How to choose your next book

By Eric Wendt ('99)

In college, you had the benefit (and burden) of professors telling you what to read. Now you read what you want. Huge bookstores and online shopping have exponentially increased access. And e-readers mean that suddenly the complete works of Marcel Proust—or even entire libraries—will fit in your slinkiest purse.

You can read just about anything just about anywhere—which is both liberating and overwhelming. We float in a textual sea. Here’s some advice on managing the waves.

Be merciless

It’s okay to slash entire genres, hemispheres or epochs out of your search for your next book. It’s not snobbish to say you’re uninterested in Westerns, nor is it lowbrow to admit you’re in no mood for French existentialism today.

Have rules

I’ve resolved never to buy another book where women’s faces or bodies run weirdly off the cover. I’ll never understand why so many designers do this. What’s cropping a person off at the cheekbones supposed to mean? Just say no to books with sawed-off women.

Recognize your patterns

Look for incidental themes in the books you’ve read lately. If you’re heavy on North American Jewish authors, maybe you should hold off on that Mordecai Richler novel and look for something tropical.

Avoid big ideas

This is in line with Michael Pollan’s advice to eat healthier by avoiding foods that make health claims. Most “big idea” books that promise to change your life won’t. And quite a few that make no grand claims will.

Know what you’re in it for

If you’re reading to become officially “well read,” you might want to try drinking Lake Huron dry first. There’s simply too much out there (and too little time left for us). I believe we read for what it adds to the lifelong conversations we have with ourselves. Those inner conversations should be the most sprawling, engaging and eccentric ones of our lives. If they are, whether or not we ever get around to Finnegan’s Wake is beside the point.

Eric Wendt (’99) edits Archways magazine.