One of the struggles for great readers is not being particular or intentional about what they read and also the fact that they read so much that they run out of ideas on what to read next. Another problem a great reader has is getting outside of the comfort zone of the genre he or she enjoys. I like to find out what a reader likes and try to get them to change it up just a little bit to explore something new. I thought I’d post a few of my ideas on finding good reads (where you should go if you don’t already know) and how to remix your reading habits so you don’t have to wonder about what book to read next.
One of my best tricks for making my own reading lists is perusing the best seller lists. I don’t just mean the New York Times, I also go to the bookseller sites and I check out what the top sellers are. I consider these books to be the popular books – the ones that everyone is going to read, but you should probably have a handle on.
My next step, when I have exhausted the popular stuff, is to read a ton of magazines – I’m not just saying the book or literary magazines (although The New Yorker is a great one especially for literature, poetry – and they always have a short story in their magazine), I’m talking about picking up Good Housekeeping, People, Sports Ilustrated, O (Oprah’s Magazine), Ladies Home Journal, etc. You would be surprised how often you can find fantastic reads. Great writers often start out writing for magazines (even Playboy has a rich literary tradition! Surprised?). You can find short stories in the magazines, excerpts and suggested reading lists.
The Internet has become the world of books with blogs, Tumblrs and social media sites that are treasure troves of ideas about what to read. The sites that have become my go-to places for getting ideas are Twitter and Goodreads. I suggest you follow librarians, book sellers, publishers, AUTHORS and find people on Twitter with similar interests – all of these people will be an endless feed of ideas about books to read. Many of the book bloggers are also on Twitter and they will link you to their latest posts that are full of super ideas. You will have no problem finding these people on Twitter because they are passionate, outspoken and absolutely love to read!
Lastly, ask your librarian what to read next. This one kind of goes without saying, but I’m saying it.
Finally, don’t get stuck in a genre. I have a favorite genre. My favorite genre is the cozy – usually a cozy mystery – this passion includes Alexander McCall Smith, Nancy Atherton, Ann B. Ross, Alan Bradley, Jacqueline Winspear. If there is a detective story with a happy ending, then I am your reader. I find nothing more delightful than getting my hands on anything by Alexander McCall Smith. I would live in his home if he would allow it just so I could get to read and edit anything he has written. So, yeah, I’m kind of goofy about this favorite genre of mine. The problem is I could get myself reading only this type of book, so I make myself read other books. I read a wide variety of YA books, I read a ton of romance, historical fiction, science fiction and realistic fiction. I read Jonathan Franzen books, I read Jonathan Tropper, I read the Pulitzers, I read non fiction on a variety of topics and I have improved my range in this my weakest reading area (thankfully, narrative nonfiction has become really hot, don’t judge – at least I’m attempting non fiction beyond the biography memoir). This happened because I realized how boring I would be if I just read the happy endings. I’ll tell you what though, I can find the story and the things I like about cozy literature in just about every other book I pick up. It is there, I just have to find it. Every book I read relies on the strength of its characters, their relationships and how the author structures the novel or book. I don’t hear many people talking about how they deliberately choose titles, so I think it is important for you, the reader, at any age – teen or adult – to start being deliberate and make sure you are diversifying, learning about new people, new cultures and absorbing new stories. People are really pushing for diversity and you should push for it in your own reading habits as well!
One keen example I have for you about how I mix things up occurred to me this morning and this is how it played out. Many of my kids have read The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. I was thinking to myself: Well yeah, then they went on to read books that pretty much have the same cast of characters, different story. Was there a story that I read that included some diversity and mixed up the dystopia formula a bit? And then it came to me: Why, yes, I did. I read The House of Scorpion by Nancy Farmer. This is also set in the future. It is also set in North America. It also involves the remapping of a part of the continent. It follows one character with a cast of many. It has more cultural diversity – as it is set in the future Southwest and Mexico – Hispanic culture is predominantly featured, science is highlighted, medical ethics is predominantly featured (cloning), environmental issues are a main theme, health issues are highlighted (drug trade, effect of drugs) and major sociopolitical issues are highlighted. Not to mention the themes of global trade, the economy, socioeconomic classes – the winners and the losers – a whole plethora of real world problems, conundrums and conflicts are present, crafted and included in a fast-paced narrative. Whew! I’m not sure if this title really got the press of The Hunger Games, but it deserves it. So, I set out to tell people about this novel, how great it is and how deep you could get into world issues reading it. This is the kind of process I go through as a librarian to expand my students’ reading range.
Another example I have for mixing things up involves John Green’s The Fault In Our Stars. I get it, it is an incredibly moving great piece of realistic fiction, it is the hottest title in my library right now, and did you know, that girl that starred in Divergent is also going to star in the TFIOS movie?!? TFIOS is the most popular acronym online at the moment and John Green is so adorbs, I mean, right? He does those videos? The one our Social Studies teacher plays in class from his YouTube channel? Yeah, he is popular and so are his books. Incidentally, he totally DESERVES it, so don’t think I’m being critical, I am certainly not. I adore that he is getting rewarded for his hard work and I am a big part of marketing his awesome! The only problem I have then is the kid who is stuck and needs the next thing to read. This is the MOST AWESOME part about JOHN GREEN: he enabled me, as a librarian, to recommend more realistic fiction to that reader, introduce the reader to other incredibly gifted authors and their titles. Instead of summarizing the reads though, in this case, I will list authors that I adore recommending to my Greenies (yeah, that’s what I call these readers, don’t judge). You need to check out their titles and see how you can expand your world of realistic fiction preferences!
The first author I recommend is Ned Vizzini. I can’t tell you enough about how I find him similar to John Green and adore his work on its own merits. He sadly took his own life this year. It was shocking to me as one of his fans, but he left wonderful books for us to read and we must read them. He tweeted to me last year and it was one of the best things that ever happened to me as a reader, so I’m sad, yet determined, that he shall live on in my library!
Other realistic fiction authors I recommend to the Greenies, in no particular order ( just wanted to give Ned top billing) are: Laurie Halse Anderson, Sherman Alexie, Francisco X. Stork, Jay Asher, Sarah Dessen, Nina La Cour, Maureen Johnson (Scarlett series), Ann Brashares, David Levithan, Rachel Cohn, Sara Zarr, Andrew Smith and the list goes on. I know there are many, many more and I do recommend them, but I’m limited in how much time I have right now. I will probably think of someone I left out in the next day and then I will definitely post again.
So, as a reader, don’t get stuck, don’t be vanilla, don’t settle for just one genre or just one author, find the lists, make your list – think of your to- be- read pile as a mix tape. Oh, you might not know what that is, think of your to- be- read pile as your playlist on your device. You wouldn’t want to listen to the same song over and over, so don’t read the same thing over and over again. Be different, search for diversity and don’t forget to ask your librarian if you do need help finding your way.