1. By its reputation. The book is considered a classic or, if new, has received glowing reviews.
2. By its author. You’ve read and admired the author’s other works. Maybe you’re a completist.
There’s a story by Irwin Shaw in which a character chooses books on the basis of the author’s photograph on the jacket. Sounds silly, but it makes sense—we tend to be kinder towards people whose faces appeal to us.
3. By its cover. You like the way it looks. You are not being superficial. As books become niche products cover art, layout, fonts, the quality of the paper will matter more and more. Design and packaging may keep the book from extinction in the face of cheaper, more convenient, accessible digital versions.
4. By the movie. You’ve seen the film adaptation and wish to compare it with the book, or you want to read the book before the film comes out. Mark Millar pointed out that it’s in the author’s best interest to make sure the movie does justice to his work because face it, more people will see the movie than ever read the book. As far as they’re concerned, the movie IS the book.
5. By a recommendation from a friend. Can be complicated: If you hate the book, friend may take it as a slur on her personal taste. People are sensitive.
6. By the first line. “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” Now you have to read it.
7. By the last line. “For all to be accomplished, for me to feel less lonely, all that remained to hope was that on the day of my execution there should be a huge crowd of spectators and that they should greet me with howls of execration.” Go back and read it.
8. The Ford Madox Ford rule: Read page 99. But page 99 of which edition? We downloaded a simple text file of Some Do Not…, the first volume of Parade’s End, from Project Gutenberg. It has no pagination.
Top of page 99 of The Savage Detectives by Roberto Bolaño:
“At the hotel where we have Lupe. Your father was there.”
“What was he doing there?” The voice was uninflected; it was like talking to a brick wall, I thought.
Hmmm. True, it’s in translation.
9. The Marshall McLuhan rule: Read page 69.
From The Savage Detectives:
He held his two hands at chest height. They were trembling considerably.
“On a project?” I said affably, looking at the papers spread out on the table.
Eh. We’ll read it for reason #1.
10. The Jane Chord. Combine the first word and the last word. Pride and Prejudice: It/them.
At Last by Edward St. Aubyn: Surprised/for.
Atonement by Ian McEwan: The/sleep.
The Rachel Papers by Martin Amis: Seven/pen.
11. By browsing through it.
12. By suggestion. You saw a character in a movie or TV show reading that book. Apparently lots of people pick up books they spotted on Mad Men. Hey, it works for Don Draper. (Note: Because he’s Don Draper.)
13. It’s by a brilliant author, it was suppressed by Stalin, and it’s published for the first time in English by the New York Review of Books. Works for us.
Read Robert Crum on the best way to test a novel before you read it.