How To Pick Amazing Books

Goodreads just posted an article for authors and publishers explaining, or rather trying to explain, how books are discovered. While some books may be unearthed through online recommendations, ie: customers who bought Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern have also bought The Tiger's Wife: A Novel by Tea Obreht, or from mandatory book club lists, the vast majority of people discover books by word of mouth. Shocker! Goodreads ran a survey and found that 79% of Goodreads members uncovered books via their friends. After all, who better to vouch for a book’s amazingness than your own Bffs? In fact, I only read the Hunger Games because a friend was gushing about it, and while I probably would have read it anyways because of all the hype, I wouldn’t have been able to maintain my superiority in knowing that I read it before it became the cool thing to do.

            So where is all this going? Well, since I usually read way more than anyone else I know, I don’t fall into the typical 79%. Instead, I have to go on many a book exploration to find reading choices (Do you hear that husband?! This is why I have to go to bookstores so often, my friends don’t read enough, blame them). Luckily, these adventures always turn out well and I kind of consider myself to be pretty incredible at selecting awesome books.  Apparently, my little sister does as well, and obviously we trust her judgment because she introduced us to The Power of One, because she has encouraged me to write this post detailing tips on how to choose a book that is sure to please.

                So here it goes:

Pick a cover that catches your eye.

            The first thing that always draws me into a book is the cover and since this is our first contact with the book it had better be good. I don’t look for anything specific but if I see a cover that looks more interesting than not, chances are I’ll get the book. I finally bought The Book Thief by Markus Zusak and the Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton because after multiple trips to the bookstore they both kept catching my eye, even though their covers on not super spectacular. So be on the look out for those covers, they will unearth hidden gems!

Be flexible.

            To their folly, too many people I know will steadfastly only read books written by the same two or three authors. Typically these authors regurgitate the same worn out story, their only care is mass production. Oh the horror!! I cannot imagine confining myself to such a little category.  The same goes for people who refuse to read a certain genre. I used to be that person, no way was I going near any fantasy-esqe novels, and the came Game of Thrones. I mean I still won’t read westerns or romances but those really don’t count. Obviously.

Explore your favorite authors. 

            Ah yes, in direct contrast to tip number 2, I implore you to explore a favorite author’s other works. Here’s the thing, if you fall in love with one book chances are you’ll enjoy, maybe not as passionately as the previous, the writer’s other creations. For example, I am obsessed with Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt. Everything about this non-fiction book is pure magic and since the author experienced most of the story first hand I doubt his other book, The City of Falling Angels, will be as good but I’m willing to take that chance. 

Take Recommendations From Random Strangers.

            I will look for reading recommendations everywhere. No seriously, I creep on people on the train to see what they’re reading, I’ll semi stalk people's perusals in bookstores, I’ll eavesdrop on the swimmers I’m guarding. I know, my crazy is showing. Don't worry, if you’re not a crazy obsessed serious book lover like me, you can also check out the local library’s book club lists or, my personal favorite, the Barnes and Noble’s staff recommendation shelf. Both great places to discover new reads without all the crazy.

Read more, a lot more. 

            Some of the books I come across aren’t so amazing and unless you read my blog you probably won’t hear me talking about them. But the beauty of it is, I read so many other books that my chances of finding some really damn impressive books is pretty high. And since I devour so many books I’m more likely than most to take a gamble on a book that I’m iffy about. Some of these gambles have had a huge payoff (I’m talking about you A Separate Peace!)

Hopefully, these tips should be super helpful for y’all and if they’re not you might just be horrible at picking out amazing books. If that’s the case no worries because luckily you have me, who is always willing to give a recommendation. 

This Month's Stop Bangladesh!

I just finished Revenge by Taslima Nasrin for my Around The World in 12 Books Challenge.

Set in modern Bangladesh (Hello, second stop of my challenge!) this short novel follows the life Jhumur, a recent college graduate, who marries her sweetheart Haroon. Unfortunately for Jhumur, shortly after the ceremony the man she wed has disappeared and is replaced by a strict traditionalist who bears no resemblance to the man who happily spent hours listening to her sing. Haroon now wants her to quiet her laugh, confine herself to the family home unless accompanied by a male escort, despite the fact that she possesses a degree in physics, and refrain from saying his name unless the two are alone. Worse, six weeks into their life together she becomes pregnant and since Haroon doubts his wife’s pre marital chastity, and thus his link to the child, he forces her to abort the baby. Haroon’s actions, however, have repercussions.

This book is one of the reasons why I love this challenge! I would have never in a million years come across Nasrin had I not been searching for a book to fit this month’s requirement. Nasrin as an author, and as a person, deserves some accolades. An ex-doctor turned author, Nasrin was exiled from Bangladesh eighteen years ago because of her feministic view point and her criticisms of Islam. Despite multiple fatwas she continues to write in hopes of educating people about the existing inequalities.

The neat thing about this book is that it’s written as a type of fable, not so much a fable in that animals are playing the characters, but more so in that there is a moral to the story. The not so neat thing about the book is that I could not relate to or sympathize with the main character at all. I think part of the reason I couldn't is because while I can understand a woman’s reaction to oppression when that is the norm of their country or if they’ll be met with violence if they resist, I can't understand Jhumur, a woman who had options. I realize that part of Bangladeshi culture requires women to submit to their husbands and attempts to shelter women, however, other parts of the culture allow a woman to excel and be somewhat independent, as is clearly evidenced by Jhumur’s pre marital life. So I had trouble reconciling that a woman who has a choice between submission and her independence would choose the former, and even further still love her husband despite it. As an American woman with an amazingly supportive husband I just failed to wrap my mind around it. 

