Since the beginning of the year, we’ve made it part of our routine to spend Wednesday nights at the Claremont Branch of the Berkeley Public Library. The library’s open until 8. I love the random nature of library nights, how browsing the shelves unlocks the titles you’ve stored up somewhere in your brain, and you remember you really like Philip Kerr, and you’ve been meaning to read Laurie King, and we’re going skiing this weekend, and it would be fun to listen to Jeeves, and there’s The Sister, which I stuck in the photo because it’s a library book I got in San Francisco a few weeks ago, but it IS a library book. And then the other books are ones I picked up for twenty five cents from the little sale shelf, and which will do very nicely for next Christmas’s book stacks.
Beyond displaying my library choices, I wanted also to mention something — although I’m sure I’m not the first person to notice this, it’s still worth saying: I rarely, if ever, choose books anymore because of a print review. Thinking about what I’ve read in the last couple of months, I see that 75% of my choices came because of something I read about on one of your blogs, dear readers. From Kate and Dani, I discovered the wonderful Spanish mystery writer, Alicia Giménez-Bartlett. Rhian, at Ward 6, recommended The Summer Book (which I’ve just ordered) and JR, her husband, recommended Fakers, a book about creative frauds (which I’ve also just ordered). Philip Kerr, whose novels about Bernie Gunther, a German detective during the Third Reich are really terrific, is someone I happened across by accident, I’m pretty sure. Laurie Hall? That would be Dani again. The Sister? Litlove, of course. I think I must have discovered from reading the NYT book review that Dennis Lehane has a new book, The Given Day which I’ve just begun reading, but it’s entirely possible I just noticed it at Books, Inc. the bookstore in my work neighborhood. The Great Gatsby? Matt recently read this, and I realized it’s been a very long time since I’ve read Fitzgerald. Cold Comfort Farm? Wasn’t that a good sounding movie? I never got around to seeing the movie, but I can tell this is the sort of book I’d love. I read a lot of Malamud short stories earlier this year because the free New Yorker fiction podcast featured a Malamud story. Molly Panter-Downes? Pauline. Murakami? Jade Park.
You can see where this is going, can’t you? A committed reader who spends a lot of time online is far more likely to be choosing books based on the recommendations of people who aren’t professional reviewers than, say, based on what Michiko Kakutani promotes or destroys in the New York Times. And I can say, based on my unscientific sampling, that these recommendations rarely go wrong. I’ve run out of time to say more, except to speculate that the reason online book reviewing works so well as a way to figure out what to read is this: people who blog about books almost always talk about what they love and why they love it. And they know that people they’re accountable to — people whose blogs they visit and who visit them — rely on their recommendations. So they’re going to be as accurate and honest as they possibly can. There are no axes to grind in these blogs, or there almost never are. Just people who love books. And people who love books are terrific people to know when you’re standing around in the library on a Wednesday night trying to figure out what to read next.