How to buy good books?

I have been reading since the age of eleven- twelve. Reading helps me escape the reality and create my own bubble. Bookshops, book fairs, bookshelves, make me go weak on my knees. Needless to say, I have a good collection of books, which is constantly increasing. But, that doesn’t stop me from buying more. And no, I haven’t read all the books that I own. Nobody does that. It’s an universally accepted fact.

Every year I try to read atleast 50 books. That means I must have more than 50 unread books on my tbr list every year. All the books have to be good and interesting, so buying books involve a lot of research and thinking. Many of my friends ask me how do I buy good books. Well, to be honest, it takes years of practice to judge a book or to spot a good book at a first glance. Identifying a good book can be tricky, but I have few well tested tips and tricks which make things easy for me.

How do I buy good books?

1. I stick to timeless authors. Those who are consistent with their literary work. They seldom disappoint me. When I am totally clueless about which book to buy, I decide to buy books by these authors. Because, I love reading them and they are worth my money. Some of my timeless authors are, Haruki Murakami, Khalid Hosseini, Orhan Pamuk, Jhumpa Lahiri, Robin Sharma, Arundhati Roy, Amitabh Ghosh, Ruskin Bond, etc.

  1. I read reviews. I take out some time before my book shopping sprees to read book reviews on Amazon and Goodreads. I generally read 5 reviews per book, to finally decide whether to buy or not. I recently ordered Jerry Pinto’s two books just by reading Amazon reviews. Waiting excitedly for them to arrive!

  2. I go to bookstores which have a wide range of collection. The probability of coming across a good book is higher in a good book store than in an average one. So, I always choose my bookstore wisely. I spend a good time exploring the books category wise, discount wise, and author wise. I even read a few pages of the book, before deciding whether I should spend my money on it or not. Sometimes, when the owner of the store is well-read, I get some good recommendation too. Bonus tip- if you show loyalty to one Bookstore, you get awesome discounts. Trust me!

  1. I ask well read people about their favourites. There are many good authors out there; who may live in a different country than yours, write in a language than yours, but their words appeal the souls nonetheless. It is impossible to know each one of them. So, I ask well read people about their favourite authors. Many a times, they name authors that I haven’t heard before, they suggest me books I haven’t read or seen before. It’s definitely a great way to explore the literary world. Bonus tip- good authors always have great writers as their favourite. No doubt I came across gems like ‘Man’s search for meaning’, after having a conversation with an IIT Madras Prof.

  2. I refer to booklists. Every year Bill Gates, Obama and other famous people like them publish an annual reading list. Online book stores publish their annual bestselling book lists. There are best books of the year lists. Then Man Booker selection lists or Pulitzer’s nomination lists, and lists of the other major literally award winners. These lists are easily available on Google. One can create their own list too. For example, list of banned books, weird books, funny books, books to read in one’s lifetime, etc. This is how I came across book like ‘Reluctant Fundamentalist’. I recently bought one of Bill Bryson’s books because, apparently, he is the funniest travel writer ever.

  3. I ask for book recommendation. There are many readers in my circle. They are my instant and never failing go-to source for books. I know people who reads more me and they recommend me a lot of good books. I can rely on them, because they know my likes and dislikes. I have few such people on my speed dial, just in case. One of my oldest reader bff have been asking me to pick up ‘A man called Ove’. And, I can blindly trust it to be a great book.

  4. I follow Instagram accounts of fellow bookworms. I passively participate on online forums or Facebook pages for bibliophiles. I stalk bookshelves of other people. I go through Amazon wishlist of my friends. I keep my eyes open to see what random people are reading on the metro, on flights, at cafes. Once I followed a girl inappropriately to find out what she was reading, because the cover was too pretty (don’t try this, it never works. Instead, just ask politely). I mentally note down the books I like and read their reviews online, before buying them. I found ‘Jonathan Livingston Seagull’ through a FB friend.

  5. I judge a book by its publisher. Always. A good publisher, in 90% of the cases, publish good books. Most of the time it is safe to pick up new titles or new authors, published by a well known publisher. Some of my favourite publishers are, Knopf, Faber and Faber, Graywolf, Mc Millian, HarperCollins, (and of course) Bloomsbury, etc. I never hesitate to buy their books, even if the author is unfamiliar to me. Promising and upcoming Indian publishers are, Juggernaut, Zubaan, Aleph, Vintage, etc.

  6. The most clichéd one. I read blurbs. If it interests me, I read the first page of the book to see the writing style. If both seems satisfying I end up buying the book.

I bought these books at JLF’ 18 after following this cliché tip.

  1. I follow my instinct. After years of practice, I am getting better at this. There are titles which catch my attention at a first glance (I called them love at first glance), and most of the time I buy them. Bonus tip- if the cover of the book is standard and not colourful, chances are that it’s a good book. (Most of Murakami’s books). However, if the cover is too dramatic, I refrain from buying them. They seem too loud for my taste.

I end up buying ‘The Art of Discarding’ because its cover was too classy. And, definitely no regrets. And, Manu Joseph’s ‘Illicit Happiness of Other People’ was definitely a love at first sight.

These are the only tips I could think of right now. If you have any more input or tips, do share. Would love to try them out.

Thank you for reading. Now, go buy those damn books!!

A crisp and short version of it appeared in the Assam Tribune’s Horizon. Here is the link.

Stubbornly optimistic, a listener of the universe and follower of my dreams. Coffee, smell of new books, long walks, old melodies, good sense of humour, and poetry light me up. I want to be happy when I grow up.

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