Tuesday, April 26, 2011

How To Find a Great Read

Let me start off by stating a fact: I read.

A lot.

I've talked to a lot of moms who say things like "Oh, I couldn't possibly read as much as you, I hate browsing the library with my kids running wild." 

Ummmmm, me too. 

I never browse at the library with my kids in tow. Ew. I'd rather do lunges for an hour. Nothing like shushing a 3-year-old and then having him demand candy in ransom or he's gonna scream. They know when they have you over a barrel and they will exploit the situation.  

No way, I browse online at home in my PJ's, request my library books on my computer (while still in my PJ's), and then when I receive the email telling me my books are in, I put a robe over my PJ's and run down to the library real quick and nab 'em. 

In and out in five minutes or less.

Ok, I was exaggerating before... I don't really own a robe. 

It took me years to get my system down to a science, but I'm pleased to say that now I do know what I like to read, where to find it, and how to get it in my hands as quickly as possible. 

Let's start at the beginning.

Browsing for Books:
Back when I was a teen, and then a young wife and mother, I loved to read but it was sort of hit-and-miss with finding a good book. I didn't know what I loved to read or how to find it. I'd exhausted the "Inspirational" section at the library and decided most of them were a little too fluffy for me anyway. I love Jesus, but I don't like my books to preach at me (unless they're the Bible, I guess then it's okay). Oprah's list of favorite books were nice enough, but they weren't really my thing. The bestseller list? Some were good, and some were just depressing. 

I'd heard of book clubs, but I didn't know how to find one and it seemed kind of scary. What if you don't want to read the book they're reading? What if you can't verbalize your opinion fully? What if everyone in the group points at you and laughs?

All good questions. Book clubs were out.

This is where the internet became my new best friend.

AmazonThere are two ways to find great books by browsing on Amazon. The first is by looking up some books that you adored and giving them appropriate ratings. The more you rate, the more Amazon gets to know your tastes, and the more accurate their book recommendations for you are. Sort of like Netflix. 

The other way is by looking up your very favorite books and then seeing what Listmania lists those books are on (usually these lists are down by the reviews, on the right hand side of the screen). Typically, people who loved the same books as you will have other books on their lists you may not have heard of. Using this method I discovered a whole new world of books. Without Listmania, I never would have found The Bronze Horseman, The Lightbearer, or These Is My Words, which are some of my favorites.

Lately I've also been experimenting with some of the social-networking sites for readers. They all have specific things that I really like so it's hard to pick just one--  I use them all.

Goodreads is like a virtual bookshelf meets Facebook. You can rate books, write reviews, read reviews, browse recommendation lists, and find other people with similar interests to you. It will compare your book list with theirs, and how you rated them, to show you how compatible your tastes are. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of book clubs on there to join, and it's easy to start your own (you can make your group public or private). The Goodreads iPhone app even has a barcode scanner now, so if you come across a book in the store and you want to look up reviews or save it on your "to read" list, you can just scan it in.

Word of warning on Goodreads though: Do not enable it access to your Facebook profile unless you want every book you've ever read to show up LIVE as you rate them, including all the embarrassing vampire books you read that year you were hiding from reality. Not that I experienced this or anything.

Shelfari is much more visually streamlined and easy to use, in my opinion. This site is good for those who are mostly interested in keeping track of the books they've read, rating them, and keeping a list of books they'd like to read. I think Shelfari trumps Goodreads in the tagging department and I like being able to quickly see all the books that I've tagged in a certain genre. It's weaker on the social side, but I'm not really interested in that so for the most part I default to Shelfari. Both Shelfari and Goodreads will also help you make a cute little widget for your blog if you want one.

WhatdoireadnextI just started playing with this site, but so far I've already found a few books that sound really intriguing. It's pretty straightforward: type in the name of a book you love, and it will show you a list of books you might also like. Really simplifies what I used to do on Amazon and I thought the recommendations were fairly accurate.

Now what?

So once I have a "little" list of books going that I want to read, the next step is to track them down. This is the part where I talk about my local library system, which may be sort of annoying to those of you who don't live near me. Apologies in advance.

I have a Kindle and I read many books on that, but I still utilize the library a LOT.

Here's where the card catalog website comes in. (That link is just for locals... again, sorry)

I can't speak for every library in the country, and I apologize if yours is lame doesn't have an online card catalog, but this website is seriously your friend. Work the system. 

First you look up the book. All the libraries in the area who have that book will show up in a list. It will show you the status of each library's copy, whether it is checked out, requested, in transit, or on the shelf. Look for a library with a copy on the shelf. The libraries in town usually have long waits for popular books, but the libraries further out in the boon tillies just have books sitting on the shelves... I like to think it's because people in the country are too busy planting gardens and riding horses and generally being healthier than the rest of us.

 Then you click "hold." 

Tell it which library you want to borrow from (the library with the copy on the shelf) and which library you want to pick it up at. I like to pick up at the downtown library because they put all requested books on a shelf and you can get them yourself and checkout without bothering the librarian. I'm anti-social that way. 

Then you make sure the library has your email address (you may have to call it in or give it to them next time you're there), and they will send you an email when your books are there waiting for you. If you don't give an email, they will send you a letter via  snail-mail telling you to come pick up your books, which you carefully chose after reading reviews and sorting through recommendations in the comfort of your own home.
And that's basically it.

This ending feels a little anti-climactic to me.

