I’ve been jumping around like a jackrabbit when it comes to reading during the past year. One week I’m delving into The Europeans by Henry James then I’m switching centuries to read about modern-day émigrés in Janice Lee’s The Expatriates. I burrow into Renaissance Italy with The Marriage Portrait by Maggie O’Farrell, then shift eras to the eighth century in Ireland with Emma Donoghue’s Haven.

At first, I thought I was following the scattergun approach when selecting which book to read next. However, upon analysis, I realised I have a system.

My first consideration is whether I feel like reading a story with a contemporary or historical setting. A modern-day setting introduces me to characters who deal with modern-day issues and challenges, communicate via email and text and mobile phone, and use language speckled with political correctness and wokisms (or not, depending on the character). If I’m keen to have a break from twenty-first century concepts, and escape into the past – if I prefer my characters to be dipping quills into ink pots than thumbing mobile phones – I choose historical fiction.

If I’m planning to travel – or daydreaming about travelling – my next consideration is whether there is a particular place that I’d like to visit via a book. Sarah Winman’s Still Life showed me a new side to Florence, which enhanced by visit to the city. Joseph Boyden’s Through Black Spruce allowed me to experience life in the small town of Moosonee and the back woods of rural Ontario without travelling across the world. Books have allowed me to travel to amazing places without leaving home.

I have also visited some formidable places through the pages of books. I’m grateful to Kiran Millwood Hargrave for letting me feel the harshness of life in Vardo through The Mercies and to Emma Donoghue for allowing me to experience the bleakness of Skellig Michael through Haven, without leaving the safety and comfort of my armchair.

The mood of a book is a key factor when choosing what I want to read. Sometimes I’m keen for an intense story, one with a philosophical challenge or a gritty topic such a racial oppression, addiction, violence or mental health. Sometimes I want a nail-biting page-turner with a story that will take me out of my comfort zone.

Other times, I want to read something lighthearted, funny, cozy or warm; or a story that will help me feel uplifted and rejuvenated. Sometimes I want to be entertained with witticisms or enchanted with beautifully crafted prose.

I discovered several useful websites that can make choosing your next book that much easier.

  • Which Book allows you to select books by character and plot, or using a world map, or according to mood and emotion – https://www.whichbook.net
  • What Should I Read Next allows you to type in the name of a book that you enjoyed reading and its huge database will provide book recommendations for what to read next – https://www.whatshouldireadnext.com/
  • Love for Livres allows you to select a book according to the emotions of love, fear, anger, sadness, surprise and joy; along with other criteria such as the season, reading time, ease of reading, and whether it is a great classic, modern classic or contemporary book – https://www.loveforlivres.com/index.php

I’ve just finished reading a book and ready for a new one, so I’ll start by perusing the unread books on my shelves and see what strikes my fancy.

How do you select the next book you’re going to read?


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