A commenter on the previous post implied that I don't read widely enough, and this is probably true, though it isn't for lack of trying. It did get me thinking about the books I've read in my life and why I read them and how I came across them. I didn't, in fact, graduate from MFA school with a list of accepted authors. The pressure there was to catch up on all the classics we missed out on as undergraduates. That's when I read the Russians and Moby Dick and Thomas Mann and Henry James.
I almost never read book reviews. Wow, that's a confession. I scan the NYBR and the NYer reviews for titles and names I might recognize (and it's part of my bookstore job), but you know what? I don't care what some hired gun has to say about a book. Is this heresy? Do other people depend on reviews? I do love a good trashing though (Tom Bissel's recent flaying of Scott Spencer's book was a delight, though probably not to poor Scott Spencer.)
I take word of mouth (and that includes blogs) very seriously. No one's being paid to flog books on a blog (at least not the ones I read) and I've found it much easier to find bloggers whose tastes I respect -- after only just a year of reading litblogs -- than I did in a lifetime of exposure to mainstream reviewers. Money corrupts! Anyway, since I've been here, I feel like I've uncovered an endlessly deep mine of great book recs.
My mom told me to read Nabokov.
My friend Catherine told me to read Alice Munro.
Serendipity is another way I've found things to read. Since I work at a bookstore I see lots of new books all the time, but so many that I've developed kind of a hardened attitude toward them. Most of them aren't really worth the $27.50, so a book has to grab my attention before I'll open it. I found Lydia Davis on the sale shelf ($2.00!!!). I liked the title of Lynn Tillman's American Genius, a Novel. Other books I've just found at the Salvation Army or garage sales and I thought I should rescue them. Library wandering used to be a real treasure trove, but I don't have hours to spend roaming the stacks like I used to.
There are a few contemporary writers I found out about in college and have read because of classes I took. These include Raymond Carver, Denis Johnson, Margaret Atwood, Tim O'Brien, and... hm. That's about it, actually.
How do you find books?