How I Get Hooked on Books

by Kim on October 16, 2009 · 33 comments

When you’re browsing through the bookstore, reading reviews online, or just chatting about books in general, what makes a book stick out for you? Are there any subjects or themes or character types that make you look more closely?

What follows is a list of things that will pretty much guarantee I’ll give an unfamiliar book a second look, or that will move a book higher up my pile.

Disclosure! I borrowed this idea from Memory (Stella Mautina) who borrowed it from Ms. Bookish who borrowed in from Word Lily. So basically, it’s an idea lots of other people had that I think is awesome.

Journalists: I love books written by journalists or realistically about journalists. I like getting into their process, using the stuff I’m learning about journalism to assess the work, and imagine how glamorous my life could be if I became a journalist who wrote a book.

gleePrecocious Kids: Well written, spunky, smart, and imaginative kids as characters always make me happy. It makes me hope that if I ever have a baby, it’ll be as awesome as these kids. I also like books about high school, but only if the kids are more like the characters in Glee than Gossip Girl.

Feminism: I’m always interested in books about women exploring their relationship with feminism or how feminism is changing for women of my generation.

Embedded People: I’m especially fascinated by books where the author will immerse themselves in a topic or lifestyle then write about it. A.J. Jacobs’ book The Year of Living Biblically is a good example of this.

The Middle East, specifically Iran: I’ve been fascinated with Iran since I read Reading Lolita in Tehran, so any time a book is set there or about that country, I give it a second look. Also, Zimbabwe: Ever since I read When a Crocodile Eats the Sun I’ve wanted to read more about this too.

Reading/Books: I also like books where characters love books or where authors use literary references to explain their characters.

Re-imagined Fairy Tales: I like when authors take a familiar story and rework it in some way, bringing out ignored characters, playing with an ending, making one decisions differently… I think that co-opting of a familiar narrative is fascinating.

Multiple Narrators: I love seeing a story through multiple perspectives, especially when you can see how characters understand and misunderstand each other.

Do you have your own bookish hooks, things that will make you stop and take a second look at a book you’ve never seen? Or, what books would you recommend based on my bookish hooks?

{ 30 comments… read them below or add one }

Word Lily October 16, 2009 at 7:34 am

Ooh, thanks for posting your own list! I love reading these lists. Looks like we have several in common, too.

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Kim October 17, 2009 at 5:01 pm

Your list was great too! I forgot epistolary form, blogging, and spies. I love all of those things! Actually, it’s probably more secret coded/code breaking than spies, but whatever :) Thanks for the idea.

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Eva October 16, 2009 at 7:45 am

Have you read House of Stone? Great book about two Zimbabwe famillies by a journalist! (2 hooks in one! lol) Or The Soul of Iran? About an Iranian-American’s travels there? Also, I read a GREAT Iranian novella a few years ago called “Women Without Men.” Iran and feminism together!

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Kim October 17, 2009 at 5:02 pm

House of Stone has been on my list forever — I actually got it from the library earlier this year but had to return it because I ran out of time. I am going to read it though. I haven’t heard of the other two, but I’m going to investigate them ASAP :)

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Ronnica October 16, 2009 at 8:06 am

Have you read In the Name of God by Paula Jolin? It’s about a Syrian teenage girl who wants to become a suicide bomber…fascinating. Here’s my review: http://booknookclub.blogspot.com/2009/06/in-name-of-god-by-paula-jolin.html

Also, have you read Special Topics in Calamity Physics? It’s about a bunch of quirky high schoolers, and has a ton of literary references. Here’s my review: http://booknookclub.blogspot.com/2009/05/special-topics-in-calamity-physics-by.html

Sorry to throw books at you, but those sound like books you’d really enjoy! I love books with quirky characters, have coming-of-age themes, with literary references/parallels, that make me feel, that are witty, and are well written (obviously, doesn’t have to have all of them!).

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Kim October 17, 2009 at 5:05 pm

Ooo, those both sounds great, thank you! And don’t be sorry about throwing books, that’s exactly what I asked for. I forgot about coming-of-age and books that are witty — those are two other things I love.

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Vasilly October 16, 2009 at 9:10 am

Have you read Black Swan, White Raven by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling? It’s a collection of short stories that are retelling of fairy tales. It’s a great collection.

What about Literacy and Longing in LA by Jennifer Kaufman and Karen Mack? I think you’ll love it.

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Kim October 17, 2009 at 5:09 pm

I haven’t read either of those. I did read Kissing the Witch which is a bunch of feminist retellings of fairy tales that I enjoyed. I haven’t done many short stories lately, either.

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Jeanne October 16, 2009 at 9:32 am

That’s the first time I’ve seen “embedded people” on one of these lists. I like the way you take the journalistic term and apply it to fiction. I’m going to ponder this and see if I come up with any older titles for you.

