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How Do You Decide Your Next Book?

Sharanya Sharma

Staff Writer

Growing up, Sharanya Sharma was frequently caught leaving home and tumbling into places like Hogwarts, Prydain, and Frell. These days, she spends most of her time running around after (adorable) children in Washington, DC, trying to teach them things like math and social studies and reading. Especially reading. All of her spare time (and change) is spent in bookstores, inhaling books and coffee. She's had a life-long love affair with middle-grade and YA lit, and hopes to write her own novel(s) in those genres some day. Blog: Inkstinedreads Twitter: @srsharms

For years now, I’ve been trying to understand the method behind my madness when it comes to answering that never-ending question bookworms all over ask themselves: what do I read next?

Once upon a time, I, too, had my TBR pile, stretching ever-high towards the sky. Making a dent in that pile, though, was another story entirely. Some days I’d pull out that book that had been resting right at the top of the pile, waiting patiently for me to grab it. But other days, I’d pull out the story that had been sitting hopelessly close to the bottom, the one I’d said I’d read ages ago, but had been all but forgotten. And then, sometimes (okay…a lot of the time) I ignored my TBR pile altogether, and simply landed on a book by randomly searching, and/or picking it up on a whim at the local bookstore or library.

Believe me, I’ve tried sticking to my TBR pile like glue to a thumb. I mean, that list was there for a reason, right? I actually did want to pick up the books that were there, after all! But more often than I’d like to admit, I found myself gently putting the book back on the shelf.

At first I thought it was content related — that if I read a romance before, then I’d want to pick up a romance next. And yes, sometimes that was the case! But not often. In fact, there have been lots of times where I also go the opposite direction instead. For example, if I read a romance before, then my next book might be a chilling dystopia or a hard-boiled thriller. And then, too, sometimes I’ll pick up a book that’s kind of related, content-wise, to what I read last, but is just different enough to not feel like the same book, or worse, an imitation of a book. That’s the beauty of books, y’know? Just like people, they don’t always fit into one category.

I know there are people out there who, despite whatever book they read before, will pick up the book at the top of their TBR pile. These readers can tell us days, even weeks in advance what book they’ll be reading next, and when. It’s kind of amazing, actually — I can only imagine what kind of organizational skills those bookworms have, too!

There’s also an abbreviated version of this decision-making process, which sounded promising. There are readers I know who look at their whole TBR stack, and pick out the four or five they’ll read that month. No particular order or more specific timeline necessary, just a shorter method of lining up books so that you’re not wandering aimlessly through your local library, trying to find something that’ll catch your eye. I tried this method myself, last April. I wondered if maybe I minimized the amount of books in my TBR, but still gave myself room to move around, it would be easier to predict where I’d want to go next. Unfortunately, that list, too, was completely ignored.

So these days, when somebody asks to look at my TBR List, I’ve started showing them a blank page or an empty screen. Because, honestly, sometimes it feels like a book is more likely to be read when it’s not in my so-called “List.”  I’ve realized I’m what you might call a “mood reader”. That is, I think I’m someone who picks up a book more often than not simply according to what they’re feeling in the moment. It might come out of that TBR list, it might not. I used to feel guilty about this, about leaving my TBR List to collect dust. But now, I’m learning to embrace the unpredictability of it — after all, some of my most beloved, life-changing books were found after wandering aimlessly through the shelves of my favorite bookstore or library. Sure, I still have a virtual place where I put books that snag my interest, authors I like, sequels I plan to get to, and the recommendations of others. I call it my “Cloud” — a name I chose because it’s not an orderly list, or a neat stack. There’s no definitive bottom or top to a cloud that we can see, which is precisely what often happens with the books I put in my virtual version. I pick out whatever title, author, or recommendation stands out to me in that moment, and that works for me.

As I reflected on and came to terms with my process (or lack thereof, as it were), though, I began to wonder. Everybody must have their method of finding their next read. Are there other ways of choosing a book I haven’t thought of? How do you, fellow reader, decide what to read next?