Notice what you love and hate in books
I’ve read more on average over the last three years than I ever have before. This can be seen as a success if your goal is simply to read more. What’s been more exciting to me, however, is that I’ve gotten better at discerning what books/authors I’ll like before I start reading and I remember what I’ve read more clearly.
There are literally thousands of books to choose from and it can be easy to get pulled toward the new and buzzy reads, regardless of whether they’ll actually work for you. While it can be fun to read the books everyone seems to be talking about (and there’s merit in that even if it’s not a 5-star read ultimately), you may miss out on some less popular titles that would have been perfect for you. Plus, if you’re not loving the shiny new bookstagramable (not a word, but I’m going with it) books and that’s all you’re reading, it’s easy to lose momentum and stop reading altogether. Speaking from experience here.
When you take a few minutes to think about the books you really loved and parse out what made them perfect for you, you’re much more likely to identify those traits in future books. The opposite is also true with books you didn’t love. What made it not work for you? If another book is described using similar descriptors, you’ll know to run the other way before investing hundreds of pages into a subpar reading experience.
For those who’ve never put much thought into their reading likes and dislikes before (other than an offhand “I hate when an author does___!” exclamation), the process of noticing can feel mystifying. It needn’t be a full English major-level analysis, though. Let’s do a little exercise and you’ll see what I mean. Think of a book you loved. It doesn’t have to be your favorite of all time, just a book you remember clearly and know was a 4- or 5-star reading experience for you. Next, answer these questions:
Did I like the characters as people (as in, I’d be friends with them)?
Did I identify with them (as in, I see myself reflected in them)?
How many characters were central to the plot?
How did the characters relate to each other (i.e., romantically involved, related, friends, enemies, etc.)?
How old was the protagonist?
What about the setting stuck with me?
Was it a contemporary, historical, or otherworldly/fantasy/dystopian setting?
Were the major plot points internal (i.e., realizations in the characters’ heads) or external (i.e., a force/circumstance in the physical world)?
Was the plot fast or more methodical and slow?
Was the ending fairly open or closed?
Did everything connect at the end or was some left to the imagination?
How long did the story take to unfold (i.e., was it set over the course of one week or multiple years)?
Was the style heavy on narration or dialogue?
Did the author use complex sentences and word choices, or stick to mostly simple/short sentences using everyday words?
What genre would this book be categorized as?
What age group is it marketed to?
How long was the book? Would you have preferred shorter or longer?
While that may seem like a lot of questions, I promise noticing the answers will help you understand what works for you in a book and recognize it in others more easily. If, for example, you love books that include a cast of characters who are related to one another and a plot that covers multiple years or even generations, books that are described as “sweeping” or as a family or generational saga will likely tick some of your boxes. You can also reverse this list and answer in the negative for a book you didn’t like so you’ll know to avoid books described in similar ways.
Do these questions guarantee that every book you pick up will be perfect for you? Of course not. As you continue to notice what you do and don’t like in the books you pick up though, you’ll get better at choosing your next read and be less likely to get pulled down a wrong path by a pretty Instagram photo.
If you want to go even deeper, I recently created a reading tracker that you can download for free. It’ll give you the space to note what you like and don’t about what you’re reading and help to reveal any trends hidden below the surface. I hope you enjoy!
What types of books do you enjoy most? What words or descriptions tell you a book is or isn’t for you? How do you decide what to read next?