Finding the perfect book: How to pick up a good book for you


Shannon Yang

Stepping into the library can be a daunting experience: the sudden blast of air conditioner, the musty smell of unopened novels and the everlasting silence is enough to overwhelm anyone. Inexperienced readers are the easiest to spot. They wander aimlessly through the bookshelves, reading summary after summary in anticipation of the perfect story. Still, nothing captures their attention. Importantly, they never venture beyond the covers of the novel, instead getting lost in paragraphs of text on the back covers and eventually going home with empty arms. What they fail to understand is that discovering a book is about the journey, not the conclusion. Hopefully, this article can help serve as a guide for all readers, young and old, for locating ‘their’ book.

Let’s start by dispelling a common myth about reading. The number one rule of reading is that there is no perfect book. Repeat after me. There is no perfect book. Every writer’s style has its respective flaws, every novel has its plot holes and every character has their own glaring issues. As a book enthusiast who reads hundreds of stories a year, I have yet to find the perfect tale. That, however, is not a reason to stop reading. Just like romantic partners, being able to recognize the problems in a story is an important part of falling in love with it. Starting from that mindset makes it a thousand times easier to find a book that’s right for you.

And where do you start? The same place you’d start for a fantasy football draft: the internet. Using it, and other resources, identify three key things.

First, what genre of book are you looking for? Are you fascinated with the inner workings of a murderer, or perhaps the fantastical adventures of teenage rebels? If you’ve thought of it, it probably exists. Remember, this doesn’t have to be set in stone; it is only an idea to direct you in the general direction of where to go. In fact, simply deciding between nonfiction or fiction is a good start.

Second, have you read any books in this genre? Goodreads is an excellent website that provides recommendations based off of novels you have previously enjoyed. Friends are great resources as well, especially if they share similar interests. Make a list and ask them if they know any similar stories; this can be a double-win involving both a conversation starter and a way to find new books. Then, compile all of these recommendations into a Google document you can reference at any time.

Third, what style and length would be ideal for you? Along that same vein, how many books are you willing to read? If you’re interested in stories that deal with the complex emotions of a character and focus on one person’s journey, you might be looking for something with a first person point-of-view. Maybe your only free time is two hours on the weekends, so you don’t have the ability to sink your teeth into a 600-page novel. Create realistic expectations that you know you can achieve.

Next, head to the library. Don’t be intimidated by the librarians, as they are here to help. If you cannot find any good recommendations online, don’t worry. Librarians are incredible resources—they hold thousands of books worth of information in their heads and are willing to expend it all to help you find the novel for you. Use the online systems and your library card to not only locate the books that you want, but also to place holds on those that the library don’t currently have.

When you locate one of your book recommendations, stay in that aisle for a little bit. Browse some of the other books by the same author. Plus, if you’re in the nonfiction section, the books are grouped by their subject matter, so you can search for more relevant books you’d be interested in reading. Even if a book isn’t perfect, pick it up and put it in your bag. You never know what a read-through might reveal that the back cover didn’t.

And there’s a really important point: never constrain yourself to one or two books. Even if you only want to read through one full book, it might take reading 50 pages of four books to find the fifth one that’s finally good enough. The greatest pitfall that new readers fall into is deciding that the summary of a book is enough to judge a whole story. Don’t judge a book by its front cover, but the same rule applies to its back cover. Pick up as many as you can. If you go home with one to two books, you’ve failed the mission. Remember, no books are perfect, but everyone has their own preference as to which imperfections they can tolerate. If you bog yourself down and the book becomes dry, no alternatives means you have nothing else to read until you finally return it.

Finally, please return books. The library is a wonderful place for everyone. It’s entirely free and holds a vast collection of knowledge that benefits many people. Not returning books gives you a pile of fines, but also prevents future readers from enjoying them. Remember, books don’t disappear when they are returned to the library. You can always go back and read them thousands of times. When you’re not reading that book, let another reader take the reins and fall in love, just the way you did.