Shelf Awareness: How to find your next great read

Last month, I discussed how to set some attainable reading goals and outlined my personal reading challenge for the year. I chose to focus on reading for at least 20 minutes every day and to finish two books per month. So, the next step is to figure out where to find great books to read. It can sometimes be a challenge to find a book that will spark an interest and draw you in.

When you find something you really love, it is a magical thing and you can feel a special connection with it. It takes the perfect combination of genre, subject matter, tone, writing style and sometimes art (in the case of graphic novels and picture books) to make a book that we really connect with. Even elements we may not always register like font size or style, overall design, and cover. I’m a sucker for a beautiful book cover.

Factors such as where we are in our lives and larger circumstances in our communities can also impact how engaged we become with a book. Trends in the publishing world often seem to correlate to the zeitgeist of the time. Vampire, zombie and dystopian novels have seen their time in the sun in the last couple of decades and seem to have waxed and waned in popularity. Reading tastes often reflect readers’ views on current world affairs and may not resonate the same way at a different point in time.

We also may respond to a book differently than others based on our vantage point in the world, so occasionally titles that are best sellers may not speak to us personally even though they have a dramatic impact on many others. Additionally, what causes a book to become a best seller is subject to the author’s status in the publishing world and the publishers’ distribution capabilities. There may be some equally great books that just weren’t noticed by the right person and consequently didn’t get the same level of marketing.

Social media helps get the word out and can be a great way to find new “under the radar” books. I love following fellow readers on social media, seeing artfully framed photos of lovely stacks of books with gorgeously designed covers. Although anecdotally speaking, a lot of the bigger “Bookstagrammers” I follow seem to be hawking many of the same titles since they are given advanced reader copies of books by publishers and paid for advertising their products.

Furthermore, I try to keep in mind when getting recommendations from book lists and reviewers, it takes a while to get to know the reviewer to know if you agree with their assessment of a book. I like to say when I help patrons choose books at the library, that they are “suggestions” and not necessarily “recommendations.” Recommendations implies a bit more certainty that I think they will like the book. We all have different preferences, backgrounds, experiences and personalities, so we won’t all like the same things. Best sellers, Best of, and other reading recommendation lists, are good places to start but they also mean these selections are subject to another person’s perspective and tastes.

At times I am very particular about my reading material. Sometimes the synopsis of a book sounds right up my alley, or it has been highly recommended by many people, but if the tone isn’t quite my style or I’m in the wrong mood for it, I can’t find a spark to draw me into the writing. Sometimes it’s little quirks like the feeling of the dust jacket or vocal inflections of the reader of an audiobook that will bother me so much I can’t continue on with it. When reading for pleasure, there’s nothing wrong with saying “This just isn’t the book for me right now” and moving on to the next one.

I usually give a book 100 pages max and if it doesn’t have me hooked by then I don’t force myself to go further. There are too many good books in the world to suffer through one you just can’t get into. I say all of this because if you are like me and sometimes have trouble finding the right book that fits, I think it is worth considering many different ways of finding books in addition to best-seller lists or popular reviews. I’m not saying there aren’t great books on these lists, but if you have found it hard to connect with some of them, know there are lots of other great ways to find books.

In the digital age, ways to find books using virtual tools abound and it can be overwhelming to sift through all of them. Cataloging, databases and more intuitive technology are helping people connect with books that they love and to find new voices that reach them, but it also means an overabundance of choice. So to help with that, I thought I’d share some information about tools that have helped me in my work finding books for people at the library and some of the resources the library provides to help you in your quest for a great book to read. This is called Readers Advisory, and it is one of my favorite things I get to do as a librarian.

A great tool which I use rather frequently and available through the library’s database collection is NoveList. We have NoveList Plus for adults and NoveList K-8 Plus for kids materials. You can browse and search by genre, appeal, awards, theme, etc. Search for a title or author you like and it will give you suggested read-alikes. NoveList K-8 also has information on the lexile level and accelerated reader measures, so parents can help find books at specific reading levels for their kids.

You can access the full NoveList database through the E-Resources tab on our website, but the great thing is that it is also linked to our catalog. Start by searching for an item you know you already like and click on the entry for the item in the search results. Then click on the “Series and Recommendations” feature on the left side and it will pull up other titles like the one you chose. I love using this when an item I am looking for isn’t available and I want to find something that can be checked out sooner.

We also provide a few services at the library designed to help folks find their next great read. Sign up for personalized picks to receive items chosen just for you by staff members based on your reading preferences. You can also sign up to receive monthly book lists via email on topics such as nature and science, historical fiction, Christian fiction, tween reads, new DVD spotlight, and many more. We also have a variety of other book lists and tools on our website that can help you navigate the library’s collection. We absolutely love to help select items for people and get more books out and into the hands of patrons in the community!

A few other tools I have found helpful are LibraryReads, What Should I Read Next, NPR’s Book Concierge, LibraryThing, Kitchen Sink RA, Fantastic Fiction, All About Romance, Whichbook and Goodreads.

We at the library want to do whatever we can to help connect you with books, music, movies and more to help enrich your life! Even though our buildings are still closed to the public, we still have a few ways you can access library materials. You can still sign up for home delivery of library materials, or you can place items on hold to pick up at any of our branch locations. If you don’t have a library card you can sign up for one here.

For more information you can contact the Philomath Community Library branch by phone at 541-929-3016. You can also call the systemwide phone information service at 541-766-6793 or 541-766-6448, or via email at [email protected] for anything, be it checking out materials, research questions, storytimes or anything else regarding our services.

Happy reading!


(Julia Engel is a reference librarian at Philomath Community Library. She can be reached via email at [email protected] or by phone at 541-929-3016.)

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