Finding Great Books

Books I've read awaiting a trip to the used bookstore for sale. May 2014.

Books I've read awaiting a trip to the used bookstore for sale. May 2014.

My birthday and Christmas run close together. Throughout the year, I add books I’d like to read to a roster that becomes my wish list for the birthday-holiday season. The resulting treasure trove doesn’t serve me for a full twelve months, but taking home a large pile to whittle down excites me each year.

Two years ago, as the fall transitioned into winter, I asked my friends on social media to name their favorite books—the ones they’d recommend to anyone. Then I put the books I hadn’t read on my list. Even the ones I wouldn’t have picked up on my own.

I liked some of the recommended texts more than others, but I only put down one of the books without finishing it. (Apologies to Louis L’Amour. I did try.)

I’ve since made it something of a habit to ask people to list their favorite books for me. (I wish more people had answers to the question—but I’ll save that lament for another blog post.) When I do get strong recommendations, I take them.

Other than direct recommendations from people I know, I find books for my list via The New York Times, The New Yorker, and other publications. Rarely do the best-seller lists influence me, but articles and reviews do.I pick up on books discussed on NPR, Web sites, blogs, and in the business community and seek out write-ups and reviews to see whether I should add these texts to my roster. Debating the next book to read in my book club often brings up interesting titles. I listen to authors speak about, read, and discuss their work—and the work of others—and add the ones who pique my interest to my list.

Once upon a time, I found most of the books for my wish list by meandering through bookstores, but few bookstores remain today. Still, sometimes it happens.

Yet I often feel I miss so many books I should read. Books that could change my life through changing my perspective. The challenge: How do I find them?

How do you decide what to read?