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Kim October 17, 2009 at 5:10 pm

I wasn’t really sure how to describe it better than that; I love seeing authors put themselves into a new situation and then write about it because so often it’s a situation I could never imagine myself in. I’m sure there are many older examples — George Orwell comes to mind right away.

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Kristin October 16, 2009 at 10:32 am

Based on your list, my immediate recommendation is “Guests of the Sheik,” if you haven’t read it yet. It’s technically an anthropology/ethnography book, but it has kind of a journalist/creative nonfiction feel to it.

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Kim October 17, 2009 at 5:11 pm

Thanks Kristen, I haven’t read that one yet either. I think anthropological books tend to have that sort of feel, someone outside trying to write about something they’re observing or not necessarily a part of.

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Cara Powers October 16, 2009 at 11:36 am

My bookish hooks are definitely characters who love books and re-imagined fairy tales.

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Kim October 17, 2009 at 5:12 pm

I love looking at fairy tales again. They’re so emblematic and familiar, but authors sometimes leave very intriguing holes in the story. Gregory Macguire, author of Wicked, talked about this in a speech I recently saw and it was fascinating.

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Kailana October 16, 2009 at 9:15 pm

I really liked this meme. I am going to have to do it sooner or later!

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Kim October 17, 2009 at 5:13 pm

It was a fun one! I liked thinking about the books I’ve loved and that have stayed with me and how they’ve impacted my current book choices.

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Jodie October 17, 2009 at 4:06 am

Really cool list and I have recommendations! For bookish characters you might like ‘The Bookshop’ by Penelope Fitzgerald, about a character who just wants to establish a bookshop people will love, in her home town. Many obstacles arise.

Have you tried Dave Gorman and Danny (um have forgotten his last name but he is quite attractive)’s books? They do crazy, laddish things like agree to only say yes to everything (‘Yes Man’) or try to find all the people in the world called Dave Gorman (‘Are You Dave Gorman’) or accidentally start a cult that does good deeds (‘Join Me’). Sort of a less serious take on immersing yourself in one task for a year.

Finally ‘Empress of the World’ by Sara Ryan is set in a summer program for smart kids. There is even a female computer pragrammer, who is fiery and loves to experiment with crazy outfit ideas. In my experience women and IT do not signal, outrageously cool and sexy in many books, but there should be more very cool female programmers, scientists etc in novels in my opinion.

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Kim October 17, 2009 at 5:16 pm

Those all sound excellent, especially the one about the cult that starts good deeds. That could be hilarious :)

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Belle October 17, 2009 at 4:45 pm

Loved your list! I like spunky, precocious kids in books too – although, truth be told, I’ve met a few in real life that I didn’t much take to :)

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Kim October 17, 2009 at 5:16 pm

Belle: Ha ha, true, some precocious kids are a pain. I like the generally well-behaved kind myself ;)

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Andi October 17, 2009 at 8:30 pm

Great list! I’m also really interested in the A.J. Jacobs type books wherein an author immerses him/herself into the subject. I really admire (and envy) the dedication!

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Kim October 19, 2009 at 7:22 pm

I admire and envy it too — it’s a great way to write a book, especially if you’re an author who doesn’t take themselves too seriously and can maintain some perspective on your subject.

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Louise October 18, 2009 at 10:13 am

Hmm. How I get hooked on books…I was nearly going to say that certain types of covers always draw me, but that is not absolutely true since I also check the back blurp if I do not know the author. Right now, the only thing I can think of is when I see a book which has been recommended or talked about by book bloggers, then I usually check it out, but I don’t always buy/loan it though if the blurp doesn’t sound like something I’d like.

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Kim October 19, 2009 at 7:23 pm

Louise: I definitely check covers and blurbs too. And seeing books from bloggers, I somehow recognize the titles right away and always give them some thought.

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Rebecca Reid October 19, 2009 at 6:39 pm

What a fun post! I love seeing what gets people into a book!

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Kim October 19, 2009 at 7:23 pm

Rebecca: Thanks! I had fun reading the others and writing this one :)

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Tracie Yule October 21, 2009 at 2:50 pm

Mine is definitely the Holocaust and dystopic novels, which are somehow kind of related. What would you do in an unimaginable situation? I love finding out how characters react to a heightened situation.

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Kim October 26, 2009 at 4:58 pm

Tracie: That’s such a good way of putting — how do you respond to something unimaginable? I like that theme a lot too, although I can think of examples from tv and movies more than in books.

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Ms. Yingling November 10, 2009 at 5:10 am

I’m with you on most of these, with the exception of the precocious children. I don’t think that middle school students are as interested in this kind of character, especially the students (and there are all too many of them) who are struggling to stay on grade level.

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Kim November 10, 2009 at 3:10 pm

Ms. Yingling: That’s an interesting point I didn’t think of. I never had the problem of struggling in school, so I always related to precocious and smart kids. But I imagine many students might now. Thanks for commenting!

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