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What next?

There is an art to reading book blurbs and my wife has mastered it. She has an astute way of working through the new book shelves at the library and finding authors we will both find so good that we read them exhaustively. The key for her is remembering which of the blurb writers are reliable witnesses. Her knack has yielded impressive results, the latest Justin Cartwright. If you are shaking you head wondering that we had not heard of him before (mea culpa), we have made up for this in the number of his works we have read through happily.To go back to What do I read next? Blurbs are one sort of cue, but I know I rely on the literary periodicals TLS, LRB, NYRB, Commonweal - and the New York Times books columns for suggestions. There are also publishers of particular genres that I look to: The SoHo Press, for one, which features detective fiction set in unusual locales. We also listen to the radio and often hear, on NPR or using the internet radio, to BBC Radio 3, of books to read. I have friends who assiduously write down any titles I might mention, but I never seem to remember to reciprocate in a similar way. There is also the accusatory uprightness of books on our shelves that have arrived in myriad ways; these I have never read but sometimes I yield to their stiff regard and read them.The major literary prize winning titles are a sure way of piquing interest. The Booker Prize, the Pulitzer, the Orange or Whitbread Awards, those for crime fiction, and many others can all point a way.Then there is the question of an approach to an author. Do I read exhaustively through the works of someone new to me? Sometimes, virtually gagging from surfeit, I stop and return later, perhaps with more appreciation. The negative aspect of reading every title of an author available, especially in detective fiction, is that the plots and characterization show themselves to be formulaic, a problem which is one inherent in the genre. In another sense, if this limitation does not distract from the novels, it marks a really good writer. Familiarity need not always breed negative responses.Then there are favorites to reread, classics to revisit, the suggestions offered by "Staff Picks" on library shelves. In the end, "What next?" is bedeviled only by the choices available. E-readers and the internet have only broadened these. The question becomes in its own way an invitation to discover.

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Thanks for the pointer to Justin Cartwright. Will have a look.My only way of discovering new authors is serendipity. That works well enough for a slow reader, and it has a great advantage over the ways you mention (NYT, TLS, etc.), since now and then I discover a fine writer nobody's mentioned or even heard of. I can almost always tell by reading a few sentences whether I'll be comfortable or uncomfortable with a writer. I avoid uncomfortable - life's too short. That narrows the selection terrifically, but in my case that's a very good thing. My shelves of books to be read are already overflowing - I could live a hundred more years and still regret that there was still so much to read.Of course, that doesn't work if you need to read to keep up with a school or work or social group. I don't envy people who simply have to read down this or that list.

Powells.com used to send a book review a day in the mail, and I enjoyed that service. They probably quit sending them to me b/c I don't buy books from them. Reviews were culled from reviews from some of the sources mentioned in the post, but less well-known review outlets like "Rain Taxi" and "Book Slut."Bellatrista.org is an on-line review of world literature by women that I've used (full disclosure, I also review for them occasionally). Some groups on LibraryThing.com are also interesting, with the added value of being able to chat about books and post your own reviews. I do pay attention to the posts over here, too. Just finished "The Cookbook Collector," which was mentioned awhile back. Once I got over what I felt were very inapt comparisons by some critics with "Sense and Sensibility," I enjoyed it.

Mr. Wheeler, you still continue to amaze me with your thoughts and opinions on literary novels. As my teacher you showed me the importance of reading and writing and for that I will be forever grateful. Hope all is well and Steve Lardner is still my favorite author

Very intriguing, Mr. Wheller, but I would like to know the Top 5 Books you have found via this method: better yet, Top Five Fiction; Top 5 Non-fiction. (You may limit these findings to the last year or so, or just to whatever comes to mind).I don't know if I want to broaden my searches to include your sources (that I don't already use) until I know your taste in reading. What's intriguing is that you & your wife agree on authors and books. In my experience, this is unusual (at least in fiction).

I find difficult the ranking of books or authors. The following I liked a great deal.Siri Hustvedt, The Sorrows of an AmericanJustin Cartwright, Other Peoples MoneyHelen Dunmore, The Siege and The BetrayalAnne Zouroudi, The Messenger of AthensA.S. Byatt, the Frederica Potter QuartetThe two non-fiction works I have read recently and liked are Stephen Greenblatts The Swerve, Michael Holroyds A Book of Secrets. I hope that these are of interest, ETWhe

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About the Author

Edward T. Wheeler, a frequent contributor, is the former dean of the faculty at the Williams School in New London, Connecticut.