Den of the Cyphered Wolf

Friday, November 24, 2017

How to Find a Good Book

I've noticed that the blog posts where I feature a book list tend to get more traffic. Okay. ... But for a lot of reasons I'm not going to just make a series of blog posts that are that. First off my reading list is large and unwieldy and I don't have the patience to adapt it.  And secondly, I have a lot of guilty pleasures on that list that I don't want to get out.

But what I am willing to do is run down my methodology. How stuff winds up on my list. And why yes I am recycling my old material. So let's go.

Retail Marketing

In the before time in the long long ago. There was no Goodreads.  There was no Amazon. There was no Googlebooks. There was just the store and perhaps the library. Buildings where the great tomes were stored. But there were so many. How would you know what stories were... and I can't keep this up.

Yeah.  A lot of what I read in the old days was based on how the stores displayed and marketed the books. Standees and cover art. I'll get to it a bit later but I still like some of those authors and series so the marketing played a role. And I figure it's better to cop to it now than pretend like I am some sort of librarian.

It  Got a Movie

First off no. No. I've been around the block long enough to know that sometimes the book ISN'T better than the movie. But if a work got a movie or really any sort of adaption I figure it's beloved enough to pique my interest. Especially since even for good adaptations a lot tends to get lost. Sometimes the book is a whole 'nother animal. And in the case of multiple beloved adaptations, it's interesting exercise just to see what elements are intrinsic to the story and which were adaptational flourish.

Was It Referenced in Another Story

Sometimes you'll get lucky and to denote that a particular character as smartypants bookworm the writers will just stick books in their hands or even go further and have them just go into long diatribes about literature.

If a character I like is reading something I at least try to make a note of it. Other times it's not so obvious. Narrative economy means that if writers want to pay tribute to a story they loved sometimes they have to be subtle about it.  But if you're a big enough fan/nerd you'll sometimes just hear about this stuff and get curious.

Da Canon
As far as educational policy goes, I hate the idea of literary canon, that an English teacher hasn't done their job unless they exposed their students to a relatively infinitesimal grouping of texts. Especially considering early on teachers often feel it's better to expose kids to stuff they find engaging and show them reading can be fun rather than just something you do with a gun to your head.

But as a starting point, The Cannon is useful if you have absolutely no clue where to start..

Genre Lists and Subcategories
Let's pretend that you do have a clue where to start. That you have a pretty good understanding of the tropes and conventions that are your buttons. You know what you like. Well instead of trying to figure out what the greatest books ever were written were you might just try to figure out what the greatest books ever written were with the stuff you like. I have some issues with trying to categorize everything but it's useful if you're tyring to expose yourself to stuff that might otherwise get overlooked.

Science Fiction and Other Speculative Fiction Websites, and Magazines

I know what I like and my genres of choice are science fiction and fantasy. So here is a list of those types of websites I visit regularly. They often signal boost stories they think are worthwhile, sometiems even if they are a bit old and often feature short stories. 

Furthermore, while I don't want to give them their own category The Nebula and Hugo awards has generally done a good job of picking worthwhile stuff over the years. They have a good track record. Even if you don't read the award winners you should check out the authors. 

Series and Authors I Like

Doing it too much may be a problem but there are plenty of book series that I know I like. That I'm really into... that I just haven't been able to finish.

Furthermore even if a work may not be directly related to another I still lament if I haven't read it if it's by an author that I know I like.

Books I Read as A Kid or Are Related to Books I Read as A Kid

I loved Animorphs growing up but there were just a lot of books I missed. So it's always been on my bucket list to fill out the series. But in reality, there are a lot of books I wish I had read as a kid that I just didn't. Moreover that quite a few that I did that just got lost or ruined and I'd like new editions of them.

People of Color, Other Marginalized Voices, and International Literature

Apart from the sci-fi ghetto, my beef with Da Canon is that it's really hard for someone who's not white, not male or not straight to become accepted as a must read. And I feel a certain duty to rectify that. Even in genre-fiction it can just be painful waiting for somebody to get their due. And when they do the powers that be will never shut the hell up about it. (Jesus Christ the Sad Puppies are stupid.)

Anthologies, Textbooks, and Readers

Anthologies, textbooks, and readers are really useful for ideas. Often for, practical reasons (Let's be honest even in college a novel was a least two weeks in the curriculum and in high school I would say at the very least three that's a lot of time for teachers and the textbook makers know it. Furthermore even without things having to be taught a full novel, or play, is already a lot of space in a book especially considering any supplemental material.)  they don't feature whole texts but rather excepts but if you're digging on something why not seek out the full story?

If I Was a Professor

I have been and still intend to focus mostly on fiction for this list but this trick works on non-fiction as well. Pretend for a second you were a professor and had to write a syllabus on any given topic.

  • What books are highly referenced? 
  • Who are the leading researchers (or writers) in the field? 
  • What books have historical importance? 
  • What books lead to some groundbreaking paradigm shift?

This strategy works for a surprising amount of subjects fictional or not.

Literary Magazines, Web sites and End of Year Lists
A list for a list.

Okay here are some of my favorite book websites and Magazines.

Most of these feature some sort of end of year best of list which is also a good place to go looking for decent books.

Booktube and Other Bookish Youtubers

There are a lot of Youtuber's who take to reviewing books.

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