I couldn't see, but I knew it was there, and it had the added promise of being slim. Instead, I came up with the equally slim (and nonfiction!) Greek to Me by Mary Norris. A happy and quite satisfactory accident."

Like most of us, Keith Arsenault, national account manager, Ingram Content Group, is "often split between reading what I 'should' be and what I want to, but as a sales rep one also has the reading to do for client publishers whom I have the pleasure of representing. It's a constant tug of war for time among the three of them, a literary Cerberus barking 'read me next!' It's a happy instance when topicality/buzz, subject interest and client publisher overlap, but for those other times it's mostly work first, pleasure second, and the au courant bringing up the rear."

About five years ago, Melissa Posten of the Novel Neighbor, St. Louis, Mo., found herself resenting her bookselling job for its control over her reading life. Instead of just walking over to the shelf and picking a title or opting for something she was in the mood for, she was always thinking about the next sales appointment or what a fellow book buyer had told her she should read. For a time, she even started to dislike reading, but listening to audiobooks gradually helped her return to the fold.

"That was when I promised myself that I was finished reading based solely on my job," Posten said. "So now I would say about 75% of the time I read whatever the heck I want. It's mostly children's books, because there's a reason I'm a children's book person and that reason is love. But now I read sequels--I never used to read sequels (You don't need book 2 to handsell a series!). I do read books for upcoming events, but I also read books that my kid customers tell me to read because they think it's cool when I take their suggestions. I put books down if they aren't making me happy. I re-listen to Carry On by Rainbow Rowell because that does make me happy.

"I guess it boils down to this: I pick books by listening to my heart. That's a lot cheesier than I usually am, but it's one of the deepest truths I know. Choose what books your heart wants, no matter what they are, and you won't ever start to think of reading as a chore. That's what I tell my customers and their parents. That's what I tell my daughter. And now it's what I tell myself."

Noting that as a panel member for Indies Introduce "there is a very large must-read pile on my dining room table right now," Anne Holman of the King's English Bookshop, Salt Lake City, Utah, added: "Seriously, I do try to pay extra attention to an ARC that is sent to me with a personal note. I understand the importance of that particular book to that author or editor or publicist and I try not to treat them lightly. For real though, humor will get me every time. Finding an ARC like This Is Where I Leave You or The Sisters Brothers is one of life's great pleasures."

How does she find the time for older books and rereading? "Mostly I take them off the shelf and put them on my bed and they taunt me endlessly," Holman replied. "I really want to reread The Pickwick Papers because it was so funny, but it is so long and really? I don't need to read it again. It's why I believe in reincarnation; so all 'those books' will be waiting for me in my next life."

Choosing that next book is hard. You're not alone. More voices next week.

--Published by Shelf Awareness, issue #3437

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