Maybe I should have thrown in a SHAZAM! 

Yeah, that's much better.


  1. oooh, i'm a reader too! i can plow through a good book in a weekend if i put my mind to it! :)

    i go through seasons of different types of reading (fiction vs. non fiction) i've been in a non ficton season since about Christmas-time...(will be sharing most of those titles on my blog shortly)

    ...the tides are sure to turn once the sun is here to stay and i'll be feeling more in the mood of some lighter reads, i'll have to hold some of the titles you mentioned soon! :)

    i employ many of your same methods!


  2. I know exactly what you mean, although if I'm being honest I'm currently in the first "non fiction" phase of my life. In the past I've had a VERY hard time getting through nonfiction books. They made my eyes glaze over. I don't know what changed (well, actually I do) but I've been enjoying them a lot more this year.

    I hesitated to link to any books in my post because I didn't want people to take my "Kira endorsement" too seriously. They might hate my books! I typically don't read Christian fiction (although I make an exception for Francine Rivers, have you read her? She's the best) so make sure you read the descriptions before you jump in to see if they're for you. They're not light reads, but they are great.

  3. I just finished Francine River's lastest - the Marta's Legacy and they were both great. I read them both in less than a week. Lynn Austin is another Christian fiction author I like. I spent a lot of my teenage and college years reading Christian fiction but recently have branched out to more secular reading.

    I really enjoyed "The Help" and the Hunger Games Series. Last week I read Jane Eyre, interesting read.

    I am always looking for a good read too, and the library has been great for me, although I end up waiting sometimes for a while for a good book. I would LOVE to hear your good read suggestions, and promise not to hold you accountable if I don't like them :)

  4. Love it! Thanks! I never know what to read . . . but I love it when I get a good one. I loved These is my Words.

  5. Kira, you are all these thing to me. You are my goodread, my amazon, my whatdoireadnext,and my shelfari. I am SO lucky to have you as my friend as I can just sit at home, receive your email on the next best book and wait for your Kindle to show up at my door. LOL! OK, so I usually have to put my robe on and go to the library but in extremem desperate situations, your technical book reader has helped me out. Life is good. :-)

  6. Andrea~ I liked the Hunger Games too! The third book brought my overall love of the series down a little bit, but the first two were awesome. I have 'The Help' and 'Jane Eyre' in my To Read pile but I haven't gotten to them yet. Glad to know you liked them.

    I'm working on getting a widget on my blog (maybe) of the books I recommend, even though it does freak me out a little bit. I read the first book in Francine River's latest series but I haven't decided if I'm going to read the second one yet. My pile of books I want to read is pretty tall. Did you read The Mark of the Lion series? That one is absolutely fantastic.

  7. The Bronze Horseman is my next-to-read book! I really think our library system should do ebooks. It would make my life so much simpler!

  8. AWESOME advice! I work in an elementary school library and for the past 9 months I've been stuck in kid's fiction... Nothing in this library over and 8th grade reading level. Dont' get me wrong, there are some really good books in this library (ie, Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief or Inkheart) but I am so looking forward to this summer. I've got at least 3 books already lined up. :-)

  9. Kira - The Help should go to the TOP of your list. It was a great book.

    I have read most of Francine Rivers' books. A Lineage of Grace was another good one.
    I especially loved the Mark of the Lion series! If you liked that you would probably enjoy Lynn Austin's Chronicles of the Kings series.
    Have you read Water for Elephants yet? It is on my list but curious if you liked it, if you read it yet.

  10. I did read Water for Elephants. I liked it! It wasn't one of the best books I've ever read, but the time period was fascinating and I liked learning more about what life was like for the circus folk during the 20's. It wasn't heartgrabbing or anything, but it was interesting enough to make me read it quickly.

    I will have to check out that Lynn Austin series since I hadn't heard of it before, and thanks for the tip on The Help. I don't know why i've been putting that one off for so long~ I even checked it out once and then returned it without reading it!

    Definitely look into the three books I mentioned in my post, you would probably like them. Historical Fiction is my favorite genre, and those books have it all. If you add your email address to your blogger profile, I can send you a link to my Shelfari list or something.

  11. @Melissa Oh, I hope you like it! It's got some heavy drama (and some *gasp* SEX) but it's one of the most beautifully written books I've ever read. I totally agree on the eBooks. I actually think our libraries DID have them for a while, but they stopped carrying them. I don't know why. Maybe we should start a petition to bring them back. You should join Goodreads or Shelfari, then we could share book recommendations :)

  12. Love this post and all the book talk in the comments!

    Man, they all make me wish I had time for recrational reading! I am up to my eyeballs in theology and doctrine! As a Bible study leader who hasn't gone to seminary I get to study a looooot.

  13. I totally LOVE our library's online card catalog. A lot of people that I've talked to stay away from the library because they worry about late fees, but our library lets us renew right on the website too. I just wish they let me put holds on more than 5 items! And, Kira, you definitely have to read The Help...and don't forget to read the afterword because it is the best part of the book. :)

  14. I wish I could comment on all the good reads but I am a nonfiction kinda of girl. I can't get of enough of them. I get all my books from the library and do it all online! It looks like I need to check out The Help next time I am in the mood for fiction.

  15. My husband and I go to the Library or bookstores on our dates, just so we aren't taking turns shhh-ing kids! And I love the Shazaam at the end! :) Have a great weekend!


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