How We Chose What to Read Next


Recently we read an article that was posted on the Opinion Pages of the New York Times website about their selection process around choosing which books to read and review.  It turns out that their “process” involves a complete lack of communication between the three staff book critics they employee.  Essentially, they’re each free to read and review whatever they want, and if multiple reviews appear within the same time period, so be it.

This got us thinking about how we determine what it is that we want to read and review here at the Era.  Don’t get us wrong, we’re not that deluded.  We know that we’re nowhere near the level of New York Times in terms of readership, quality, or influence.  Still, it became a rather fun and maddening exercise to first list, and then weigh, each of the factors that leads us to read and review a book, because much like the Times, there really is no method to our madness.  Here’s what we came up with:

We really want to read it!
This is hands down the number one reason.  It’s why we started the site in the first place and why we continue to work at it.  However, this decision can be influenced by any combination of the other factors found below.

A friend really wants us to read it!
We take friend recommendations very seriously, but there is a weird backlash effect that can happen here, where if too many people tell us that we HAVE to read something we’ll completely ignore it instead.  Part of it is probably us being vain and wanting to play the role of the discovery mechanism for folks and not the other way around.  Another factor could be that the suggested title is so mainstream that it’s already been covered to death everywhere imaginable.  Sadly, we’ll probably never break into the big time, because a large chunk of what we read and review tends to fly under the mass-market radar, but we’re a-ok with that all the same.

A publisher or an author really wants us to read it!
Believe it or not, we reject just as many requests for review as we accept.  If fact, we’re often perplexed by a large number of the titles that are offered to us.   No, we’ll pass on that 300-page book that’s all about the trials and tribulations of being a blonde, thank you very much!  We’re genuinely flattered that so many opportunities come our way, but some of them just aren’t “us.”  We love free books, and we love to read, but above both of those things, we love having a high level of control over our selection process.  That means we’re most certainly not against paying out of our own pockets to read and review something that looks interesting to us and also that we’re not afraid to unfavorably review something that may have been provided to us for free.  Integrity is everything, and we’re not afraid to give our honest opinions.

It’s the Critical Era book club selection!
How the Critical Era books actually get selected could be another post in and of itself, but the short version is that we keep our ears to the ground listening for advanced buzz and we try to choose titles that look like they have the potential to spark an interesting and intelligent conversation.  And of course willingness on the part of an author to participate in that discussion helps as well.  If we selected them, it goes without saying that we kind of have to read them.

It’s another book club’s selection!
Critical Era is our book club, but it’s not the only book club we’re members of.  Combined we’re in at least three others, and more often than not they serve as a great discovery mechanism for titles that we wouldn’t have come across otherwise.

I feel guilty that I haven’t read this book yet…
This is probably the worst reason to read a book, but sometimes, guilt just gets the best of you.  Yes, we read a lot, but it’s impossible to read everything.  Still, when it comes to classics, bestsellers and other “must reads,” the heaping piles of shame and guilt sometimes force us to sit down and read the damn book already.  Sometimes the book is worse than the guilt, but more often than not, our guilt-reading leads us to discovering some wonderfully impressive literary gems.

What do you think of our process?  How do you choose what to read next?

About Aaron Westerman

Aaron Westerman is the Manager of Web Architecture for a national human services organization. When he's not busy tearing sites apart and rebuilding them, he spends his ever shrinking free time trying to keep up with his twins, reading works of translated literature, and watching far too many Oscar nominated movies.

  • Barbra Zupan

    I love that the books you review are not the mass-market ones.Your reviews have really opened up my world of reading and introduced me to titles and authors I would have never considered.

    • Typographical Era

      Thanks Barbra, that’s so great to hear!