Books that Glimmer

How do I pick which books to read?

I do things intuitively. I make decisions intuitively.

Which B&B to stay in on a holiday? I go with my gut feeling.

Which books should sit together on a shelf? Gut feeling.

I use my intuition to feel around for the right words in my writing.

Which movie to watch? Well, ok, that depends on who is starring in it, but after that, I go with the feeling I get about the storyline. Either I’m interested and it pulls me in, or I’m not. I can’t really explain it rationally.

I approach buying books in the same way.

There are two ways I shop for books. One, my favourite – if I have the time – is to spend hours perusing an old, independently-run bookshop. The kind that doesn’t have any apparent rhyme or reason to how the books are stacked. I like to contemplate the unending piles until the order makes itself known. Because there always is an order somewhere in there. Someone did put those books up on the shelves and they had some kind of system for doing it. Usually.

A description of the magic of the small bookstore is a large part of what drew me to such books as The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon, and The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield.

My favourite of these bookstores, of course, is Shakespeare and Company in Paris. I could spend days in there.


While I am discerning the underlying system, I let my hand trail along the spines. The aesthetic of shelves upon shelves of books, floor to ceiling, covering every wall and every surface is one that calms and soothes me. Especially if they are old books, first editions and the like. The more books, the more surfaces they cover, the better.


In this solitary ceremony, this rite, I find I am drawn instinctively to particular books. Books that shine from within. Books that glimmer. It is almost mystical. I can’t say what it is about each book that calls to me, but I listen.

Once I have picked up a book, I consider the cover, the synopsis, I read the first page and another, somewhere in the middle. And then I make my decision.

Contrast my meaningful exercise with the other way I select books. It is the complete opposite, and yet there remain some vestiges of the intuitive in this scenario.

I have a system.

Step one is to seek a recommendation from a friend of mine. She is my Oracle of Books. She has never steered me wrong. Not once. All my favourite books have been the ones that she recommended to me.

If I don’t have a recommendation from her, I begin with Amazon. I look up a book I particularly love and peruse the resulting recommendations. Then, I Google the book and read the reviews, longer summaries, and if available, the author’s blog. Now that I have a GoodReads account, I look through the reviews there, too. Sometimes I begin by Googling an author I have enjoyed in the past, but that doesn’t always mean I will enjoy their other books.

The actual decision to read or not to read still comes down to intuition, albeit a more informed intuition in this case.

When I have decided that I do indeed want to read a book, I first check to see if the book is available at my local library. If it is, I usually take it out there. Sometimes, if I really want to read it and it is not in the library system, I will buy it from one of the online booksellers, and have it delivered right into my hot little hands without delay.

There is obviously less magic to this way of choosing a book, and it is not necessarily more effective than a day of perusing a lovely, old bookshop.

But a girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do, and if I find myself without a book, I fling myself headlong into a desperate search for one.

One final point. E-readers. I hate them. I’ve tried them, because I thought it would be easier to read at night from something that comes with its own light source. But no. I like the smell of books, the feeling of books, being able to see the whole book all at once…

…and there’s something else I can’t quite put my finger on. A sort of connection to the book. A feeling deep down that I don’t feel when I’m reading on an iPad or iPhone.

A sort of innate knowledge and perceptivity. I don’t know how else to describe it, except to say that it is intuitive.

Other bloggers’ thoughts on the selection of reading materials:

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19 thoughts on “Books that Glimmer

  1. Thanks for making me think about how I choose books! I am definitely a cover girl. A well-designed cover will capture my attention and reel me in — so will a title. Next comes jacket copy. That has changed in recent years as I learned to borrow from the library and took a risk on a book I wouldn’t normally if I was spending money. It also shifted as I moved abroad and was forced to buy a Kindle in order to get books in English. I will buy a book on Kindle I may not buy in hardcover (price differential!). I will tell you this though — I loved Shadow of the Wind so much, but I didn’t read it for a year because I didn’t care for the cover. One things for certain — I think you and i would do well in a book club together! 🙂

    • Oh that would be so great! What a good idea. Great excuse, too, for me to travel to Israel! 🙂

      I think you’re right, too, about covers, title and copy. I’m sure there have been books that didn’t “glimmer” for me because they were lacking in one or more of those categories.

  2. This is so interesting. Count me into the club of those who loved Shadow of the Wind. I may have picked that one originally because of the cover, because that was pre-kindle…but I read fiction strictly on the basic black and white kindle. It’s really so much more convenient and I honestly love it. My husband has brought home books and I have had to download the book again just because i like it much better. The size of it. The fact you can change the type size based on what type of light you have. But most reference, field guides, chapter books for my son, those definitely line the bookshelf. Did you ever read Carlos Ruiz Zafon’s follow up book? I was thinking about it but haven’t just yet….

    • I like your pros for e-readers. I still prefer the real deal, but you’ve certainly provided food for thought.

      I didn’t think I knew about Zafon’s sequel until I was looking through the recommended similar articles at the bottom of my post, as I was writing it, and saw it come up. But now that I think about it further, my friend (the one who recommends all the great books) told me that she read it hoping it would fulfil whatever it is that the Shadow of the Wind fulfils. Maybe she read it too soon after its predecessor, but she was disappointed. So, I don’t know. I’m sure I will add it to my To Read list. That’s the other reason I like the library – no commitment required, in case it’s not very good!

      • Silverleaf, I figured as much–usually I will immediately read another book by an author I love but when I read the description on Zafon’s next one, I have hesitated more than a few times…. not to sound like an ad for Amazon but the other thing that is nice about it is I read much more! I always have a few books with me at one time, like right now I have my fiction book (1Q84, Haruki Murakami), non-fiction (Cooked, Michael Pollen) and a parenting book or 2…so wherever I am I can read what I like but don’t have to bring a suitcase with me. Kind of cool….I have never had a Goodreads account or checked that out but maybe I will. thanks for the tip on that!

        • I love Murakami! I haven’t read that one though…in fact, my now husband wooed me by lending me Murakami when we first met. Then I was hooked – on both!
          GoodReads I just added to my blog because I like having something that tracks the things I’ve read – otherwise I forget what they were. It takes a bit of time to add books you’ve read, but nothing says you have to go back into past reads.

        • so funny! My husband was the one who introduced me to Murakami too, and I have read all of his fiction…amazing, mind-bogging reads. IQ84 is worth it but you need to be ready for a long ride–I started in late June and am still only 2/3 done!

        • What a coincidence! We have IQ84 on the shelf and I have sort of stared at it a few times. I don’t mind really sinking into a book, though. Have you read any Pynchon? I loved Mason & Dixon but it took a lot of time (4 months or more) and brainspace to read.

  3. Reading is a tactile experience? I would agree. A book has to ‘feel’ good. Maybe that’s why my Moby Dick is handsomely bound. Inside, the drawings glow. The more I think of it, a book must engage all of my senses, like the downtown library on a rainy night.

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