Columns > Published on March 18th, 2015

How To Get Lucky With Your Next Read

Photo Credit: Romano Carrattieri (Flickr)

One of the most heart crushing truths of all time is that you will never be able to read every single book. There are so many titles, stories, characters, and options! Where do you begin? What happens if you spend your life reading all the wrong books? Disaster!

But wait.

Instead of dwelling on the stress that comes from an overabundance of choices, celebrate the freedom that comes with them. This is your opportunity to curate your life's book list, a task just as fancy as it sounds. In my years of reading, I have come up with a five solid, dependable ways to get lucky with your next read.

1. Judge a book by its cover

Don't be afraid of coming off as shallow. Next time you hit up your local independent bookstore in search of your next great read, try going by looks alone. What cover styles excite you? Is one book trim size more appealing to you than another? As lame as it sounds, I have found that I am most attracted to simple covers. Think Miranda July's The First Bad Man: I like a plain, solid book jacket with the title and author printed in legible, but characterless, type. A great deal of the books on my bookshelf fall under this category. If a cover has too much going on, it turns me off. That's just my taste, though! Perhaps you really dig a loud, wild cover. I know a book's outward appearance doesn't always reflect the content inside, but you'd be surprised at how often it does.

Instead of dwelling on the stress that comes from an overabundance of choices, celebrate the freedom that comes with them.

2. Ask a trusted pal

You know the saying, "you are the company you keep?" If that's true, then your friends are probably reading things you'd also enjoy. Some of the best books I've read have been recommendations from the best people I know. Additionally, those who know you well will be able to push your literary tastes a little beyond your comfort zone and recommend titles that would not otherwise be on your radar. This is by far my favorite perk that comes with having bookish pals.

Bonus points if your friend also happens to be a bookseller. That's basically a guarantee that you'll be reading something worthwhile (thank you, bookseller friends!).

3. Read the first sentence

This method is especially helpful if you are having trouble narrowing down options for your next read. When in doubt, simply find out which book starts out the strongest by flipping to Chapter One. Don't feel bad about it. It has been argued that the only sentence more powerful than a novel's first is a novel's last, but I disagree. If the first sentence is dull, I'll never get to the last sentence. Take that!

4. Read the reviews

I think some readers are concerned about reading book reviews because they don't want anything spoiled. I get it. If all the important plot points are discussed in the review, what's the point of reading it? Well, if the book receives stellar reviews, it doesn't matter how much you know. It will most likely still be a compelling read. I also feel confident in assuming a credible Review of Books wouldn't give away any major twists or turns in a story. You're safe. Read up on your books before diving in. It's like a movie trailer — but better. More words, less explosions. 

5. Give up

Up until very recently (just months ago), I refused to stop reading a book until I reached the end, even if it was quickly apparent the book was not for me. I slogged through insufferable stories, keeping the book I was actually excited to read nearby, taunting me, pushing me to finish the bad one. I have always been stubborn, but with books I took it to a new level. I would scoff at people who suggested I quit. What if the good part was just a page away? I was obsessed with completing things. I was difficult.

I feel like a wiser reader now. I know what I like and I'm open to new things, but am also acutely aware of whether a reading experience is enriching and challenging me or simply wasting my time. Do yourself a favor: put down the tedious book and pick up the one you're truly eager to read. Another happiness shortcut brought to you by a book lover.

Do you feel in control of your reading experience now? I hope so! If you have any other advice for stressed readers, please share.

I'm off to pick up my copy of The Unbearable Lightness of Being, a book recommended to me by more than one trusted friend. The only thing unbearable about this book is how much joy it's bringing me!

I'll stop.

About the author

Christine J. Schmidt is a writer originally from New Jersey. After receiving her BFA in Dramatic Writing from SUNY Purchase, she worked at Seattle Repertory Theatre as their artistic literary intern. She recently left Brooklyn, where she was a bookseller and events host at WORD, to reside in Los Angeles. She has previously written for New York Theatre Review, and her plays have been read and produced at theaters in New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Georgia, and Washington. Coffee is her favorite thing.

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