And onto the next . . . I am currently reading my classic novel of the month, Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte.


I just finished Columbine by Dave Cullen and the reviews praising this book were right on the mark.

As soon as I heard about this book I knew I wanted to read it. I always seem to be drawn to tragic stories and Columbine was no exception. I also think part of the lure comes from the fact that the shooting occurred while I myself was in high school. I remember being shocked, but more so I remember how scared the administration seemed to be. Immediately afterwards a zero tolerance policy went into effect No longer were kids allowed to jest about violence, which of course, us being high school kids, only led to more jokes. Everyone’s concerns were repeatedly reinforced because after Columbine the media reported on nearly every school shooting, some close to home. To this day I plan exit strategies in case the building I’m in comes under attack; most rooms seem to offer no safe escape. To be fair, I also strategize escape routes for possible zombie attacks. I assure you this is as far as my paranoia extends.

              GoodReads describes Cullen’s novel as follows:

             "Ten years in the making and a masterpiece of reportage, "Columbine" is an award-winning journalist's definitive account of one of the most shocking massacres in American history. It is driven by two questions: what drove these killers, and what did they do to this town? On April 20, 1999, two boys left an indelible stamp on the American psyche. Their goal was simple: to blow up their school, Oklahoma City-style, and to leave a lasting impression on the world. Their bombs failed, but the ensuing shooting defined a new era of school violence--irrevocably branding every subsequent shooting 'another Columbine.

I’m always cautious about reading books based on a gruesome tragedy because you never know what you’re going to get. Some authors set out exploit people’s morbid curiosities and others seek to help people understand. This book falls into the latter category. Cullen took on an ambitious task when he endeavored to tell this story and the result was a tasteful portrayal that helped clear up many of the misperceptions surrounding Columbine.

I myself was stunned at how little I actually knew about what occurred. Like many people I believed that two teenage outcasts wearing trench coats simply snapped one day and planned their revenge on the student body of their perceived tormentors. None of this is even remotely true. Cullen demonstrates, based on a plethora of evidence from police investigations, FBI profilers, and the killers own journals, that these teenagers were not loners, they did not have an agenda retaliate against the jocks, nor did they snap. Instead, they were egotistical boys who believed that the human race is comprised of idiotic sheep who need to be destroyed.

Parts of the book had a greater impact on me than others. First, when I pictured what happened I never considered the sensory overload the students were bombarded with. Not only were the murderers shooting victims, but they were also detonating home made bombs throughout the school, which led to thick smoke filling the air and setting off deafening sound of the school’s fire alarm. I was also unaware of how little time actually lapsed during their rampage.

Secondly, I have always had mixed feelings towards the killer’s parents. Initially, I believed the parents were to blame and I stereotyped them as uninvolved and negligent. Now, however, I am more cautious about making that proclamation because they seemed like average parents who were just unfortunate enough to have monsters as kids.

In short, I highly recommend this book to anyone who is interested in learning more about one of our nation’s greatest tragedies. That being said, this was a hard read that brought me to tears on numerous occasions. My husband doesn’t understand why I read books that have such an effect on me and my answer is always the same: If people can survive such horrors, the least I can do is learn about their struggles and remember.

And onto the next . . . I am going to start Bangladeshi author Taslima Nasrin's Revenge, which will be the second stop in my Around the World in 12 Months book Challenge

So Addictive

Holy freaking smokes!!! George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series is amazing. I just finished reading the third book, A Storm of Swords, and I’m beyond hooked.

For those of you who are unaware, Martin’s books were recently turned into a series on HBO called Game of Thrones, which is why everyone knows the book series as the “Game of Thrones” novels. The series is full of lust, wars, betrayal, kings and queens; in short everything that makes a book oh so wonderful. Now some of you may be thinking “ugh, fantasy novels?” but you need to shut your mouths right now because I thought that too . . . until I was converted. During bar prep, which is really the most miserable time of any future attorney’s life, my friend Meghan was gushing about this new tv show. All I heard was kings fighting and dragons being born and blah blah blah. So not my scene. Fast forward to the month after the bar, when I’m sleeping all day and mindlessly flipping through every channel (no judging, after studying for 19 hours a day for two months I was a bona fide zombie after the exams) when low behold I come across Game of Thrones on Demand.  I started watching the first episode at 10pm and I didn’t stop until I finished all 10 episodes around 5 in the morning. Yeah, it was that addictive and now I’m the person gushing like a fool about make believe kingdoms.

There are currently five books out, with two more to come (hopefully!) and out of the three I’ve read so far I have enjoyed the third the most. The first book, aptly titled Game of Thrones, was great but it followed the first of the HBO series exactly so the book wasn’t much of a surprise. While book two, A Clash of Kings, just wasn’t as good as book three in my opinion.

So a short synopsis on how the beginning of the series starts, because I wouldn’t dream of ruining the rest of this for you: The Hand of the King is dead, poison is suspected, and the King has traveled from warm, sunny King’s Landing north to Winterfell, the home of his longtime friend Ned Stark . . .  

Well shit, never you mind the description because I can't sum it up. I have so much to say about these books, as is evidenced by the daily conversations that my co-worker and I have, but I feel like saying anything will give something away. So that just means you have trust me, you will love these books. So yeah.

And on to the next . . . I am going to start Columbine